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Slavery and its links to the history of Wales focus of research project and personal journey for academic

15 March 2023

A woman reads a book using a magnifying glass
Dr April-Louise Pennant Image credit: Dr April-Louise Pennant

The hidden histories of enslaved Africans in Jamaica whose exploitation produced the capital that built Penrhyn castle and its surrounding estate in North Wales will be explored by a Cardiff University academic.

Dr April-Louise Pennant, herself a descendent of a family that worked on some of the five Jamaican plantations- four in Clarendon and one in Westmoreland, owned by the Pennant family in North Wales, hopes the research will support the co-creation of new educational resources with alternative narratives of transatlantic slavery, to open up discussions and to decolonise Welsh plantation economic histories.

The Pennant family owned Penrhyn castle until the 1950s when it was handed over to the National Trust. Although it is known that much of the family’s wealth came from the profits reaped from sugar produced at their Jamaican plantations, there has been little research on the lives of the enslaved Africans who worked there, or their descendants.

Dr Pennant, based at Cardiff University’s School of Social Sciences, said: “As a child, I was told that my surname was Welsh in origin. But it wasn’t until I moved to Wales that I began to explore the connection with Penrhyn. The wealth produced by slavery had a huge impact on the history of Wales, yet there remains a huge silence of the voices of enslaved African people in current narratives.”

Dr Pennant, whose paternal grandparents came to Britain from Jamaica with the Windrush migration, will be studying extensive archive material retained at Bangor University Archive to begin her journey. She will also carry out interviews with local people and experts as she journeys to Jamaica and West Africa.

The research will feed into new educational resources which will also be co-created with teachers, academics, practitioners, archivists, curators and would be of benefit to organisations such as the National Trust and National Museum Wales. It will also feed into the Welsh Government’s Anti-racist Wales Action plan, The Slave Trade and the British Empire: an audit of commemoration in Wales and the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Communities, Contributions and Cynefin in the New Curriculum Working Group. The work aligns with the aims of the United Nation’s International Decade for People of African Descent.

Dr Pennant, who received an Early Career Fellowship from the Leverhulme Trust to undertake the research, said: “Using the case study of one family, which had two branches - the Pennants of North Wales and the Pennants of Jamaica, this research will facilitate connections across the Atlantic, documenting the histories of the people who created so much wealth and prosperity, but had none of the benefits.

“This is an area of history that has been overlooked and it’s now time to make sure that the enslaved Africans that gave so much are rightfully recognised and honoured for the role they played in the fortunes of Wales.”

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