Anne Tobin Stewart
Dunkeld Community Archive, Black History Month, October 2023
By Munro Gauld
The Dunkeld Community Archive holds a copy of clothing receipts that illustrate the village’s connection to slavery and the Caribbean sugar trade, and gives an interesting insight into the life of Anne Stewart, perhaps the only black person living in Dunkeld exactly two hundred years ago.
Anne Tobin Stewart was born on the Caribbean island of Grenada on the 17th January 1810, the daughter of Charlotte Tobin, a “freed, coloured woman”. Her father was John Stewart of Garth, the manager of the Perthshire family’s 320-acre sugar plantation in Trinidad – and in 1822 the owner of 36 slaves. It was common at the time for planters, even married ones, to have black “wives” whilst they were in the West Indies and although Anne’s parents weren’t married, it seems that they were in some form of long-term relationship. Not that this prevented John Stewart from carrying on what appears to have been a family tradition of having children out of wedlock as it is recorded that he fathered another five illegitimate children born to at least three other slave mothers.
Sugar plantation Trinidad by Richard Bridgens
From: Sketches taken during a voyage to, and residence of seven years in … Trinidad (London, 1836)
Image: Use permitted under Creative Commons License
Charlotte died in 1822 when Anne was only 12, and John sailed with her back to Scotland taking her to the family estate at Garth near Aberfeldy where he thought she would have the best opportunities in life. At the time it was fashionable and prestigious for wealthy landowners to have black or Indian servants, thus demonstrating their connection to Britain’s growing empire. As one of the Stewart relations rather cynically put it; “he (John Stewart) has brought one of his Black Pets home to leave with his Sister.” John headed back almost immediately to Trinidad leaving Anne at Drumcharry (the Stewart house on Garth Estate), under the care of his famous and celebrated elder brother, Colonel David Stewart. Anne would not see her father again – he never returned to Scotland and was to die in Trinidad from “a protracted disease” in March 1830.
Col. David Stewart of Garth by James M Scrymgeour
Image: © Black Watch Museum, Perth.
Col. David didn’t want the responsibility of looking after Anne at Drumcharry, so she was passed on to his youngest sister Jessie who had married a local minister. Thus, in early 1823 Anne came to live in the manse at Little Dunkeld with her Aunt Jessie, her uncle the Rev. Alexander Irvine, and their six children.
Interestingly, Anne wasn’t the only illegitimate child at Little Dunkeld manse in 1823. Col. David had fathered a son, Neil, with an unknown woman – most likely a daughter of one of the tenants on Garth Estate. It is not known when Neil was born – but it would have been at some point after 1814 when Col. David returned to Scotland from military service in Trinidad. By 1821 the responsibility for bringing up Neil had been given to Jessie, and Neil was living at Little Dunkeld manse.
Coming from the Caribbean into a Scottish winter must have been a shock to Anne, but she was soon dressed in appropriate clothing, bought for her at John Duff, merchant, Dunkeld. The Dunkeld Community Archive has copies of receipts for shoes and cloth for Anne from a few years later showing that she had her own account there. Given the quantity of cloth that she purchased, Anne must have been extremely busy making clothes for herself – and perhaps for others.
John Duff of Dunkeld, Merchant
12th April 1826
Account for Ann Stewart for the period Sept 1825 -March 1826
Total £3, 4s and 8d
The six-month bill for Miss Ann Stewart’s account includes 39 ¼ yards of material with 9 yards of tweed bombazett, 3 ¼ yards of brown satin, and 9 ¾ yards of green ground printed cotton. In addition, Ann bought cuffs, gloves, boots and a whole range of haberdashery including ribbon, tape cotton cord (thread?), needles, thimbles etc. She also had her own account with Dunkeld shoemaker Mary Campbell where, in the period March 26th 1825 – March 1st 1826, she purchased of a pair of satin boots and one other pair of boots, as well as having various other boots mended. The original receipts along with many hundreds of other documents relating to the Irvine and Stewarts of Garth families are held in the Irvine Robertson Family Archive in the National Library of Scotland.
Little Dunkeld Manse in the 1970s – little changed from when it was built for the Irvines in 1819/20.
Photo: Historic Environment Scotland © Crown Copyright: HES (List C Survey)
Anne was quickly integrated into the Irvine family and their lives in early 1823; she had a season pass for the newly built Telford bridge over to Dunkeld and, along with the rest of the manse children, she started to attend Dunkeld’s Royal School. However, Col. David was concerned that his family’s spurious (i.e. illegitimate) offspring would bring dishonour, scandal and ridicule to the Stewart name, and brought pressure on the Irvines to ensure that Anne and Neil were kept separate from polite society and were not introduced as “family”. Anne was removed from Dunkeld school after only six weeks and thus by late spring of 1823 she had commenced living her life with the Irvines as neither servant, nor yet as a fully accepted and equal member of the family.
On the untimely early death of the Rev Irvine in July 1824, Anne became companion to her Aunt Jessie – a role that she was to play for the rest of her life. Neil and Anne followed Jessie firstly to Drumcharry, then, when Garth estate was sold in 1830, to Foss manse where Jessie’s eldest son Sandy was the recently appointed minister. In 1833 Sandy got married and obviously didn’t want to continue being responsible for Neil, suggesting that he be paid off with a lump sum of £100 as long as he made no further claim on the family. At the same time Jessie, along with Anne, moved to Pitlochry to live with her 4th son, Dr William Irvine.
