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Welsh ballads and American slavery (2007)

by Prof. E. Wyn James

School of Welsh, Cardiff University

First published in The Welsh Journal of Religious History, 2 (2007), 59–86. ISSN 1753-9595.

Earlier versions of this article were delivered as papers at the 33rd International Ballad Conference at the University of Texas in Austin, July 2003; at the North American Conference on Welsh Studies, West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia, July 2004; and at a day school on the theme ‘Wales and the Social Gospel’ organised by the Centre for the Advanced Study of Religion in Wales at Bangor University and held at Aberystwyth University, July 2007.

Copyright © E. Wyn James, 2007, 2009

Professor James G. Basker’s landmark volume, Amazing Grace: An Anthology of Poems about Slavery, 1660–1810, published by Yale University Press in 2002, amply demonstrates the significant contribution of poetry to the growth of the anti-slavery movement in the English-speaking world. Despite its containing around 400 poems, Professor Basker’s anthology has only one Welsh item – ‘The Negro Boy’, by the London Welshman, David Samwell (1751–98), the ship’s surgeon on Captain Cook’s last voyage to the South Seas – and even that item receives an anonymous attribution in the anthology.[1] This is not totally unexpected, since the vast majority of poetry (and other forms of literature) produced in Wales from the sixth to the twentieth century was in the Welsh language, and therefore outside the scope of Professor Basker’s book. It certainly does not mean that there was no poetry produced in Wales on the subject of slavery. On the contrary, poetry played an important role in promoting opposition to slavery and the slave trade in Welsh-speaking communities, both in Wales itself and in North America. With regard to poetry about slavery, as with most other matters, Wales is in the interesting position of being part of the Anglophone world in one sense (with, for example, a number of English poems on slavery being translated into Welsh), while being at the same time a discrete linguistic and cultural entity with its own indigenous literature, world-view, and so forth.

Although poems on the subject of slavery were published fairly regularly in Welsh throughout the period from about 1790 to 1890, there are four main phases in their production. The first comes as part of the campaign to abolish the trade in slaves by the British, which began in earnest in the 1780s and reached a successful conclusion in 1807 when the British Parliament voted to abolish the trade.[2] This measure did not abolish the institution of slavery in British territories overseas, however, and it is the campaign to abolish that institution, especially in Jamaica, which represents the next major phase in the production of poetry in Welsh about slavery. That campaign reached a successful conclusion in 1833. The third phase comes between the publishing of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1852 and the American Civil War in the 1860s, in the context of the campaign to abolish slavery in the USA. A fourth phase may also be identified, this time not in the context of any specific campaign to abolish slavery, but rather retrospective descriptions of the plight of black slaves, often for use as dramatic recitations in the penny readings and eisteddfodau of Victorian and Edwardian Wales.[3]

Pantheologia: a pioneer protest

In what follows, I intend to concentrate on the first two phases in the production of anti-slavery poetry, but before doing so, some reference should be made to what is (to the best of my knowledge) the first anti-slavery protest to appear in print in Welsh – a forerunner of the anti-slavery campaign of the 1780s and 1790s. It was published in the year 1762 in a work by one of the greatest of all Welsh poets – not in one of his poems, but rather in a prose work entitled Pantheologia, neu Hanes Holl Grefyddau’r Byd (‘Pantheologia, or a History of All the Religions of the World’). The author was the prolific Welsh hymn-writer and prominent Methodist leader, William Williams (1717–91) of Pantycelyn – often referred to as ‘Williams Pantycelyn’ or simply as ‘Pantycelyn’ – who wrote one of the best-known hymns in the English language, ‘Guide me, O! Thou great Jehovah’.[4]

Pantheologia was a very ambitious publishing project. The volume totalled 654 pages and appeared in seven parts between 1762 and 1779. It is brim full of information, not only about the religions of the various countries of the world, but also the geography, history and customs of those countries. In Pantheologia Williams is scathing in his condemnation of the ignorance of the Welsh people. A white monoglot Welshman is about as ignorant as a white monkey in India, says Williams in an advertisement for the book;[5] and the aim of Pantheologia was to dispel some of that ignorance. As such it is a prime example of Williams Pantycelyn being an heir of the Enlightenment as well as a child of the Evangelical Revival of the eighteenth century.

In the section on Guinea in West Africa, in the first part of Pantheologia to appear in print, Williams Pantycelyn describes the Atlantic slave trade and then proceeds to condemn it in no uncertain terms. Or, rather, one should perhaps say that Thomas Salmon condemns the slave trade in no uncertain terms! Williams Pantycelyn lived in a classical age which did not place emphasis on ‘originality’ in the same way as ours does. He drew liberally on various standard sources in compiling his Pantheologia, and the first part depended heavily on the substantial and popular work by Thomas Salmon (1679–1767), Modern History: or, The Present State of All Nations (1739). Williams Pantycelyn’s description of the slave trade follows that of Thomas Salmon very closely (albeit with some abridgement), and his condemnation of the trade is an almost word-for-word translation of Salmon. Here is the relevant passage in Salmon’s Modern History:

This is surely such a traffick as can never be justified or defended. Were these miserable wretches brought to Europe, and used with humanity; or were they disposed of to Planters in America, that would treat them as their own species ought to be treated, they might be no great sufferers by exchanging black for white masters: But to sell them again to the cruel Spaniard to work in his mines, and be used worse than brutes, must be condemn’d by every man that reflects on the practice: And, as I’m informed, many of our English Planters don’t use their slaves much better, generally agreeing not to make Christians of them, lest they should understand, that our religion teaches us to do as we would be done by; and thereupon they should expect to be dealt with like men, who have the same God, the same great Lord and Master.[6]

Despite the close nature of the translation, there are one or two places in the final sentence where Pantycelyn’s version makes some interesting deviations from the original. Here is the Welsh text of that sentence, with my English translation in brackets; note especially the reference to ‘our Planters’ rather than the ‘our English Planters’ of Salmon’s version, together with the addition of the words ‘and for whom the same Christ died’ at the end of the sentence:

Ac fel y dwedir, mae llawer o’n Planwyr ni yn America heb roi fawr triniaeth well iddynt, gan wneud cyngrair a’i gilydd i beidio gwneud Crist’nogion o honynt, rhag ofn iddynt Ddeall bod y Grefydd Grist’nogol yn gorchymmyn i bawb i wneuthur fel y dymunent i eraill wneuthur iddynt hwy; ac yn ganlynol y disgwylient gael triniaeth fel Dynion, ag sydd ar un Duw ac ar un Crist wedi marw trostynt.

[And as it is said, many of our Planters in America do not treat them much better, agreeing among themselves not to make Christians of them, lest they should understand that the Christian religion commands everyone to do as they would have others do unto them, and that as a result they should expect to be treated as humans, who have the same God and for whom the same Christ died.]

