Beith - History - Morishill and James Montgomery

Morishill and James Montgomery

Now a small housing estate, the house and land of Morrishill stood a short distance south of Beith. It commanded an excellent view and was well sheltered with trees. Owned by Robert Shedden, who purchased the land in 1748, it is notoriously linked to the case of James Montgomery.

James Montgomery, an enslaved African, was brought from Virginia to Beith by Sheddan. He wanted Montgomery, then called "Shanker", apprenticed to a joiner so that he would learn a skill and could then be sold for a large profit back in Virginia. When Shanker decided to be baptised in Beith Parish Church with the name James Montgomery in April 1756, Sheddan objected. Montgomery was dragged nearly 30-miles to Port Glasgow behind horses to be taken back to Virginia but escaped to Edinburgh before the ship sailed. Montgomery sought justice but before a decision could be made by judges he died in Tolbooth Gaol.

The practice of owning people did not become common in Britain and it was a result a number of contradictory legal decisions made, that raised the question of the rights of the enslaved, as well as the legal right to own people in Britain. The outcomes of these cases also influenced the abolition movement.

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