Indian Peter

Peter Williamson known as "Indian Peter"

The wild story of the Scot from Aberdeen, Peter Williamson—known as “Indian Peter”—is a window onto the cruel white slave trade carried on in Britain from 1615-1775. Most people think of African blacks as being the only victims of the North American slave trade. But the little publicized story of the British trading in white slave pre-dates the British black slave trade by many years.

Nearly all white people spirited away by “spirits” employed by Scottish merchants, were children. They were not homeless, or without parents, but simply, cruelly, kidnapped by greedy Aberdeen merchants and transported from Scotland to be sold as free labour - slaves - to work the plantations in the new American colonies. Many died on the transatlantic voyage; many others died of disease, overwork, or suicide, and most of them were never seen or heard from again.

Peter Williamson was a rare, resilient survivor. He was intelligent, resourceful and fiercely determined to survive exhaustion and physical and mental atrocities to document his own story. His memoirs tell the shameful story of countless other poor souls who were abducted from their homes in Scotland, Ireland and England and from their families to be worked —and in many cases worked to death — as slaves for British landowners in the New World.

In the summer of 1743, Peter was abducted from Aberdeen at the age of eight and transported on a ship called The Planter to work on a Virginia plantation. The Planter hit a sandbar on the Cape of Delaware and was wrecked. The 69 abducted children were abandoned and left to perish, but another slaver vessel picked them up and carried them on to Philadelphia, where they were sold for £16 apiece.

We were driven through the country like cattle to a Smithfield market and exposed to sale in public fairs like so many brute beasts. If the Devil had come in the shape of a man to purchase us, his money would have been as readily accepted as of the most honest and humane in the world. These children are sometimes sold to barbarous and cruel masters from whom they often make an elopement to avoid the harsh useage they often meet with, but as there is scarce a possibility of making a total escape, they are generally taken and brought back; and for every day they have been absent they are compelled to work a week, for every week a month, and for every month a year. They are besides obliged to pay the cost of advertising and bringing them back which often protracts their slavery four or five times longer.
— Peter Williamson

After eight years of labour Peter was set free, only to be captured, tortured and taken hostage by a Cherokee natives, and after his escape from them, was again captured by the French and taken to Quebec. He was finally returned to England in 1756 as an exchange prisoner. His story spread far and wide, and it was published as French and Indian Cruelty, exemplified in the Life and various Vicissitudes of Fortune of Peter Williamson, who was carried off from Aberdeen in his Infancy and sold as a slave in Pennsylvania. He is known as “Indian Peter” because to promote his book, he would dress up in native costumes, and demonstrate native war cries and dances. After all these vicissitudes, and finally successfully suing the Aberdeen magistrates who condoned his abduction as a boy, he settled into a kind of showman-storyteller life in Edinburgh, and in effect, became one of the first abolitionists, railing against slavery and bringing to light the cruel commerce in human bodies of which he had been a victim.