Williams Pantycelyn and Lady Huntingdon

The year 1779 saw Williams Pantycelyn publish the final part of his Pantheologia. That same year also saw the publication of Williams’s Welsh translation of the first ‘slave narrative’ to appear in English, that of Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, originally published in 1772, which told of his capture in Africa, his time of slavery in America, how he became a Christian, and his subsequent life in Britain as a free man. The Welsh translation, like the English original, was dedicated to the influential Methodist patron, Selina, Countess of Huntingdon (1707–91). The ‘slave narrative’ would develop into a genre which would prove very significant in the campaign against slavery, emphasizing as it did the humanity of the black slaves, their inhumane treatment and their ability to respond to the Christian gospel. Lady Huntingdon gave her support to the publication not only of the narrative by Gronniosaw in 1772, but also to the influential slave narratives of Olaudah Equiano and his friend, Ottobah Cugoana, in the 1780s. She also lent her support to the publication of the poetry of the Boston slave girl, Phillis Wheatley, in 1773 – the first African-American poet to have her work published.

Lady Huntingdon also showed a great interest in the evangelisation of black slaves in America, especially after she inherited in 1770 responsibility for George Whitefield’s orphanage in Georgia and the slaves that were kept there. In 1768 she had opened a training college for preachers near the home of the fiery Methodist leader, Howel Harris (1714–73), at Trefeca in Breconshire, and the 1770s saw a number of attempts to send students from the college to America, and to Georgia in particular, with the evangelization of Native Americans and black slaves as part of their brief. Williams Pantycelyn worked closely with Lady Huntingdon, and it would appear that his English hymn, ‘O’er those gloomy hills of darkness’, with its prayer that the Christian gospel should reach the unconverted world-wide, including ‘Indians’ and ‘Negroes’, was composed at her request in the early 1770s for use at the orphanage in Georgia. Although not a ballad as such, it is ballad-like to the extent that it relates of events which Pantycelyn believed would come to pass in the fairly near future, and it therefore tells a story of sorts:

Lord, I long to see that morning,

When thy gospel shall abound,

And thy grace get full possession

Of the happy promised ground;

All the borders

Of the great Immanuel’s land.

Shot through with the millennial hope of the world-wide success of the Christian gospel,[7] and with its references to freedom and redemption, to a blessèd Jubilee and to the dawn of a glorious morning, this hymn would become a favourite – second only perhaps to John Newton’s ‘Amazing Grace’ – among slaves and former slaves. It was sung with gusto, for example, on board the ships which took former slaves from America to the colony of Sierra Leone in the 1790s, as part of the attempt by members of the ‘Clapham Sect’ and others to create a homeland for freed slaves back in Africa.[8]

Williams Pantycelyn and Lady Huntingdon, although they did not approve of slavery, were not actively involved in abolition campaigns. Both died around the time such campaigns began in earnest. Both also seem to have come to the conclusion that there was little hope of abolishing slavery, as it was such an integral part of the social and economic structures of the day; and their general attitude seems to have been that it was better to keep slaves in a congenial Christian atmosphere, where they would be grounded in the Christian faith, than to release them into a harsh, hostile and evil world.[9]

Sugar protests

Active campaigning in Britain against the slave trade does not really begin in earnest until the mid 1780s, as indicated by the formation of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1787, a society whose committee comprised of evangelicals and Quakers, with William Wilberforce as its parliamentary voice; and it is in the context of this campaigning against the slave trade that the production of anti-slavery poetry, in English and in Welsh, also begins in earnest. The campaign, and the poetry arising from it, is closely linked to sugar. The British involvement in the slave trade started to develop significantly in the mid-seventeenth century, with the beginnings of the sugar industry in the Caribbean and especially in the wake of the British acquisition of Jamaica in the 1650s. By the 1730s the British had become the world’s leading slave-traders, ‘and would occupy that position until the abolition of the slave trade in 1807. [… By then] British ships had carried more than three million slaves to the New World.’[10] Most of these were not taken to mainland America, but rather to the Caribbean islands, a situation which reflects the importance of sugar, and of Jamaica in particular, to the British economy in the eighteenth century. As the historian, Eric Williams, has stated: ‘Sugar occupied the place in the eighteenth-century economy that steel occupied in the nineteenth and oil in the twentieth. Sugar was king.’[11] The sugar industry was a key factor in the expansion of the slave trade since sugar-cane cultivation required three times more hands than did the cultivation of other crops. Little wonder then that the sugar industry became an early focus for the abolition movement which developed in late eighteenth-century Britain.

The campaign to persuade people not to use sugar produced by slave labour – orchestrated mainly by the evangelical Anglican, Thomas Clarkson, Secretary of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade – began to pick up steam significantly in late 1791.[12] Many pamphlets were published in English encouraging people to boycott sugar produced by slave labour in the West Indies; the Unitarian, Josiah Wedgwood, among others produced sugar bowls and other tableware bearing the slogan ‘East India sugar not made by slaves’; hundreds of petitions (including about twenty from Wales)[13] were presented to Parliament requesting the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade. It has been estimated that by 1792 the campaign had succeeded in persuading some 300,000 people in Britain to abstain from sugar produced in the West Indies.[14]

Edward Barnes and Morgan John Rhys: pioneer pamphleteers

Two (undated) 16-page pamphlets were published in Welsh in the early 1790s as part of that campaign. One, by a Methodist called Edward Barnes, was printed in Wrexham in north-east Wales.[15] Included on its title page are two verses written in the characteristic style of Welsh ballads of the period, set to one of the most popular of eighteenth-century Welsh ballad tunes (albeit of English origin), entitled ‘Gwêl yr Adeilad’ (‘See the Building’).[16] The first verse instructs every Welshman to follow the clear rule of nature and of Scripture to do unto others as you would have them do unto you, while the second verse encourages the reader to abstain from rum and sugar produced by slaves and their sufferings. The other pamphlet, by a radical Baptist minister called Morgan John Rhys (1760–1804), was printed by John Daniel in Carmarthen in south-west Wales.[17] The pamphlet by Edward Barnes was a translation of an English work;[18] that by Morgan John Rhys seems to have been an original Welsh work, but probably drew on a number of English works on the subject circulating at the time.

The title page of Morgan John Rhys’s pamphlet advertises the fact that a song encouraging abstinence from sugar was also on sale. This almost certainly refers to a 12-verse poem published on an undated broadside by the same Carmarthen printer, John Daniel. Its title is Achwynion Dynion Duon, mewn Caethiwed Truenus yn Ynysoedd y Suwgr (‘The Complaints of Black Men, in Wretched Captivity in the Sugar Islands’).[19] The song has strong dialogue and narrative elements. It is presented as a direct appeal in the first person by the black slaves of the islands to the inhabitants of Britain, and describes the trauma of being snatched from home and family and the terrible conditions both during the nightmare ‘middle passage’ across the Atlantic and subsequently on the sugar plantations. If sugar is sweet to you, it is extremely bitter to us, say the black slaves; and the song ends with an appeal to the British, the supposed champions of liberty,[20] to campaign for their release, including abstaining from sweet things which had cost the black slaves so much pain and blood. The emphasis throughout is that black people are as much human beings as white people – they are children of the same heavenly Father and have the same blood in their veins – and that those people in Britain who consume sugar bear the ultimate responsibility for the slaves’ sufferings.

