A Marriage Bonded by Slavery

Ann Nesbit of Dean and John Glassford of Dougalston. Wedding portraits by Robert Harvie, 1752

Living with the consequences of our actions is a condition of life. Proof of this in a very positive way is that Glasgow Museums is still benefiting from the How Glasgow Flourished exhibition at Kelvingrove in 2014. The Friends of Glasgow Museums supported this exhibition, and in 2016 also gave us a grant to purchase two Georgian wedding portraits. These were painted in 1752 by Robert Harvie, and show John Glassford and his second wife, Ann Nesbit of Dean.

The well-known portrait of John Glassford and family in the People’s Palace was painted between 1766 and 1767. But in 2000, work by conservators revealed it had once included Ann Nesbit. One year after Ann’s death in 1766, John Glassford re-married, and Lady Margaret Mackenzie became his third wife.

Conservation analysis showed that Ann was painted over and Lady Margaret put in her place, so it is Margaret we see beside John today. Now we have a portrait of Ann in all her glory as John’s new wife.

Like Glassford, the Nesbits of Dean, although based in Edinburgh, were also involved in the American tobacco and slavery trades. Glassford had his interests in Viriginia and Nisbets of Dean had their plantation in South Carolina (Dean Hall plantation). The family worked with John Deas, originally from Leith, to buy their slaves.

The union of Glassford and Nisbet was not only a love match but also a union of business and colonial interests bonded by the tobacco’s trade’s reliance on slave labour.

Dr Anthony Lewis
Curator of Scottish History

Glasgow Museums Collection PP.2016.38.2
Ann Nesbit of Dean, Glasgow Museums Collection PP.2016.38.2
Glasgow Museums Collection PP.2016.38.1
John Glassford of Dougalston (1715-1783), Glasgow Museums Collection PP.2016.38.1

For more information on Glasgow Museums’ collections please visit http://collections.glasgowmuseums.com

Images © CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection

2 thoughts on “A Marriage Bonded by Slavery

  1. John Glassford and Ann Nesbit (or Nisbet) are my 5th great-grandparents. Ann Nesbit was born on this day, 25 August 1721 – exactly 300 years ago today. I would love to come and see these portraits some day.


    1. Dear Reggie,
      Thank you very much for your comment and for getting in touch. The portraits of John Glassford and Anne Nesbit are stored at Glasgow Museums Resource Centre. This is closed to public visits at present because of COVID 19. However, we hope that it will be open again, and at that point please make an appointment to view it. I would be very happy to meet you and show you the portraits. You can also order photographs of them too through our photo library.
      I hope that you will keep in touch and help me understand the family history better.
      Yours sincerely,
      Dr Anthony Lewis


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