Slaves Made Glasgow: A survey of Glasgow street names.

From 1740 to 1790, Glasgow was the leading entrepôt of tobacco in the world.[1] Many locations and street names in Glasgow celebrate the magnificent wealth building of early merchants, who took Glasgow from an insignificant Scottish town of barely a dozen streets, to a global trade dominion. Often overlooked however, is the near total reliance on slave ownership by Glasgow plantation owners and merchants during the eighteenth century and early nineteenth century. Without enslaved Africans, trade and production of tobacco, sugar, cotton, indigo, molasses and rum would have been impossible. The proceeds of this trade and production, built Glasgow into a city that held mastery and control over trade and wealth building. In short, slaves made Glasgow. This short article considers some of the traders immortalised in the street names. It covers Glasgow only and does not venture to the other Clyde ports, such as Antigua Street, Greenock. That’s the subject of another article. As you read through though, give some consideration to the possible reparations the city council could make. Lets start with some labels of acknowledgement on the corners of the streets listed below?

Argyle Street. It’s a stretch to try to connect Argyle Street with Glasgow merchants and slavery. However, Duncan Campbell of St Vincent (1741 -1797) owned the Argyle Estate, a plantation in the West Indies. St Vincent is an island known for British colonisation and sugar plantations. Records show that in 1817 the beneficiaries of the Argyle Estate owned 701 enslaved people. The British established a new world aristocracy in the west Indies based upon the production of tropical crops and African slavery.[2]

Bell Street is one of the original 13 streets of Glasgow.[3]It was named after Sir John Bell 1710.[4]He was provost twice (1670-1675, and 1678-1681). Possibly coincidentally, records show that in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, John Bell, a trustee of Robert McKay & Co. claimed compensation for 410 Jamaican slaves after the Abolition of Slavery Act of 1833.

Buchanan, Andrew (1690-1759) was Lord Provost of Glasgow and one of the ‘Virginia Dons’ or Glasgow’s Tobacco Lords. Buchanan Street was built on lands owned by him and was named in his honour in 1777. Buchanan, was one of the first Scots to have tobacco plantations in Virginia. Like his sons after him, Buchanan, and firm Buchanan, Hastie & Co. traded in tobacco, and sugar produced by slaves. His daughter Mary, married Alexander Speirs of Elderslie in 1755 who was also a tobacco lord who’s interests depended on slaves.

Clouston, Edward. There’s no evidence connecting Clouston Street in North Kelvinside to Edward Clouston. However, Edward was an attorney in Jamaica and a small scale slave owner who returned to Scotland in 1834.[5]

Cochrane, Andrew (1693-1777), Lord Provost 6 times and considered one of the ‘Virginia Dons’. Cochrane street was named after him in 1787 and was previously known as Cotton Street, the location of Cotton brokers, spinners and yarn agents.[6]With his brother in law, John Murdoch, he created the Virginia trading company, Cochrane, Murdoch & Co. trading mostly in tobacco from the Americas. The production of cotton and tobacco relied entirely on enslaved Africans.

Cunningham, Lord William of Lainshaw, made an enormous fortune from the tobacco and sugar trade and was said to be one of four men responsible for Glasgow’s sudden in fortune. The others are Alexander Speirs of Elderslie, James Ritchie of Busby, and John Glassford of Dougalston.[7]In 1770, Cunningham built the ‘most imposing tobacco lord’s mansion in Glasgow’. It was converted to the Royal Exchange in 1829 by the architect David Hamilton, contained behind added Corinthian pillars and Victorian entablature. It became the Gallery of Modern Art in 1996. Cunningham’s tobacco trade in Virginia, and his sugar trade in the West Indies were built entirely on slave labour.

Dennistoun, James and Robert were involved in a number of industries and firms. As the Dennistoun, Buchanan and Co., the Dennistoun brothers traded most notably in the cotton industry after the collapse of the tobacco trade in the 1790s. As the Dennistoun, Buchanan and Co., the Dennistoun brothers imported sugar from the West Indies, and resold rum, cotton, indigo and coffee. Not as massive as the Alexander Houston and Co., but nonetheless had a significant role in supplying spinning cotton to the Scottish factories, especially to New Lanark.[8]The Denniston’s  trustees sought compensation for 253 Trinidad slaves after abolition in 1833.[9]

Dundas, Henry, the first Viscount of Melville (1742-1811). He was the Secretary of State for Scotland for 30 years, to some ‘the uncrowned King of Scotland’.[10]He funded slavery and ‘sent troops to put down revolts against slavery and oppression’.[11]He delayed the abolition of slavery in Scotland during 1792, arguing instead for gradual abolition, much to satisfaction of influential colleagues who owned plantations in the West Indies.[12]

Dunlop, Colin of Carmyle (1706-1777), Lord Provost (1770-1772) was a tobacco merchant in Glasgow. His daughter, Janet, married Thomas Donald of Geilston, who was also a Virginia merchant. Together they had a son, Colin Dunlop Donald (1777-1859) who was name after his grandfather. James Dennistoun was his uncle. Donald became a merchant of repute and a Calico trader. He claimed compensation for 89 Jamaican slaves after abolition.

