In which Commonwealth country outside Scotland will you find the highest percentage of people with Scottish surnames?

You might expect the answer to that question to be Canada or New Zealand, but the surprising answer is Jamaica.

The frequency of Scottish surnames is such that 60% of names in the Jamaican telephone directory are Scottish in origin. The reasons for this surprising fact are not very well known in either Scotland or Jamaica, but perhaps that is because it is not entirely a comfortable story…The Herald: The palm tree-lined beaches of Jamaica make this Caribbean paradise a favourite destination for the rich and famousIn 1656, a group of Scottish prisoners of war disembarked from a ship called The Two Sisters and began a new life as indentured servants on sugar plantations in Jamaica.

It was only a year before that Jamaica had been captured from the Spanish and Oliver Cromwell saw the new colony as a useful opportunity to be rid of these Scottish prisoners who had been languishing in jails since the battles at Dunbar in 1650 and Worcester in 1651.

Later in the seventeenth century these first Scots were followed by other exiles including petty criminals and Covenanters. We know some of the names of those Covenanters including Marshall and Martin which are common surnames in Jamaica today and the first of millions of Jamaicans of mixed African and Scottish descent date from this period.

Some Jacobite rebels were also exiled to Jamaica, but the number of involuntary Scottish exiles was soon to be exceeded by Scots who chose to come to Jamaica. The first of these may have been Colonel John Campbell from Inveraray in Argyllshire.

At the end of the seventeenth century, Campbell had participated in the disastrous Darien experiment in the Panama. Rather than returning to Scotland, he decided to stop off in Jamaica in 1701 where he settled at Black River in the south west of the island. He had a large family which initiated the spread of the Campbell name all over the island. It is the commonest surname in Jamaica and there are said to be more Campbells per square acre in Jamaica than in Scotland!

His descendants include the fashion model Naomi Campbell and the sprinter Veronica Campbell-Brown.

The Herald: Supermodel Naomi Campbell has landed a part in Ugly Betty

As the slave economy expanded in the eighteenth century a disproportionate number of Scots, especially from the Lowlands, came to seek their fortune in Jamaica.

A large number of plantation owners and overseers in Jamaica were from Scotland as well as being involved in a variety of other occupations. During her visit to Jamaica in 1801, Lady Nugent observed that,“Almost all the agents, attornies [sic], merchants and shopkeepers, are of that country [Scotland] and really do deserve to thrive in this, they are so industrious.”

The Scottish slave owners whose surnames live on in Jamaica today include James Wedderburn, David Lyon, Rev Alexander Whyte and John Newland. The last named owned plantations in St Andrew in what is now the western part of Kingston.

In his will, dated 1799, he left £14,500, a huge amount in those days, to establish an academy in Bathgate which was finally completed in 1833. Every year on the first Saturday of June there is a John Newland Festival in Bathgate but few participants are aware that the town’s benefactor was involved in the slave trade.

In reality most Jamaicans with Scottish surnames today will find it difficult to discover if they are descended from a Scottish prisoner of war or other exiled ‘criminal’ or from someone involved in slavery.

It is very likely that some readers of this article share a common ancestry with Jamaicans of the same name. If you would like to find out if your Scottish surname may have a Jamaican link you can put your name in the search engine of the Jamaican Telephone Directory at and then enter your surname in the search engine at this database which records all those who received compensation when slavery was abolished in 1834.

Scotland played a huge part in Jamaica’s slavery-driven economy and during the latter part of the eighteenth and the early nineteenth centuries the Scottish economy grew from one of the weakest in Europe to becoming one of the most powerful.

Glasgow is well known for its tobacco lords. Tobacco came from Virginia but the sugar trade was more long lasting.

The vast sheds where Jamaican sugar arrived still exist in Greenock today and some have suggested that they should become a museum to highlight Scotland’s little known role in the slave trade.

There are several other fascinating connections between Scotland and Jamaica including the following:

* Scottish place names in Jamaica

Scottish place names abound in the island and include Aberdeen, Culloden (two places), Dundee, Elgin Town (two places), Glasgow, Inverness, Kilmarnoch (spelt that way) and Perth Town. Many slave plantations were given Scottish names including Monymusk, Hampden, Argyle, Glen Islay, Fort William, Montrose, Roxborough and Dumbarton. St Andrew is the parish with the highest population in Jamaica.

* The Jamaican flag

The Herald:

The only national flag apart from that of Scotland that includes the saltire is the flag of Jamaica. As the time of independence in 1962 approached, an initial design for the flag with three horizontal stripes in green, black and gold was deemed unsatisfactory as it was too similar to that of Tanganyika, now Tanzania. Rev William McGhie, a Presbyterian missionary from Glasgow who had become a friend of the Prime Minister Alexander Bustamante, suggested that as a Christian country, the national flag should reflect this and have a cross in it.

At Sir Alexander's request, he drew out the Scottish flag substituting the blue and white of Scotland for the green, black, and gold of Jamaica. This design was further developed and approved. The Jamaican flag has become one of the best known in the world.

* Some famous Jamaicans with Scottish names

The leaders of the Morant Bay Rebellion in 1865, Paul Bogle and George William Gordon, both had Scottish surnames. Other Jamaicans who had Scottish fathers included the radicals Robert Wedderburn and William Davidson and also Mary Seacole who was born Mary Grant. She was a famous nurse during the Crimean War. Olympic gold medalist Shelly.

This article is by David Pott, project leader for Flag Up Scotland Jamaica. The group wants Scotland to prioritise aid and links to the island in the way it does for Malawi.