This broadside probably has the distinction of being the first anti-slavery publication in Welsh. It was most likely the work of Morgan John Rhys, the radical Baptist minister who authored the pamphlet on the same subject from the same printers. Morgan John Rhys was a man who had been fired alike by the ideals of the American War of Independence, the French Revolution and the Protestant missionary movement. In 1794, he emigrated to America (‘a new world, in which justice dwells’ was his description of that land a few months before he set sail in August 1794).[21] After arriving, he was influential in establishing the Welsh settlement of Cambria in north-west Pennsylvania and actively campaigned against slavery and on behalf of Native Americans until his untimely death in 1804.[22]

Iolo Morganwg

The best-known example of a sugar protestor in Wales was Iolo Morganwg (Edward Williams, 1747–1826). Iolo was a stonemason, a radical, a romantic, a literary forger, a Unitarian, a partaker of laudanum, and perhaps the greatest (and certainly the most wayward) Welsh scholar of his day.[23] He was a keen supporter of the ideals of the French Revolution.[24] In 1798 he wrote in the same metre as ‘God Save the King’ a song entitled ‘Breiniau Dyn’ (‘The Rights of Man’), which received a new lease of life in the context of the Chartist unrest in the industrial valleys of south Wales during the 1830s and 1840s.[25] In the mid-1790s Iolo opened a shop in Cowbridge in the Vale of Glamorgan. One well-known story tells of how he displayed a book labelled ‘The Rights of Man’ in the shop window. Two delighted government spies bought the book, thinking it to be the banned work by Tom Paine, only to find a copy of the Bible inside its covers. What better book to expound the rights of man, retorted Iolo to the enraged spies![26] Iolo was very fond of tea, and of sugar in his tea. He sold sugar in his shop, but refused to sell West Indian sugar produced by slaves; rather he stocked East Indian sugar produced by free labour, with a sign in his shop window reading: ‘East India Sweets, uncontaminated with human gore.’[27] It seems Iolo could have gained substantially from the slave trade. His three brothers had emigrated to Jamaica and had become relatively prosperous there, owning a number of slaves. Iolo is said to have refused any financial help from them, including a sizeable inheritance, because it was tainted with blood (although the full story is rather more complicated – as is always the case with Iolo).[28]

Professor Basker could have included poems by Iolo Morganwg in his anthology of poetry about slavery, for while Iolo wrote mainly Welsh verse, he published two volumes of poetry in English in 1794 under the title Poems, Lyric and Pastoral. Damian Walford Davies comments that ‘[Iolo’s] collection of “lyric pastorals” […] appears strikingly politicized from the outset’,[29] and an element in that politicization is the references to slavery which are to be found in some of the poems. Here are a few lines from a long poem written in London in 1792, from a section in which Iolo (who styled himself ‘The Bard of Liberty’) addresses the goddess Liberty:

Join here thy [i.e. Liberty’s]Bards, with mournful note,

They weep for Afric’s injur’d race;

Long has thy Muse in worlds remote

Sang loud of Britain’s foul disgrace […][30]

The great parliamentary campaigner against the slave trade, William Wilberforce (1759–1833) – or ‘Humanity’s Wilberforce’ as Iolo called him – subscribed to Iolo’s Poems, Lyric and Pastoral. When Iolo reaches Wilberforce’s name in the list, he breaks with the normal pattern of listing the subscribers’ names in two columns and prints ‘HUMANITY’S WILBERFORCE’ in capitals across the page. He then reverts to two columns, the first name in the left-hand column being ‘General [George] Washington’.[31] Iolo knew Wilberforce personally, and greatly admired him, despite the fact that he was an evangelical and an Anglican, two standpoints Iolo normally despised!

Enlightened evangelicals

In Wales as elsewhere, the campaign against slavery created some unexpected bedfellows, especially in matters theological, since active support for the campaign came mainly from opposite and opposing ends of the theological spectrum – from Unitarians like Iolo on the one hand and evangelicals such as Wilberforce on the other. However, without wishing to belittle the contribution of Unitarians and other radicals, both religious and otherwise (and especially, perhaps, the contribution of the Quakers), not to mention the efforts of black slaves (and former slaves) themselves, it is fair to say that the main driving force in the campaign which started in earnest in the 1780s to abolish slavery and the slave trade in the Anglophone world, was the sustained efforts of the heirs of the Great Evangelical Awakening of the mid-eighteenth century, William Wilberforce himself being a prime example. To quote David Bebbington: ‘Evangelicalism cannot be given all the credit for the humanitarian victory over slavery, but it must be accorded a large share.’[32]

As David Bebbington points out, ‘Anti-slavery was not intrinsic to Evangelicalism.’[33] There are numerous examples of people of an evangelical theological persuasion who were willing to work within political and economic structures in which slavery was an integral part. George Whitefield (1714–70), the great eighteenth-century Methodist preacher, is a case in point. He kept slaves at his orphanage in Georgia and supported the extension of slavery to the state of Georgia.[34] However, it is important to remember that Whitefield has also been called ‘the first great friend of the American negro’, not because of his abolitionist stance, but rather because of his vigorous campaigning for the humane treatment of black slaves, including meeting their spiritual and educational needs.[35]

David Bebbington has argued that the influence of Enlightenment thinking, and especially the ideal of ‘the pursuit of happiness’ as a basic human right and need, was a key factor in promoting anti-slavery sentiments among evangelicals as the eighteenth century progressed.[36] There were other factors also. For example, evangelicals in Britain gradually imbibed the spirit of radicalism that was abroad by the end of the eighteenth century and increasingly embraced an agenda of social justice – the liberty, equality and fraternity crystallised in the famous motto of the French Revolution, although in a rather less revolutionary manner than the French! And it is worth adding, in passing, that the anti-slavery campaigns of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries played an important role in changing the character of evangelicalism in Wales, contributing significantly to the political mobilisation and increased radicalisation of evangelicals in Wales that had occurred by the mid-nineteenth century.

