Last night BBC Two screened the first part of “Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners“—a superb documentary examining the stories of slave ownership revealed by the recent Legacies of British Slave-ownership project.
Macintosh was, of course, long dead by the time the Slave Compensation Commission was established to reimburse slave holders following the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act. Given, moreover, that Macintosh left the Caribbean in a state of financial precarity (if not outright bankruptcy), there was no “legacy” of enslaved people for him to leave and thus his descendants do not feature in the Legacies of British Slave-ownership database. Many of those with whom Macintosh did business and co-owned plantations are present, however, and include James Laing and William Pulteney.
Macintosh’s papers bear witness, however, to his role as a slave owner (and certainly not a benevolent one). There is evidence to suggest that on more than one occasion he branded runaway slaves on their recapture. Whilst it will take further work to fully determine the extent of Macintosh’s holdings, there is evidence that by the end of 1775 he owned 50 enslaved people. These he described as “not attached to any plantation, being tradesmen, sailors, & domestics”. He reckoned their value at £3,000 (ten times his annual salary as Comptroller of His Majesty’s Customs).
Macintosh’s status as a slave owner was not unusual in this period, but it does sit somewhat uneasily alongside his later promotion of egalitarianism and individual rights in the context of British India. Whether he experienced a Damascene conversion, or for reasons of pragmatism simply believed a different means of colonial management were required there, is not yet clear. Further digging is, as ever, required.