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CS235Court of Session: Unextracted processes, 1st arrangement, Innes-Mackenzie office1673-1859
Country code GB
Repository code 234
Repository National Records of Scotland
Reference CS235/K/2/2
Title Joseph Knight v Sir John Wedderburn: Question of right of property in a Negro slave
Dates 1774-1778
Access status Open
Access conditions This record has been digitally imaged and will not be produced for readers. The digital images may be seen in the NRS Search Rooms on the 'Virtual Volumes' system.
Location Off site
Description This Court of Session case, heard during 1777 and 1778, derived from an earlier action brought by a negro slave, or servant, Joseph Knight, who sought the freedom to leave the employment of John Wedderburn of Bandean [Ballendean, Inchture, Perthshire]. Knight claimed that the very act of landing in Scotland freed him from perpetual servitude, as slavery was not recognised in Scotland. Many years earlier, Knight had been purchased by Wedderburn in Jamaica from a slave trader. The case caused disagreement in the courts as Wedderburn insisted that slavery and perpetual servitude were different states. He argued that in Scots law Knight, even though he was not recognised as a slave, was still bound to provide perpetual service in the same manner as an indentured servant or an apprenticed artisan. The Justices of the Peace in Perth, who first considered the matter, found in favour of Wedderburn. However, when Knight appealed to the Sheriff Deputy that decision was overturned. Wedderburn made a further appeal to the Lords of Council and Session, who upheld the Sheriff Deputy's decision, ruling that "the dominion assumed over this Negro, under the law of Jamaica, being unjust, could not be supported in this country to any extent: That, therefore, the defender had no right to the Negro?s service for any space of time, nor to send him out of the country against his consent: That the Negro was likewise protected under the act 1701, c.6. from being sent out of the country against his consent. ? The judgements of the Sheriff were approved of, and the Court ?remitted the cause simpliciter? (from Decisions of the Court of Session, Jan 1778 - Nov 1780 (Edinburgh, 1783))

As part of the appeal process Wedderburn outlined the history of the case as well as the personal circumstances that initially led to an estrangement between the two men. The appeal provides information regarding the relationship between Joseph Knight and another servant, who is described as 'one of the Fair Sex not very famous for her virtues'. This relationship had resulted in her pregnancy and eventually in a severing of the good relationship between Wedderburn and Knight when the latter would not give her up.
Level File
Arrangement The papers consist of five bundles, including an extract of process by the Sheriff Depute of Perth (20 May 1774), an extract of process by the Lords of Council and Session (30 May 1774), and memorials for John Wedderburn and Joseph Knight (1775).

National Records of Scotland, H.M. General Register House, 2 Princes Street, Edinburgh, EH1 3YY; email: [email protected]