Missionary impetus

One of the most important factors in promoting anti-slavery sentiments among British evangelicals was the powerful overseas missionary movement which began to grip evangelical Protestants in earnest in the 1790s, fired by a millenarianism which believed that a utopia – Christ’s kingdom on earth – lay at the door.[37] That missionary movement provided much of the impetus that fuelled the anti-slavery movement and contributed much of the sustained momentum which brought about its ultimate success. It is no accident that William Wilberforce was a keen supporter of the missionary movement, as was Morgan John Rhys (author of the first anti-slavery poem to be printed in Welsh), Olaudah Equiano (author of one of the most influential of all ‘slave narratives’) and Granville Sharp (the first Chairman of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade, who also chaired the meeting which launched the British and Foreign Bible Society in 1804).[38] The connection between the two movements is not surprising, since the act of evangelisation presupposes that those being evangelised are valuable, immortal souls for whom Christ died, people created in the image of God, and not half-animals, whatever their standing within the social and economic structures of the day might be.

There is a tendency in the popular mind to see the missionary movement on the one hand and the commercial and imperial expansion and exploitation of the period on the other, as being two wings of the same bird of prey. In the popular, secular mind, missionaries are often conceived as going to the mission field with the Bible in one hand, a gun in the other, and money in their pockets. There have, of course, been unfortunate examples that have fitted that bill; but in general the missionaries were a thorn in the flesh of traders, colonialists and soldiers alike, both on the mission field itself and at home (since reports from the mission field helped keep the needs, conditions and welfare of those being evangelised to the fore of evangelical consciousness and opinion at home). And it is certainly true to say that campaigning for the humane treatment of slaves, and for the abolition of the institution of slavery, were consistent features of the Protestant missionary movement.[39]

Solomon Nutry and Jamaican missionaries

Most of the anti-slavery poetry in Welsh of which I am aware is written from a clear Christian standpoint, in which the ‘Golden Rule’ – Christ’s command in Matthew 7:12 to do unto others as you would have them do to you – is applied directly, time and again, to the institution of slavery.[40] Other recurrent themes include the spiritual needs of black people and their shared humanity with whites before God. However the missionary is an especially prominent figure in those poems which belong to the period of the campaign to abolish the institution of slavery in Jamaica and other British territories, which began in earnest in 1823[41] and reached its fruition when a bill to that effect was passed by Parliament in 1833.[42] This reflects the fact that missionaries in Jamaica were increasingly militant in their support for the manumission of slaves, which in turn lead to much friction and tension and many clashes between them and the slave owners and the Jamaican authorities, especially from 1828 onward.[43]

The clash between missionary and slave owner is depicted graphically in two Welsh-language ballads written by or for one Solomon Nutry. The first of these is entitled Hanes, Cyffes, Achwyniad, Anerchiad, a Dymuniad y Negroes (‘History, Confession, Complaint, Greeting, and Desire of the Negroes’). Its opening line is ‘Boed clod i’r Iesu yn oes oesoedd’ (‘Let there be praise to Jesus for ever and ever’). Three printed versions of this first ballad have survived, one as a broadside and the other two as four-page ballad pamphlets. All are undated (but all belong to the early 1830s). On the broadside sheet, printed at Llanfair Caereinion in Montgomeryshire, probably by a Wesleyan Methodist printer,[44] Nutry is described as a former slave, while on the four-page ballad sheets – one printed in Cardiff by John and Llewelyn Jenkins, sons of the prominent Baptist minister, John Jenkins of Hengoed,[45] and the other printed at Carmarthen[46] – he is described as the son of a slave. It is worth noting in this context that both the Baptists and the Wesleyan Methodists had a strong missionary presence in Jamaica.[47]

Above the 24-stanza poem in all three printed versions is a biblical quotation from the book of Isaiah (58: 6–7), which speaks of loosening the bonds of wickedness and of feeding and clothing the poor that are cast out. Also printed above the poem is the tune name ‘Anhawdd Ymadael’(‘Difficult to Depart’); and it is worth noting that the tunes chosen for anti-slavery ballads often had very apt names, such as ‘Difficult to Depart’ and ‘Home Sweet Home’. The poem opens by praising Christ that there is now hope that the black slaves will be freed, and it is obviously set in the period immediately prior to the emancipation of slaves in Jamaica. As well as describing the terrible treatment meted out to slaves by their masters, much of the ballad is devoted to praising the missionaries for coming into a situation where slaves were being treated like animals and behaving towards them as human beings, preaching the gospel to them. It proceeds to depict how the slave owners had tried their hardest to prevent this by persecuting and imprisoning the missionaries, destroying their chapels, and not allowing the slaves to pray in their hearing, let alone meet for Christian worship. The ballad concludes with a prayer that Christ’s cause be successful and that the slaves will be set free.

A subsequent ballad is a song of praise to Christ and of thanks to the missionaries that the slaves of Jamaica have been set free, not only physically but also spiritually, since they are now at liberty to worship Christ. This sequel is entitled Cân Newydd yn gosod allan ddiolchgarwch y Negroes am eu gwaredigaeth oddi dan iau haearnaidd y Gaeth Fasnach (‘A New Song setting out the thanksgiving of the Negroes for their deliverance from the iron yoke of the Slave Trade’),[48] and refers specifically to the blessed first of August, the day in 1834 when the slaves were freed.[49] Again in this ballad, the cruel Satan-driven masters are contrasted with ‘ein tirion mwyn genhadon’ (‘our dear gentle missionaries’); and as with the previous poem, this ballad’s twenty stanzas are preceded by a quotation from the prophet Isaiah, this time from Isaiah 61:4 and 62:4, which speaks in glorious terms of repairing the desolations of many generations.

The ballad is attributed to one ‘Elin’, writing on behalf of ‘Solomon Nutry, the father of whom [i.e. Solomon Nutry] was a slave’. The parish register of Holyhead, Anglesey, records the marriage of Solomon Nutry and Ellen Jones on 26 April 1822. They were married by banns; both are described as ‘of this parish’; both were over 21 years of age; he was a bachelor and she a spinster; and neither of them could sign their name in the register. Solomon Nutry is also to be found in the 1841 Census. By then he was living in Mwrog Street in the parish of Llanfwrog on the outskirts of Rhuthun in Denbighshire, with his wife Eleanor and their ten-year-old daughter, Ruth. Both Solomon and Eleanor were aged between 50 and 54 at the time of the 1841 Census, and his occupation is described as ‘engineer’. He is also described as being born in Denbighshire, although neither Eleanor nor Ruth was born in that county. I have seen reference to the fact that an Ellen Nutry died in Liverpool in 1864, although I have not been able to ascertain whether she was Solomon’s wife. Neither have I been able as yet to discover any further biographical details regarding Solomon, Elin/Ellen/Eleanor and Ruth Nutry. The connection between Solomon Nutry and Holyhead is not surprising, since that port was frequently visited by ships travelling to and from the Caribbean and North America; and the fact that Solomon seems to have been born in Denbighshire, confirms that he was probably the son of a slave rather than a slave himself.

