The American Civil War, by its very name, is an oxymoron - war isn’t civil.

And it was ultimately a deadly insurrection prompted by the southern states wanting to continue keeping slaves.

Dumbarton’s own Peter Denny backed that side.

In the global and long-overdue reckoning of racism prompted by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests in the US and then around the world, Dumbarton’s own links to the slave trade are returning to view.

William Denny & Sons built some of the world’s fastest ships, and some of them were sold as blockade runners to the Confederate side of the civil war, which lasted from 1861 to 1865.

There are also prominent properties paid for by compensation money paid to slave owners by the British state when the practice ended, including Strathleven House, now used as a base for regeneration and economic development in Dumbarton and the Vale.

The University of Glasgow, confronting its connections to slavery, reported on money given by Peter Denny to the university in 1890.

In their 2018 report, they stated: “William Denny & Sons built a wide range and large number of ships for the Confederate cause during the American Civil War, flaunting supposed British neutrality and essentially profiting from supplying the Confederate cause which was dedicated to the continuation of slavery in the American South, and accumulating wealth from trade with Southern slaveowners.

“According to [author] Eric Graham, Denny was one of the most prolific constructors of Clyde-built ‘blockade runner’ ships used during the American Civil war period.”

A bursary was set up by his son, the Archibald Denny Prize, and was open for pupils from Dumbarton Academy pursuing naval architecture. The award description adds: “The prize was intended by the donor to enable the winner to take a holiday after the work of the session.”

Dr John Marshall, a consultant clinical and forensic psychologist, lives near to Denny’s old house in Dumbarton and looked into his history as BLM grabbed global attention.

He told the Reporter: “When I saw the statue of the slave trader [Edward Colston] being pulled down, I decided to look [Peter] Denny up.

“While not directly involved, he seemed quite important in supporting the Confederacy and keeping the slave trade going.

“I had no idea they were involved in breaking the embargo on the Confederates. Surely he must have known what he was doing.

“I have never had any glowing, dewey-eyeed view of the British Empire - it’s always been exploitative. With the British, there was a racial element.”

The dad of three said it was important that this local history is explored fully.

“My dad brought me up to value the truth, no matter how ugly it is, and I try to instill that in my kids,” he said.

“I think it’s important to tell children the whole truth about historical figures. Books are out there, but you have to seek them out.

“There will be people who ask, ‘Why judge people by today’s values?’ What we are saying is be honest and open and accurate about racist views that people held in history and don’t idolise them.

“These ideas should be consigned to the dustbin of history. This is an opportunity to have a conversation.”

David Mann, director of the Scottish Maritime Museum, said their Dumbarton centre had previously looked at Denny’s links to the Confederacy, and will again.

He told the Reporter: “The Scottish Maritime Museum in Dumbarton centres on the former William Denny Shipyard and features the world’s largest surviving hull testing facility, the Denny Tank, at the heart.

“The Denny Shipyard was one of the Clydeside shipbuilders to build blockade runners for the American Confederacy with 20 vessels sent and two trips required to repay the cost of each vessel.

“We have told the history of the blockade runners and the role of Denny’s in building these vessels through past exhibitions.

“We plan to do so again and these future exhibitions will challenge visitors to think of the morality and human cost of the fortunes made by blockade running ships to the pro-slavery and slave-owning Confederacy.”

As well as Denny’s connection, the Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership at University College London (UCL) tracks compensation paid to slave owners when slavery was abolished. The legacies in property, placenames and more continue to be seen throughout the country.

Strathleven House, which is now home to the Strathleven Regeneration Community Interest Company (SRCI), is linked to James Ewing (1775-1853), a slave owner, West Indian merchant, former MP and once Lord Provost of Glasgow.

Ewing was “compensated” with thousands of pounds as an estate owner in Jamaica when the slave trade was ended, and bought the Strathleven estate for £110,000.

A property in Bowling was once home in the late 19th century to Mary Gibb Napier, daughter of James Brock, the owner of a plantation in Jamaica.

And Cardross has links to three men: Colin Campbell of Colgrain, Alexander Ferrier who built Bloomhill House, and Charles Edmonstone of Cardross Park.

West Dunbartonshire Council leader Jonathan McColl, a board member of the SRCI, told the Reporter he would make sure Denny’s links to the Civil War are part of information available to the public.

He said: “Everywhere in the UK must recognise the part that slavery played in our history and it’s vital that we do not let these dark chapters reside hidden on a shelf.

“Black lives do matter, and as a council West Dunbartonshire has always strived to ensure equality and eliminate discrimination in our communities.

“We will continue to work with Black and ethnic minority groups to further the aims of the Black Lives Matter campaign to create an equal society we can all be proud of.”

Dumbarton MSP Jackie Baillie, who is also on the board, said: “The brutal murder of George Floyd, and the protests that it sparked around the world, has caused us to reflect on our collective past.

“The history of Scotland – and that includes local areas along the Clyde – is deeply rooted in the slave trade. It is vital that we take ownership of our past and understand that we must learn from it to progress forward as individuals and as a society.

“Race inequality is unfortunately not a thing of the past. When learning about historic race discrimination in our community and country, we must also listen to the lived experiences of Black and ethnic minority people today.

“We can’t continue to ignore the facts that are in front of us – our statues, street names and many buildings are reminders of the slave trade.

“One local example is Strathleven House, which was built using money acquired from the slave trade and there are connections in Dumbarton, Bowling, Cardross and Helensburgh.

“Our local community prides itself on being open and accepting. For us to continue to do so we also need to acknowledge and understand our past.”