James Ramsay is remembered and honoured for the considerable contribution he made to the abolition of slavery. He dedicated his life to the "impossible" task of abolishing slavery in 18th century Britain.
Early life and military career.
Ramsay was born in Fraserburgh on 25th July 1733 and received his early education locally before graduating from King’s College, Aberdeen. He joined the Royal Navy as a surgeon.
Something like 70% of all Africans shipped across the Atlantic were destined to work in the British Sugar Colonies of the West Indies. Voyages were long, dangerous and the human cargoes were prone to devastating diseases.
Ramsay’s first contact with the slave trade came in 1759 when he boarded a slave-ship infested with plague. The conditions he encountered left a lasting impression on him. Unfortunately, on returning to his own ship, he fell on deck and broke his thighbone. This left him lame and forced him to resign from the Royal Navy.
St Kitts Church Minister
Ramsay’s first calling had been the Church, and he was ordained in London in 1762. He took charge of parishes in the West Indies island of St Kitts where he worked for the next nineteen years as both doctor and minister to alleviate the suffering of the slaves working in the sugar fields. Ramsay had to defend himself against the many vindictive attacks by the British planters.
Early Pioneer of Abolition.
He retired to England in 1781 and published a damning report of the British West Indies slave trade. The publication "An Essay on the Treatment and Conversion of African Slaves in the British Sugar Colonies" was a best seller.
Ramsay died on 20th July 1789. His battle was over, but the war on slavery had just begun.
Ramsay was a major influence on Wilberforce, the famous figure usually associated with the abolition of slavery. After decades of struggle, his cause prevailed. Ramsay was the critical figure in bringing about the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1807 which outlawed the transportation of slaves.
FOOTNOTE: It was not until 1833 that slaves were actually emancipated in British Colonies, though the slaves had to serve their own masters as apprenticed labourers until 1838.