One can surmise, perhaps, from the attribution of the second poem, that both ballads were composed by Elin rather than by Solomon, although it would not be impossible for it to have been composed in Welsh by him. He would not be the only example by any means of a Welsh-speaking black slave or former slave, both in Britain and in America.[50] Another Welsh ballad by Eleanor Nutry was printed on a number of occasions during the same period, albeit on a totally different subject. It tells of a man and wife going from Montgomeryshire to London in 1834 and being wrongly accused of murder.[51] The subject matter of this ballad, together with the fact that one version of both of Solomon Nutry’s ballads was printed in Llanfair Caereinion in Montgomeryshire, may suggest that the Nutrys possibly had some Montgomeryshire (and perhaps Wesleyan) connections, although this is by no means certain.

S. R. and Yamba

The 1820s onward witnessed significant growth in Welsh publishing and printing in general, and a multiplication of periodicals in particular. Anti-slavery poems appear fairly regularly in Welsh periodicals during the first half of the nineteenth century. The period between about 1820 and 1860 was also the heyday of production of four-page ballad leaflets in Welsh. There was a fairly regular exchange of material between these ballad leaflets and other print media during the period, with poems that had first appeared in books or periodicals proceeding to find a wider audience on ballad sheets. The two most influential of all Welsh anti-slavery poems fall into this category, since both were initially published in periodicals. Both actually appeared in print for the first time in the same year, 1830, at a time when the campaign to emancipate the slaves of Jamaica and other British territories was gathering strength.

The first of these two poems, published in April 1830 in the Independent denominational monthly, Y Dysgedydd (‘The Instructor’), was by the prominent Independent minister and social reformer from Montgomeryshire, Samuel Roberts (1800–85) – or ‘S. R.’ as he is always known – one of the pioneers of the British ‘penny’ letter-post (although Sir Rowland Hill usually gets all the credit).[52] The poem is appended to an eloquent tirade by S. R. against the terrible treatment of slaves in Jamaica (and of female slaves in particular), which concludes with an earnest appeal for every district in Wales to petition Parliament for their immediate emancipation. The poem is entitled ‘Cwynion Yamba, y Gaethes Ddu’ (‘The Complaint of Yamba, the Black Female Slave’) and tells of Yamba and her baby being snatched from their home in Africa, of the terrible conditions on the voyage, which saw the death of her child, and of the ill-treatment she was suffering on the other side of the Atlantic. As in the case of Morgan John Rhys’s poem of c.1791, it is written in the first person and ends with an appeal to Britain, ‘Ruler of the waves’, to further the cause of abolition. As S. R. freely acknowledged when he published the poem in April 1830, it is actually an adaptation of an English-language poem which he attributed to Hannah More (1745–1833), the prominent evangelical contemporary of William Wilberforce (and a subscriber, like Wilberforce, to Iolo Morganwg’s Poems, Lyric and Pastoral of 1794). The original English poem, ‘The Sorrows of Yamba’, was written in the context of the campaign to abolish the slave trade at the end of the eighteenth century, and was one of the most popular and influential anti-slavery poems of its day.[53] This did not, however, prevent S. R.’s Welsh version from becoming extremely popular in the 1830s, with people believing that Yamba was an actual individual living in Jamaica at the time (in much the same way that people today send presents and cards to characters in soap-operas).[54]

There was much protest in this period regarding the practice in Jamaica of flogging women slaves. In June 1829, S. R. published another poem in Y Dysgedydd – an original one this time – attacking this practice. This poem, which would also become very popular, begins:

Pe bai gennyt deimlad, pe byddit yn Gristion,

Fe wridai dy wyneb, fe waedai dy galon,

Weld menyw brydweddol wrth gadwyn yn crynu

Dan fflangell anifail yn griddfan a gwaedu […]

[‘If you had feeling, if you were a Christian,

your face would blush, your heart would bleed,

to see a beautiful woman trembling in chains

under the lash of an animal, groaning and bleeding […]’)[55]

And it was not only as a poet and author that S. R. pressed for the abolition of slavery. For example, in early 1833 he and another Independent minister – that great seraph of the Welsh pulpit, William Williams (1781–1840) of Wern – toured the counties of Merioneth and Montgomeryshire together, campaigning vigorously and to great effect for the abolition of slavery in the West Indies. ‘It seems certain’, says Gwynne E. Owen, ‘that the group of petitions from Montgomeryshire which were presented to Parliament on February 27, 1833 were the fruits of this tour by the two ministers.’[56]

S. R. emigrated to east Tennessee in 1857 in order to establish a Welsh settlement there, and landed himself in a cauldron of trouble. He was in America during the Civil War years, returning to Wales in 1867 disillusioned, and unlamented by many of his fellow Welsh Americans. Although S. R. was vehemently opposed to slavery, he was also a militant and uncompromising pacifist; and in America he found himself caught between the two warring factions. He was far from convinced that slavery was the true reason for the North going to war, and was willing to say so in no uncertain terms. Furthermore, he was also willing to criticise American attitudes in general, as the following passage shows:

There is reason to fear that the United States […] thinks that there is no-one like the United States on the face of the earth; that we are wiser than everyone and that we can conquer everyone […][57]

And while he was eyed with suspicion by people in the Southern states, his vociferous opposition to the Civil War, together with his general forthrightness, did little to endear him to those in the Northern states, including most Welsh Americans. His stance created anger and confusion, not least because S. R. had been regarded, especially through his popular anti-slavery poems, as a great opponent of slavery. It was even put abroad that he now kept slaves. This was far from being true, but it did not stop perhaps the most popular Welsh poet of the day, Ceiriog (John Ceiriog Hughes; 1832–87) – not himself the most radical in politics! – from writing a satirical poem entitled ‘Caethwasiaeth: neu Ymgom ar yr Heol rhwng y Ddau S. R. (S. R., Llanbryn-mair, a S. R., Tennessee)’ (‘Slavery: or a Conversation on the Street between the Two S. R.s (S. R., Llanbryn-mair and S. R., Tennessee)’), accusing S. R. of changing his position on slavery. Nothing could have been further from the truth, but interesting we have in Ceiriog’s poem a confirmation of the popularity of S. R.’s anti-slavery poetry over a long period of time, since in a note prefixed to that satirical poem Ceiriog refers to S. R.’s song on Yamba, the slave girl, as one of the most popular poems in Wales.[58]

‘Little Welshman’ and ‘Little Negro’

S. R. was a keen supporter of the missionary movement, and his millenarian hopes and expectations are to be seen clearly in a poem he published in 1836, ‘Buddugoliaethau yr Efengyl yn y Mil Blynyddoedd’ (‘The Victories of the Gospel in the Millennium’), where he specifically attributes the abolition of slavery in British territories to the awakening of Britannia’s conscience by the trumpets of the Christian gospel. The author of the other very popular anti-slavery poem which appeared on Welsh broadsides was, like S. R., a strong supporter of the missionary movement. He was a Baptist minister from Blaenau Gwent in Monmouthshire called Benjamin Price (1792–1854), who spent the years between 1828 and 1840 as a minister in Newtown and Caersws in Montgomeryshire. He was a prolific (and undeservedly neglected) writer who used the pseudonym ‘Cymro Bach’ (‘Little Welshman’). His poem ‘Cân y Negro Bach’ (‘The Song of the Little Negro’) was to become perhaps the most popular and influential of all Welsh anti-slavery poems during the campaign in the 1850s and 1860s to abolish slavery in the USA. However, like S. R.’s poem, it was originally composed in the context of the campaign to abolish slavery in Jamaica in the 1830s, and was first published in the Baptist monthly, Greal y Bedyddwyr (‘The Baptists’ Miscellany’), in December 1830, a periodical which is full of references to Jamaica and the abolition of slavery there, because of the significant Baptist missionary presence on the island at the time.