Jessie Stewart Irvine
How would Anne have been perceived and treated by the people of Highland Perthshire? Although, at that time children born out of wedlock wouldn’t have been that unusual, it was still frowned upon by both the church and society at large. As Col. David, said of his illegitimate son Neil’s situation:
“While every justice ought to be done to the young man so far as education and placing him in a suitable station, it is a scandal to common decency to introduce him as one of the family – the world feels thus. You would be astonished were I to reflect the many remonstrations I get on the subject and Clementina (Col. David’s elder sister) did him incomparable injury in forcing him forward and calling him her brother. People’s feelings were shocked and while they rejected him and would not pay him attention, this would not have been so strongly marked had different plans been followed.”
As well as being viewed askance as the illegitimate daughter of a well-known Perthshire landed family, what additional social prejudices would have faced the young Anne? Certainly initially, her peers at Dunkeld School would have been confronted with someone who would have spoken with a very different accent. But perhaps most significantly, being of partial black parentage, Anne would have looked very different from every other girl, or indeed person in the area. In the absence of much evidence, can we conjecture as to how Anne was treated by the other children and people of Dunkeld? To give us some idea, it is perhaps useful to look at the wider context. Georgian Britain was a strange mixture of hedonistic abandon and excess, coupled with rigid social and class hierarchies ……. think of the widespread drunkenness and prostitution, contrasting with strict social etiquette as exemplified by all those mannered Regency dramas! In addition, Britain’s army and navy were successfully conquering far-off lands to add to our burgeoning Empire; and this was coupled with an accompanying Christian missionary zeal which reinforced both the cultural and power structures of the empire. All of these contributed towards a perception by at least some (including the likes of Samuel Johnston), that people of a different nationality, colour and race were inherently inferior. However as is pointed out by Roxann Wheeler in The Complexion of Race, a study of race in Georgian Britain, ‘older conceptions of Christianity, civility, and rank’ were perhaps more important in Britons’ assessments of themselves and others than ‘physical attributes such as skin colour, shape of the nose, or texture of the hair’. In addition, some historians identify that Georgian Britain was defined by the exploitation and oppression of the lower classes, and that a sense of solidarity amongst the poor existed regardless of race. However, general attitudes were to soon change as by the Victorian era any lingering notions of racial equality were replaced with the widespread acceptance of pseudo-scientific theories of Anglo-Saxon evolutionary superiority. Whilst it is difficult to determine the prevailing social attitudes in 1820s Perthshire towards race, and thus how Anne would have been viewed and treated, it is fair to assume that she would have experienced some level of ongoing racism throughout her life.
The late 1700s and early 1800s saw the development of a strong anti-slavery movement which eventually lead to the Abolition of Slavery Act of 1833. However, the Irvines and Stewart families were, as the owners and beneficiaries of a Caribbean slave plantation, strongly in the anti-abolition camp and there are indications of a scarcely concealed contempt for those advocating change; as Jessie’s third son David wrote in a letter to the agent of the Garth plantation in Trinidad in the early 1830s:
”We must be ruined because the dread of a new slave trade has seized on the good dames who swallow tea and masticate sponge cake for the cause of humanity.”
A dichotomy seems to have existed within the minds of the Stewart and Irvine families; on the one hand they willingly accepted Anne, a black woman from Trinidad, into their house and lives; yet on the other hand they openly supported the principle that the black people employed on their Trinidad plantation should be regarded, not as human beings, but as their property, much in the same way as their oxen. It has been argued that this did not, per se, amount to racism, but rather the family saw the issue as purely one of economics – black slaves being one of the capital investments necessary to generate a return from their estate. Whether this is justifiable or not, it was certainly reflected in the actions of parliament which, following the passing of the Abolition Act, compensated slave owners for loss of their capital assets, yet saw no reason to pay anything to the slaves themselves. The executor of the estate of John Stewart (Anne’s father) was paid £3,767 compensation for the loss of ownership of the 75 slaves on the Garth planation in Trinidad – the equivalent of approximately £4m today.
Irrespective of how Anne was perceived by wider Perthshire society, it is obvious that Jessie Irvine was a good woman, and that Anne was treated well by her and her son, Dr William. Anne is identified in the 1841 and 1851 censuses as being a family member of “independent means”, meaning that she was neither a servant nor had to work for her living. However, although Anne must have led a relatively comfortable life, she was one of the very few black women in Highland Perthshire and, given the social mores of the time and her role as Jessie’s companion, she had little or no chance to make her own way in life. Perhaps unsurprisingly she never married or had children.
Anne lived with Jessie in the cottage next to Dr William Irvine’s Pitlochry house of Craigatin for much of the 1840s and 1850s. However, in autumn 1859 she took ill and at 4.30pm on the 17th September, she is recorded as having died of apoplexy. She is buried in Moulin churchyard, with her remains marked by a simple sandstone obelisk. The gravestone is badly weathered and fractured by rain and frost and it won’t be long before it crumbles back to sand. With that the last local physical remnant of Anne’s life will be lost, along with a small, but important, reminder of the area’s links with the transatlantic slave trade.
If you are passing Moulin and have the time, pop into the graveyard there and pay your respects to Anne. Her life and story deserve to be remembered.
Anne Tobin Stewart’s gravestone, Moulin
Photo: Munro Gauld
Munro Gauld is a local musician and historical researcher, as well as being an active volunteer with Dunkeld Community Archive.
The First Highlander by James Irvine Robertson. Tuckwell Press (1998)
Out of Atholl by James Irvine Robertson, Birlinn Ltd (2008)
Personal correspondence with James Irvine Robertson (2022 and 2023)
Irvine Robertson Family Archive, National Library of Scotland.
The Complexion of Race: Categories of Difference in Eighteenth-Century British Culture by Roxann Wheeler. New Cultural Studies (2010)
Database of Slavery Compensation, The Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slavery, University College London
British Census Returns for 1841 and 1851. National Records of Scotland
Statutory Register of Death for Anne Stewart, dated Sept 23rd 1859. National Records of Scotland