Glasgow’s connections to slavery have had a lot of publicity and an honest examination is in progress to understand how much of the city’s wealth can be attributed to its connections with tobacco, cotton, and sugar.

The influence of that wealth didn’t stop at the city boundary. You don’t need to walk very far around this part of Dunbartonshire before you pass a property or landmark which has some connection to slavery.

Near the old Erskine Ferry in Old Kilpatrick there’s a navigation light which has always been known as Donald’s Light.

The Donald in question was Robert Donald (1724-1803), owner of the Mountblow estate and a former Lord Provost of Glasgow.

Donald was a tobacco merchant who was one of the city’s Tobacco Lords; a small elite who ran Glasgow for nearly a century. The trade in tobacco generated unimaginable wealth and some of it was spent acquiring country estates, the ultimate gentleman’s trophy. Robert Donald purchased Mountblow in 1767.

Ten miles from Glasgow, the 24-acre estate, at the foot of the Kilpatrick Hills with easy access to the Clyde, fitted the bill.

Donald would sail down the Clyde from Glasgow to enjoy his estate. Donald’s fortune was lost in the American War of Independence, but he remained at Mountblow until 1798.

In 1694, Robert Cross founded the Glasgow based, “Company of Scotland Trading to Africa and the Indies”. His descendant, John Cross Buchanan (1803-1839) of Auchentoshan, and his son, were owners of a Grenada sugar estate.

In 1835, under the terms of the Slave Compensation Act, the family were awarded over half a million pounds (in 2020 terms) in return for the freedom of 144 enslaved people.

The UK Government borrowed £20m to compensate slave owners; a debt the country finally paid off in 2015.

Glenarbuck House, which sits above Bowling was built by another Glasgow merchant, Gilbert Hamilton, a founder of the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, set up to defend tobacco interests in the city.

Among its subsequent owners was Robert Black of Black and Wingate, cotton merchants, and the local connections go on.

William Dunn, owner of the Duntocher cotton mills, once described as “the greatest individual cotton-spinner in Scotland”, imported cotton from the southern states of America.

The American Civil War all but ended the cotton industry in Britain and devastated the Duntocher economy where two thirds of the population were directly employed in cotton factories.

Slavery connections: closer than you would think.