Like the anti-slavery poems by Morgan John Rhys and S. R., this song again is written in the first person, with the Little Negro addressing the descendants of the Ancient British. In addition to the version in the periodical (13 stanzas), which emphasises the fact that the ‘Welshman’ and the ‘Negro’ are brothers and that Christ died for both, a longer broadside version (27 stanzas) – whose extra stanzas were added after the emancipation of 1834 – includes narrative material which tells of the Little Negro’s being taken from Africa by the English to the Caribbean and expresses his wish to return to Africa as a Christian missionary. This longer version was printed both as a four-sided leaflet and as a one-sided broadside ‘proper’, complete with a number of illustrations (which make it by far the best illustrated of all the anti-slavery ballad sheets in Welsh).[59] In addition, a considerably shortened and edited variant of the poem, in six stanzas with a chorus, to be sung to the tune ‘Sweet Home’, is also to be found on ballad sheets, coupled with a poem on the subject of the exodus of the Israelites of the Old Testament from slavery in Egypt.[60] The original 13-stanza version of the poem was included in the collected works of Benjamin Price, published posthumously in 1855. There the date of composition is given as 25 September 1830. In an introductory note, the editor of the volume emphasises the popularity of the poem and its significant influence in the shaping of public opinion in Wales against slavery and in favour of freedom in general. He describes it as one of the most ‘tyner, teimladol, a thoddedig’ (‘tender, sensitive, and emotional’) of compositions ever to have appeared in any language and says that, at the time of the great efforts to abolish slavery in the West Indies in the 1830s, it was in the mind and on the lips of everyone, from the grey-haired old man to the child who had just learned to read. Indeed, he says, this song was the first thing a mother would teach her child.

Slavery and radicalism

As we approach the mid-nineteenth century, these poems by Samuel Roberts and Benjamin Price continue in popularity, now in the context of the campaign to abolish slavery in the USA. However, the 1850s and 1860s saw the heyday of the Welsh broadside ballad drawing to a close. That period also saw an increase in the importance of prose in the efforts against slavery, especially in the form of the novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Its author, Harriet Beecher Stowe was, incidentally, of part-Welsh descent, and the immediate popularity of her novel in Wales is reflected in the fact that three Welsh-language versions of the book (a full and an abridged translation, together with an adaptation) were published in 1853, the year after its first publication in book form in English. I hope to examine this third stage in the campaign against slavery sometime in the future, but that will take us, in the main, out of the world of broadside ballads and into other forms of literature.

The anti-slavery ballads of the 1830s have close connections with Montgomeryshire and Monmouthshire, the two eastern border counties which, incidentally, were the main centres of Chartist unrest in Wales during the same period. Indeed one of the factors which led to the passing of the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 was the Reform Bill of 1832, which widened the franchise and changed the nature of representation in the House of Commons. It is tempting to link these facts; but whether there be any connection or no, it is certainly the case that Welsh anti-slavery poetry played an important role in the radicalization of Wales – and the radicalization of Welsh evangelicalism, and Methodism in particular – during the first half of the nineteenth century, and that it was therefore a significant element in the creation of the radical Nonconformity which dominated Wales in the second half of that century.


[1] David Samwell’s poem, on an undated broadside printed by J. Young of Christmas Street, Bristol, was purchased fairly recently by the National Library of Wales. (I am grateful to Professor Geraint H. Jenkins for drawing my attention to its anonymous attribution in Professor Basker’s anthology.) For discussions in English on David Samwell, see E. G. Bowen, David Samwell (Dafydd Ddu Feddyg) 1751–1798 (Cardiff, 1974) and Martin Fitzpatrick, ‘The “Cultivated Understanding” and Chaotic Genius of David Samwell’, in Geraint H. Jenkins (ed.), A Rattleskull Genius: The Many Faces of Iolo Morganwg (Cardiff, 2005), chapter 17. The text of ‘The Negro Boy’ is reproduced in E. G. Bowen’s volume (pp. 61, 63). It tells of the regret expressed by an African prince for having sold a young boy into slavery in exchange for a watch. ‘When Avarice enslaves the mind, / And selfish views alone bear sway, / Man turns a savage to his kind […]’ are the opening lines of the poem. Its first five verses were translated into Welsh by the Arian minister and schoolmaster, David Davis (1745–1827), Castellhywel; see his Telyn Dewi (London, 1824), 153–4. Professor Basker comments on the poem: ‘This simple song, reportedly based on a real episode, explores an unexpected moral dimension: the guilt of an African leader for having engaged in the slave trade. The poem is thus unusually subtle for its time. Most writers who discussed Africans selling other Africans into slavery did so to mitigate white guilt or to defend the slave trade. Here the African’s repentance proves his moral equality and models the kind of conversion that abolitionists hoped to effect in white slave traders’ – James G. Basker, Amazing Grace: An Anthology of Poems about Slavery, 1660–1810 (New Haven and London, 2002), 565. David Samwell’s poem is also the only Welsh contribution included in Marcus Wood’s 766-page volume, The Poetry of Slavery: An Anglo-American Anthology 1764–1865 (Oxford, 2003), 313. In that volume, however, it is not attributed to ‘Anonymous’, but rather to Robert Wedderburn (1762–1834?), editor of the militant newspaper, The Axe Laid to the Root, who was born in Jamaica, the son of a Scottish planter and a black slave.

[2] I discuss the Welsh poetry on slavery produced during this first period in some detail in my Welsh-language article, ‘Caethwasanaeth a’r Beirdd, 1790–1840’, Taliesin, 119 (Summer 2003), 37–60. A version of the article is also included on the Welsh Ballads Website.

