The years after Culloden, were sorry years for the Highlanders. It became quite a profitable trade to kidnap people and sell them as slaves to work on the sugar and cotton plantations of the West Indies and southern states of Maryland and Virginia in North America. Highland children were considered lawful prey often they could be laid hands on.On one occasion seven boys left the Island of Luing for the Lowlands to be hired as herd boys for the spring and summer, intending to return home for the autumn after all the crops had been housed.
They looked forward to the winter as the season for going to school. With cheerful hearts they set out for the Lowlands on a trading vessel bound for Port Glasgow, which was then the port of call for all shipping craft. They were to land and make their way as best they could to the outlying farm lands.
The lads could not tear their selves away from the port without looking at the big ships that lay alongside, loading and unloading their cargoes. They stood gazing in admiration at on beauty that had grabbed their attention:- “would you like to have a look over the vessel before she starts me lads” asked a pleasant voice beside them. There was no need to wait for an answer, of course we would. “Follow me then” , said the man and he led the way on board followed by the boys, who were soon absorbed into examining various parts of the ship. While deeply engrossed, the ship weighed anchor and set sail.
Before she finally set sail for America she called at an English port to take in further supplies. One of the boys a bright intelligent lad named James MacIntyre. It was him that the cook took ashore to carry the basket of purchases to be made at the butchers shop near the quay. While the cook was bargaining with the shop man, James set down his basket and went to the door. First looking stealthily up and down the street he bolted round the nearest corner before the cook could reach the door.
James lived for some years in England and returned to his native Island when he had laid up enough money to pay his way back. By that time he was able to take care not to be trapped by fair speeches into unknown dangers. It was only then that the fate of the other six boys became known to the sorrowing parents. James was afterwards known as “Seamus Sassenach”- English James.
Adapted from Old Kates story:-
From Myth, Tradition and stories in Western Argyll by K W Grant