IT is a stain on Scotland’s reputation, but the country’s links to slavery generated incredible wealth and transformed us from a poor nation into a rich one.

New Lanark, Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art, and Edinburgh’s James Gillespie schools are physical evidence of Scotland’s wealthy past, but are all intimately connected with the slave trade.

Now a government agency has announced it will carry out extensive research to determine how the country’s links to the slavery helped finance some of our most treasured historic buildings.

Once completed, the work by Historic Environment Scotland (HES) will enable the public to better understand a dark, but important part of the country’s past.

Scotland’s involvement in the slave trade primarily spanned the 18th and 19th centuries.

Following the act of unions and new-found access to the colonies, Scottish merchants became increasingly involved in the trade of sugar, tobacco, and cotton which were all produced on plantations in the Caribbean and the United States using slave labour.

Some merchants took goods to Africa and exchanged or bought slaves and took them to the New World bringing back tobacco, sugar, and cotton.

Other merchants relocated to the Caribbean and built their wealth on extensive use of extensive slave labour. At one stage, 32 per cent of Jamaica’s plantations were owned by Scottish families.

The main links were with Glasgow, due to its status as a major trading port, and many of the streets in the city centre belie our chequered past including Jamaica Street, Virginia Street, and the Kingston Bridge.

Other streets in the city - such as Buchanan Street, Glassford Street, Ingram Street and Wilson Street are named after the 18th century Tobacco Lords.

But the wealth the Tobacco Lords and other merchants accrued, impacted right across the country, including country estates.

Buildings funded by wealth garnered from such trade included the cotton mills in New Lanark, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, the National Trust of Scotland property Greenbank Garden, Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art, The Trades Halls in Glasgow, Inverness Academy, as well as the former Bathgate Academy, Dollar Academy, Inverness Academy, and Edinburgh’s James Gillespie schools.

Professor Tom Devine, a historian who edited the book Recovering Scotland’s Slavery Past, said: “There was some trading of slaves in the early 18th century, but it was no more than 5,500 individuals.

“A lot of Scots got involved in slave trading by emigrating to places such as London and Liverpool and working as traders, seamen, and doctors.

“The largest impact in Scotland was through Scottish merchants involved in the tobacco, sugar and cotton trades, which could not have existed without slaves. We are talking about black chattel slavery which was the worst of all because slaves had no rights.”

Professor Devine welcomed the growing interest in Scotland’s links to slavery and said the country was behind other parts of the UK in “recovering” its past.

“This new work is transforming our understanding of Scottish history in the 18th and 19th centuries. It’s important work. The major breakthroughs have been made by historians in the last ten years.

“Why was it that Liverpool, Bristol, and London have accepted their role in this system from the 1950s and 1960s? Why does Scotland have this unwillingness or unawareness? “

The HES plan to exhibit the historic buildings with links to the slave trade.

Lorna Ewen, head of learning for HES, said they were “very conscious of the need for greater clarity” on how the “profits from slavery impacted on Scottish buildings.

“We anticipate that this research will focus not only on the properties in Care Estate but also on the wider historic built environment: i.e Scotland’s towns, cities, country estates, industrial sites.” .

“We are already in contact with relevant academics and other national and cultural heritage bodies, with the aim of taking forward an ambitious research project.”