[3] The eisteddfod (pl. eisteddfodau) is an indigenous Welsh competitive cultural festival which has its roots in the bardic tradition of the Middle Ages and developed into an extremely important element in the popular culture of Wales during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, at both a local and a national level, and in emigrant Welsh communities worldwide. For an introduction in English to the eisteddfod, with special reference to its literary competitions, see Hywel Teifi Edwards, The Eisteddfod, ‘Writers of Wales’ series (Cardiff, 1990).

[4] For a good introduction in English to William Williams and his work, see Glyn Tegai Hughes, Williams Pantycelyn, ‘Writers of Wales’ series (Cardiff, 1983). On Pantheologia, see Cyril G. Williams, ‘The Unfeigned Faith and an Eighteenth Century Pantheologia’, Numen, 15 (1968), 212–17; Derec Llwyd Morgan, The Great Awakening in Wales, translated from the Welsh by Dyfnallt Morgan (London, 1988), chapter 7; and (in Welsh) Alwyn Prosser, ‘Diddordebau Lleyg Williams Pantycelyn’, Llên Cymru, 3 (1954–55), 201–14.

[5] Quoted in Gomer M. Roberts, Y Pêr Ganiedydd, II (Llandysul, 1958), 222.

[6] Thomas Salmon, Modern History: or, The Present State of All Nations, III (London, 1739), 51. The equivalent Welsh text is to be found in the first part of Pantheologia (Carmarthen, 1762), 39.

[7] On this post-millennial hope and its influence on the development of the Protestant missionary movement, see Iain H. Murray, The Puritan Hope: A Study in Revival and the Interpretation of Prophecy (London, 1971) and Brian Stanley, The Bible and the Flag: Protestant Missions and British Imperialism in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Leicester, 1990), 74–8. See also Dewi Arwel Hughes, ‘William Williams Pantycelyn’s Eschatology as seen especially in his Aurora Borealis of 1774’, Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology, 4:1 (Spring 1986), 49–63, and (in Welsh) my ‘Williams Pantycelyn a Gwawr y Mudiad Cenhadol’, in Geraint H. Jenkins (ed.), Cof Cenedl XVII (Llandysul, 2002), 65–101.

[8] See, for example, John Saillant, ‘Hymnody and the Persistence of an African-American Faith in Sierra Leone’, The Hymn, 48:1 (January 1997), 8–17.

[9] Edwin Welch, Spiritual Pilgrim: A Reassessment of the Life of the Countess of Huntingdon (Cardiff, 1995), 144–5.

[10] James G. Basker, Amazing Grace, xxxvi.

[11] Eric Williams, From Columbus to Castro: The History of the Caribbean 1492–1969 (London, 1970), 121.

[12] Gwynne E. Owen, ‘Welsh Anti-Slavery Sentiments 1790–1865’ (unpublished MA thesis, University of Wales [Aberystwyth], 1964), 6.

[13] Ibid., 20–1.

[14] Ibid., 7.

[15] The printer was one Anna Hughes. This helps date the printing of Edward Barnes’s pamphlet. Anna Hughes (née Aldford) succeeded her husband, John Hughes, as printer on his death in 1792. Her imprint appears on books printed at the press from 1792 to mid-1794. By August 1794 she had remarried one Joseph Tye and it is his imprint that appears from then until his death in 1795 or 1796. His imprint appears, for example, on a booklet by Morgan John Rhys based on ordination sermons preached at Glynceiriog, 2 July 1794. See Ifano Jones, A History of Printing and Printers in Wales (Cardiff, 1925), 122; Eiluned Rees, Libri Walliae: A Catalogue of Welsh Books and Books Printed in Wales 1546–1820 (Aberystwyth, 1987), 533, 673, 856, 875; S. I. Wicklen, ‘The Growth and Development of Printing in the Wrexham Area’, Transactions of the Denbighshire Historical Society, 35 (1986), 51.

[16] On this tune, see Phyllis Kinney’s articles, ‘The Tunes of the Welsh Christmas Carols’, Canu Gwerin (Folk Song), 11 (1988), 34–5, and ‘Welsh Ballad Tunes’, in Mary-Ann Constantine (ed.), Ballads in Wales (London, 1999), 21.

[17] John Daniel (1755?–1823) printed in Carmarthen from 1784 until his death. Ifano Jones regards him as ‘the most skilled of all the early printers of Wales’ (A History of Printing and Printers in Wales, 135).

[18] Eiluned Rees in her catalogue, Libri Walliae, 253, says it is a translation of William Fox’s Address to the People of Great Britain, on the Propriety of Abstaining from West Indian Sugar and Rum. She suggests 1793 as the publication date of the Welsh translation (see note 15 above). Edward Barnes translated a number of other works into Welsh, including James Hervey’s Meditations and Contemplations, Hannah More’s Village Politics, Isaac Watts’s Divine Songs […] for the Use of Children, and the sermon preached by Timothy Priestley (the evangelical brother of Dr Joseph Priestley) on the death of Selina, Countess of Huntingdon.

[19] Although undated, the broadside must have been printed in 1792 at the latest, since the imprint states that it was printed by John Daniel in King Street, Carmarthen. John Daniel removed from King Street to Lower Market Street sometime during 1792 (Ifano Jones, A History of Printing and Printers in Wales, 134). Like the broadside, Morgan John Rhys’s pamphlet was also printed by John Daniel before he removed to Lower Market Street. Eiluned Rees dates it in her catalogue to 1792 (Libri Walliae, 532). The title page of the pamphlet notes that it is was also available from Owen Rees in Bristol and the last page carries an advertisement (in English) for ‘Owen Rees, Bookseller, Stationer, & Bookbinder, At No. 10, Wine-Street, Bristol’, emphasising that he sold ‘the different Books and Pamphlets that have been published concerning the Slave Trade’. Owen Rees (1770–1837), son of the prominent Welsh Unitarian, Josiah Rees, moved to London in 1794 or 1795 and became a partner in the famous Longman publishing company – see W. J. Phillips, ‘Iolo Morganwg and the Rees Family of Gelligron’, National Library of Wales Journal, 14:2 (Winter 1965), 229.

[20] This is perhaps an oblique reference to the song ‘Rule Britannia’, written in 1740, the refrain of which ends with the words ‘Britons never, never, never shall be slaves’.

[21] The description is to be found in a Welsh-language booklet he published in April or May 1794 arguing the case for emigrating to America – see J. J. Evans, Morgan John Rhys a’i Amserau (Cardiff, 1935), 35–6, 176; Hywel M. Davies, ‘ “Very Different Springs of Uneasiness”: Emigration from Wales to the United States of America during the 1790s’, Welsh History Review, 15:3 (June 1991), 374–5.