Glassford, John of Dougalston (1715–1783) was the wealthiest merchant of his time, trading principally in tobacco.[13]He owned estates in Virginia and Maryland worked by West African slaves. Glassford also invested in tanneries, dye works, operated a chain of stores in Virginia where he sold iron and metal tools; large quantities of cotton fabrics of low to medium quality to make clothing for slave workers,[14]and ‘life-style’ commodities to plantation owners and managers, transported in his fleet of ships which carried his tobacco from Virginia to Glasgow.[15]With his brother-in-law, Archibald Ingram, Glassford practiced cultural benevolence in funding the Foulis Academy of Art and Design, which occupied the upper floor of the college library in Glasgow University, that at the time, occupied a site on High Street, on the East side of the city. This type of benevolence fashioned Glassford’s identity, as a charitable man, interested in the social and cultural make up, and possible futures if the city. In 1760, Glassford bought Shawfield Mansion. The current Glassford Street runs through the site of the now demolished house.

Gordon Street, opened on grounds belonging to James Gordon of Stirling, Gordon & Co. who were extensive merchants, most likely in the West Indies where the enslavement of Africans was common place.

Ingram, Archibald (1699-1770), Lord Provost (1762-1764). Ingram was the brother-in-law of John Glassford, and created one of a number of subsidiaries that both Ingram and Glassford were involved in, Ingram & Glassford Co. With Glassford, Ingram was a patron of the Foulis Academy of Fine Art.[16] He was one of the city’s leading tobacco merchants and owned plantations in Virginia. As such, he owned slaves who worked his plantations. Ingram street, which used to be known as Black Cow Loan, was named in Ingram’s honour in 1781, runs form High Street to Queen street at the Cunningham Mansion, or what is now the GOMA. His son, of the same name was appointed to the council of the West Indies island of St. Vincent in 1771.[17]He was also head of Archibald Ingram and Co. of St, Kitts and St. Vincent.[18]Presumably after the crash of the Virginia plantations after the American Civil War, the Ingram legacy wad the use of slaves to in the sugar plantations of the Caribbean.

Jamaica Street opened in 1763, and takes its name from Glasgow’s connections to empire and the slave trade. Jamaica is an island in the Caribbean Sea. It was firstly an English colony from 1655, and after the Act of Union in 1707, a British colony until its independence in 1962. The principle export was sugar from British plantations. One third of the European inhabitants on the island were Scots. ‘Indentured servants, and banished Scottish miscreants’ were given the opportunity to buy large tracts of land by crown patent, where the average plantation size was 900 acres. Half of the slave population of all the British Caribbean islands were worked in Jamaica.[19]

Kingston and Kingston Bridge. Kingston is the capital and the largest city of Jamaica, founded in 1692, and is located on the south coast. By 1788, having expanded massively with commercial activity, a fifth of Kingston’s 25,000 population was white. Three fifths were slaves. In Glasgow, Kingston is an area in the south west of the city, connected to the north across the river by the Kingston Bridge (1966) which occupies the space of the Kingston Dock.

(John?) Miller of Westerton opened Miller Street in 1760. John may have had a son, John Jnr, born circa 1778 who was a known merchant in Kingston Jamaica. His baptism is recorded in Glasgow at the time to John Miller and Anne Mitchell. John Jnr. Is known to have at least 22 enslaved persons. He later lived at 168 St. Vincent Street, a salubrious address indeed, and in his Testament he is given as ‘formerly a merchant of Kingston, Jamaica.’ He married Mary Robinson McCook, daughter of a Planter (plantation owner) in Jamaica.[20]

Oswald, Richard, of Auchincruive. Oswald differs from the other city merchants who traded commodities produced by ensalved African. Instead, Oswald traded people: Glasgow’s only known slave trader who owned a trading fort at Bance Island, Sierra Leon, West Africa from 1748-1784. Oswald street, opened in 1817,[21]runs from the Broomielaw, a continuation of King George V Bridge over the Clyde, up to Argyle street where it becomes Hope Street that runs up the side of Central Station. Richard Alexander Oswald (1771-1841) was his great nephew, and son of George Oswald of Scotstoun, a Glasgow tobacco merchant. Richard Alexander claimed compensation for 299 Jamaican slaves after abolition.[22]

Plantation is an area of Glasgow south of the river, and like Kingston, is in the former Burgh of Govan. Previously called Craigiehall, the area was renamed in 1783 when it was bought by John Robertson, a merchant banker who owned sugar and cotton plantations in the West Indies.[23]During the sugar Revolution of the mid-eighteenth century, these plantations were worked in the field and the mills by some of the thousands of West Africans slave labourers.

