The links between Welsh slate and slavery

·1 min read
<span>Photograph: RCAHMW/PA</span>
Photograph: RCAHMW/PA

Your article (Welsh slate landscape becomes UK’s newest world heritage site, 28 July) did not mention the origins of the finance that enabled the expansion of the slate quarries at the end of the 18th century. In 1781, Richard Pennant inherited the family’s estates in Jamaica and in north Wales. He owned four sugar plantations in Jamaica, worked by more than a thousand enslaved workers. The money Pennant generated from sugar and slavery in Jamaica was invested in building road, railway and port infrastructure, as well as expanding the slate industry in Wales, in particular his Penrhyn slate quarry.

Pennant became MP for Petersfield in 1761 and, in 1767, one of the two MPs for Liverpool, Britain’s major slave trading port. He was chairman of the West India Committee, an organisation of merchants and plantation owners that campaigned for the continuation of slavery. He frequently spoke in the Commons against abolition of the slave trade.

The Pennant family continued to profit from both slate quarrying in Wales and slave-produced sugar and rum from Jamaica. Penrhyn Castle was built between 1822 and 1833 on the instructions of George Hay Dawkins-Pennant, who had inherited Richard Pennant’s estates in north Wales and Jamaica. Under the Slavery Abolition Act 1833, he received £14,683 17s 2d in compensation for the 764 enslaved labourers he claimed to own.

There is already a plaque in memory of the three-year Penrhyn quarrymen’s strike of 1900-03. Perhaps the Welsh government might like to consider another plaque in memory of the hundreds of enslaved labourers who were worked to death on the Pennants’ Jamaican plantations.
Dr Steve Cushion
Leytonstone, London

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