Oct 5, 2007
A TAPESTRY of the Battle of Culloden has revealed a new mystery about the last battle fought on British soil.
The historic work, which shows events at the 1746 conflict from the point of view of government troops, was bought at auction by the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) for about £4,000.
It will play a central role in the new £10 million visitor centre at the battlefield near Inverness.
Among the red-coated troops charging the Jacobite Army and a tartan-clad Bonnie Prince Charlie is a black figure who may have played a part in the battle.
Trust officials and historians have been baffled by the discovery of the man.The trust says he may be a servant of a government officer, General McNaughton.
Katrina Thomson, the NTS's deputy curator, said it is not clear whether the tapestry is a true depiction of a scene from the battle or whether it reflects later influences.
But she said historians are excited about the mystery figure and efforts are being made to find out more about him. "We just simply don't know who it is. We are presuming it is a black character," she said.
"When we bought the needlework there was a suggestion via Bonhams [auctioneers] that he was a servant of a General McNaughton.
"We tried to chase this up with some historians but they had not come across the name, or a mention of a black servant."
Clare Meredith, the NTS chief conservator, added: "There is a figure with a black face wearing a bright blue jacket and a grey cap, standing beside a horse. He could be a manservant to a serving officer.
"We hope that when it goes on display historians and members of the public will shed light on this."
The panel clearly reveals the allegiance of its original owners to King George II.
It is thought to have been worked in the late 18th century by women in the household of Charles Edmond Hay, third Laird of Hopes - a relation of John Hay, fourth Marquess of Tweeddale, who was Secretary of State for Scotland during the critical years of the Jacobite uprising.
Ms Thomson added: "The needlework has suffered some damage over the 250 years but although it will not be the prettiest textile in the new exhibition, it is arguably the most fascinating.
"Objects which project government, rather than Jacobite, loyalties are rare. Its depiction of a critical point in the battle makes it invaluable to the interpretive displays in the new visitor centre which aim to tell the story of Culloden from both sides."
NTS said the 4ft by 2ft panel was a section of a larger wall hanging.
It will be among over 250 original objects associated with the history of the battle, including loans from the National Museums of Scotland, the Royal Armouries in Leeds, the Drambuie Liqueur Company and Inverness Museum among others.
The project has received support from the Scottish Government, the European Regional Development Fund, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the Gaelic development agency Bòrd na Gàidhlig.
The most famous Jamaican servant was Francis Barber, who was born on a sugar plantation in Jamaica around 1735 and worked for Samuel Johnson, as servant, companion and surrogate son.
SCOTLAND'S participation in the slave trade in the Caribbean and the Americas during the 18th century is recorded in street names such as Jamaica Street in Glasgow.
The exact number of enslaved Africans in Britain during that time is not known, but some clue is given from church records and runaway slave notices. There are 70 records of enslaved Africans in the 18th century.
They included James Montgomery, who was brought from Virginia to Ayrshire, David Spens, who was taken from Grenada to Methil in Fife and Joseph Knight, from the Americas, who came to Perthshire. Scots owned many sugar and tobacco plantations in Jamaica and the Americas. Glasgow provided a direct shipping route and slavery would eventually touch the whole country as families married into the trade, or travelled to run the plantations themselves. At one stage, 30 per cent of plantations in Jamaica were owned by Scots.
Many took black workers when they returned home. A painting in the People's Palace in Glasgow from about 1760 shows John Glassford, a tobacco merchant, and family - with the figure of a slave later painted out.