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Peter Williamson - Indian Peter
Peter Williamson - Indian Peter
Child Slavery Kidnapping
In the 1740s it was common practice for villains to kidnap young boys, aged from 6 years to teenagers, and sell them into slavery abroad, usually to America. Such practice was called listing and the people behind it were called press gangs. A similar practice would occur years later to "recruit" people into the Navy - gangs of sailors would go looking for fit men, usually drunk at the time and bundle them aboard ship, usually after being coshed. The unfortunate people would upon sobering up or waking from their assault find themselves far out at sea and have no alternative but to work their passage.
Peter Williamson from Hirnlay in Aboyne was one such victim of listing in 1743. He was born in 1730 and in 1740 he went to Aberdeen to live with his aunt. Three years later, whilst innocently playing at the harbour quayside, he was accosted by two men and taken to a barn in nearby Torry. He was later shipped to the New World on a ship called The Planter, commanded by Captain Robert Ragg.
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Graeme Milne in his book The Haunted North: Paranormal Tales from Aberdeen and the North East
describes how The Green, on the bottom of the large steps on Union Street, had buildings that were used to house slave boys until they were shipped off abroad. These kidnappers houses employed the service of a Piper to play the bagpipes so that this noise would drown out the sounds of the children.
The voyage was eventful and the ship was wrecked during a storm. Peter survived and was sold to another Scot called Hugh Wilson who had also been listed, though from St Johnstown. Peter worked on Hugh's farm but also attended school in the winter months where he learnt to read and write.
Four years passed and Hugh died. He left a large sum of money, his horse, saddle and clothing to Peter in his will, leaving Peter a free man.
For seven years Peter went from town to town working as a labourer. He then fell in love with a wealthy planter's daughter in Chester County in Pennsylvania.
In 1754 on the 2nd October he was taken prisoner again, this time by some Indians. He was kept alive to work for them and was tortured. Three months later he escaped and made his way home but unfortunately his wife had died two months earlier. He then joined the Pennsylvania Volunteers and saw active service until 1756 when he journeyed back to the UK to Plymouth. He then travelled to York. Here he published his memoirs. The book was called French and Indian Cruelty: Exemplified in the Life and Various Vicissitudes of Fortune of Peter Williamson etc. He helped increase book sales by dressing up as an Indian with headdress and war paint, smoking a peace pipe and carrying a tomahawk and doing war dances.
Fifteen years after first being kidnapped he arrived back in Aberdeen to find his family. He was soon arrested for libel after talking about his kidnapping and writing about it in his book because he blamed civic officials for being behind the illegal slave trade. Though he was fined and banished from the town he did raise a court case to seek damages from his abductors. Though there were many underhand activities during the trial he eventually won his case.
Peter Williamson then moved to Edinburgh where he continued his writings and kept a tavern. He married a lass called Jean and they had a daughter. Peter established the Penny Post in Edinburgh and published a newspaper called The Scots Spy. He died in 1799 on the 19th January aged 69.
It is thought he may have inspired the novels of James Fenimore Cooper who wrote books such as The Last Of The Mohicans.
More famous Aberdonians
Bill Bailey brings his act, Larks in Transit, a compendium of travellersí tales and a reflection upon his 20 years as a travelling comedian to Aberdeen at the AECC on Saturday 1st June 2019