St. Vincent Street runs from George Square to Argyle Street in the cities West End. Some have argued that the street name commemorates a 1797 battle won by John Jervis off Cape Saint Vincent. However it’s important to note that the West Indies island of Saint Vincent in the Caribbean was a British colony after driving out the French during the Seven Year War (1756 – 1763). The British brought with them enslaved African to work on the plantations of sugar, coffee, indigo, cotton and cocoa.

Tobago Street. Tobago (which became the English word for tobacco)  is one of a chain of Caribbean islands, Trinidad being its close neighbour. Grenada, Tobago, Dominica and St Vincent were aquired from France in 1763 after the Peace of Paris.[24] Scots owned and worked plantations exporting sugar, cotton, indigo and rum. African slaves, imported by the Scots worked these plantations.

Virginia Street was built by tobacco merchant George Buchanan of Mount Vernon (1728-1762), who was the second of four sons of Provost Andrew Buchanan of Drumpellier.[25]The street links the gate of his house, Virginia Mansion, to Argyle Street in the south.[26]Virginia Mansion, similar in style to Shawfield Mansion is said to be the first big house to be built from tobacco profits.[27]Along with his older brother, James Buchanan of Drumpellier (1726-1786), who was the Glasgow Provost twice in 1768, and 1774, George Buchanan owned large Virginia plantations worked by slaves from West Africa.[28]

Wilson Street named after George Wilson. Please message if you have more info on this merchant.

[1]Mullen, 2009

[2]Quintanilla, 2003: p 229

[3]Adams, 2010

[4]Adams, 2010

[5]Devine, 2015: p 170

[6]Glasgow Live, 2018

[7]Oakley, 1967: p 7

[8]Devine, 2015: p231

[9]UCL, 2019

[10]Devine, 2015: p31

[11]Naysmith, 2018

[12]Devine, 2015: p 31

[13]Nichol, 1966: p 23

[14]Wills, 1993: p137

[15]Nichol, 1966: p 23

[16]Unknown, 2004

[17]UCL Department of History, 2019


[19]Graham, in Devine, 2015

[20]UCL Department of History, 2019

[21]Adams, 2010

[22]UCL, 2019

[23]Unknown, 2019

[24]Quintanilla, 2003: p 229

[25]Adams, 2010

[26]Unknown, 2014

[27]Nichol, 1966: p 13

[28]Adams, 2010

Merchants references

Adams, Gordon. ‘Mount Vernon’, (2010). Available at: (Accessed: 31stMay 2019).

Adams, Gordon. ‘Street Names, (2010). Available at: (Accessed: 11th June 2019).

Devine, Tom, M., ‘Did Slavery Make Scotia Great? A Question Revisited’ in Recovering Scotland’s Slavery Past: The Caribbean Connection. ed. By Devine, Tom, M.,(UK: Edinburgh University Press, 2015).

Glasgow Live, ‘Here’s 12 facts you didn’t know about Merchant City’. Available at: (Accessed: 7thJune 2019).

Graham, Eric, J., ‘The Scots Penetration of the Jamaican Plantation Business’ in Recovering Scotland’s Slavery Past: The Caribbean Connection. ed. By Devine, Tom, M.,(UK: Edinburgh University Press, 2015).

Mullen, Stephen. ‘Ae Fond Kiss, and Then We Sever!’In Variant, (Issue 35, 2009), Available at: (Accessed: 31stMay 2019).

Naysmith, Stephen.’ Edinburgh ready to face up to its dark past of Henry Dundas, philanthropist who also championed slavery’ in The herald(14thAugust 2018). Available at: (Accessed: 2ndJune 2019)

Nichols, Norman. Glasgow and the TobaccoLords (London: Longman Group Ltd., 1966).

Oakley, C., A., Second City(UK: University of Glasgow, 1967).

Quintanilla, Mark. ‘The World of Alexander Campbell: An Eighteenth-century Grenadian Planter’ in Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies, (35:2, Summer, 2003), pp. 229-256. Available at: (Accessed: 7thJune 2019).

UCL Department of History, ‘Archibald Ingram of St Kitts and St Vincent’,Legacies of British Slave-ownership database, (2019). Available at: (Accessed: 7th June 2019).

 UCL Department of History, ‘James Oswald,Legacies of British Slave-ownership database, (2019). Available at: (Accessed: 11th June 2019).

 UCL Department of History, ‘James Robert Dennistoun’,Legacies of British Slave-ownership database, (2019). Available at: (Accessed: 11th June 2019).

 UCL Department of History, ‘John Miller’, Legacies of British Slave-ownership database,(2019). Available at: (Accessed: 8th June 2019).

Unknown. ‘Archibald Ingram’, (2004). Available at: (Accessed: 7thJune 2019)

Unknown. ‘Plantation’, (2019). Available at: (Accessed: 2ndJune 2019).

Unknown. ‘Virginia Mansion’, (2004). Available at: (Accessed: 31stMay 2019)

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