The Green, Aberdeen

When you read these lines, it’ll be roughly 400 years since the man named Indian Pete has passed. The history books tell us, this wall that you are seeing in the picture, “is one of the oldest in this grand city [of Aberdeen]. It had formerly been a part of an old townhouse known as Aedies House. Built around 1604 and finally demolished in 1914 it held a dark history. Believed as it was to have been a holding house for children stolen off the streets to be sold as slaves in America. […] Around 700 children would be kidnapped from the streets. Their fate, to be kept in holding houses like Aedies until there were enough of them to transport.”

Someone told me that a bagpipe was played every night, to drown the screaming of these doomed kids. Who knows really, but the one story everybody agrees on is the story of Peter Williamson. His parents “reputable though not rich” sent him to live with an aunt in Aberdeen. In a cold night in January 1743 Peter was kidnapped while playing on the quay. With the age of 8 years, he was abducted to America as a slave, and sold for 16£ to work on a plantation.

I’ll spare you the details of his gruesome return to his birthplace of Aberdeen, since you can now easily look it up online. And I tell you in advance it is a story of deep desolation, describing the cruelty of the so-called “discovery of the new world” and the horrors of slavery connected to it. But it is also a story of hope. And, as his clumsily chosen name suggests, there are Native Americans involved as well as the final return to Scotland which, however, left him “banished from Aberdeen as a vagrant” for telling his story.

Ultimately, Indian Pete was able to make a living from a succesful tavern he ran in Edinburgh, for poets and lawyers. But until this day, his story haunts the Aberdonians. Another local whispered to me on the night i took this picture, on the staircase that leads up from The Green to buzzing Union street, that him and others had seen, from afar and late at night, children in nightgowns sitting on precisely these stairs.