[22] For a discussion on Morgan John Rhys and slavery, see J. J. Evans, Morgan John Rhys a’i Amserau, chapter 4; see also John T. Griffith, Rev. Morgan John Rhys: The Welsh Baptist Hero of Civil and Religious Liberty of the Eighteenth Century (2nd edition, Carmarthen, 1910), for reprints and translations of some of his works, together with extensive extracts from his American diary. Hywel M. Davies discusses this diary in detail in his Transatlantic Brethren: Rev. Samuel Jones (1735–1814) and his Friends (Bethlehem, USA & London, 1995), chapter 7. On the Cambria settlement, see Gwyn A. Williams, ‘Morgan John Rhees and his Beula’, Welsh History Review, 3 (1966–7), 441–72; an expanded version of that article is to be found in his volume The Search for Beulah Land: The Welsh and the Atlantic Revolution (London, 1980). ‘Rhees’ is the spelling Morgan John Rhys adopted after emigrating to America. A number of his descendants became prominent figures in the religious and educational life of America, including his grandson, W. J. Rhees, archivist of the Smithsonian Institution. I discuss (in Welsh) Morgan John Rhys’s complex vision as both a radical Enlightenment figure and an evangelical millenarian, in my article ‘ “Seren Wib Olau”: Gweledigaeth a Chenhadaeth Morgan John Rhys (1760–1804)’, Trafodion Cymdeithas Hanes y Bedyddwyr, 2007, 5–37.

[23] General introductions to Iolo in English are to be found in Prys Morgan, Iolo Morganwg, ‘Writers of Wales’ series (Cardiff, 1975); Geraint H. Jenkins, Facts, Fantasy and Fiction: The Historical Vision of Iolo Morganwg (Aberystwyth, 1997); Ceri W. Lewis, ‘Iolo Morganwg’, in Branwen Jarvis (ed.), A Guide to Welsh Literature c. 1700–1800 (Cardiff, 2000), chapter 7. For detailed discussions of various aspects of his life and work, see Geraint H. Jenkins (ed.), A Rattleskull Genius.

[24] For a detailed discussion of Iolo’s radical contacts and activities during his time in London from 1791 to 1795, see Damian Walford Davies, Presences That Disturb: Models of Romantic Identity in the Literature and Culture of the 1790s (Cardiff, 2002), chapter 4.

[25] It was printed as a broadside in October 1841 as a supplement to Udgorn Cymru (‘The Trumpet of Wales’), the Chartist newspaper published in Merthyr Tydfil by Morgan Williams and David John. Two copies of the broadside are preserved in the Salisbury Library, Cardiff University.

[26] For a variant on the story, see Damian Walford Davies, Presences That Disturb, 275 (n. 98).

[27] In a letter to his wife, written in 1790, Iolo Morganwg says of ‘the poor blacks in our sugar Islands’: ‘the tears and even blood of those poor wretches makes up a considerable part of the sugar which is so sweet to us but very bitter to them’ – quoted in Mary-Ann Constantine, ‘Combustible Matter’: Iolo Morganwg and the Bristol Volcano (Aberystwyth, 2003), 19, which includes a discussion of Iolo’s fiery assaults on the slave-trade and on Bristol’s key role in that ‘inhuman traffic’ (pp.15–19). The only extant copy of the broadside containing Morgan John Rhys’s poem on ‘the complaints of black men in wretched captivity in the Sugar Islands’, Achwynion Dynion Duon, mewn Caethiwed Truenus yn Ynysoedd y Suwgr, is preserved among Iolo Morganwg’s papers at the National Library of Wales (NLW 21405E). Did Iolo, perhaps, buy it in Owen Rees’s shop in Bristol (see note 19)? Although undated, it would seem that the broadside was printed c.1791, and it is interesting to see that the comparison of the sugar being sweet to us but bitter to them is to be found in both the poem and Iolo’s letter to his wife.

[28] Andrew Davies discusses the matter in detail in his chapter, ‘ “Uncontaminated with Human Gore”? Iolo Morganwg, Slavery and the Jamaican Inheritance’, in Geraint H. Jenkins (ed.), A Rattleskull Genius, chapter 13. See also Clare Taylor, ‘Edward Williams (“Iolo Morganwg”) and his Brothers: A Jamaican Inheritance’, Transactions of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, 1980, 35–43.

[29] Damian Walford Davies, Presences That Disturb, 153.

[30] Poems, Lyric and Pastoral, II (London, 1794), 209. The poem ‘Solitude’, composed by Iolo in 1789 and included in the first volume of his Poems, Lyric and Pastoral (pp. 142–5), also includes an attack on slavery. ‘Solitude’ was translated into English by Iolo from his Welsh original. For further expressions of Iolo’s opposition to slavery in the early 1790s, see Damian Walford Davies, Presences That Disturb, 160, 162–3, 164, and Geraint H. Jenkins, Facts, Fantasy and Fiction, 13. Three of Iolo’s Welsh-language poems on the subject of slavery, dating from the period 1804–7, are included in T. C. Evans (‘Cadrawd’) (ed.), Gwaith Iolo Morganwg (Llanuwchllyn, 1913), 53–60.

[31] On the subscribers to Poems, Lyric and Pastoral, see Damian Walford Davies, Presences That Disturb, 153.

[32] D. W. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain (London, 1989), 72.

[33] Ibid., 71.

[34] His stance was in stark contrast to that of that other great English Methodist leader of the eighteenth century, John Wesley (1703–91), who was vehemently opposed to slavery – see, for example, Irv A. Brendlinger, Social Justice Through the Eyes of Wesley: John Wesley’s Theological Challenge to Slavery (Ontario, Canada, 2006).

[35] For a balanced treatment of Whitefield and slavery, see Arnold A. Dallimore, George Whitefield, I (London, 1970), 207–8, 482–3, 495–501, 588; II (Edinburgh, 1980), 219, 367–8, 520–1. The poem which first brought the evangelical slave girl, Phillis Wheatley, to public attention was her elegy to George Whitefield, which received a wide circulation on broadsides in America and Britain. In the elegy she emphasises the way Whitefield offered Christ to all, including black slaves:

Take him [he said] ye Africans, he longs for you;

Impartial SAVIOUR, is his title due;

If you will chuse to walk in grace’s road,

You shall be sons, and kings, and priests to GOD.

[36] D. W. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain, 50–74 (especially pp.60–1, 71).

[37] Ibid., 62; see also note 7 above.

[38] It is worth emphasising here, perhaps, that one of the prime movers behind the founding of the British and Foreign Bible Society, Thomas Charles (1755–1814) of Bala, the most prominent Welsh Calvinistic Methodist leader of his generation, moved in evangelical circles which included influential supporters of the abolition of the slave trade such as John Newton, William Cowper and various members of the Clapham Sect. He was well-acquainted with John Newton, having spent his last summer as a student in Oxford being tutored in theology by Newton at Olney. For Charles’s involvement in these circles, see the index to D. E. Jenkins’s exhaustive three-volume biography, The Life of the Rev. Thomas Charles (Denbigh, 1908), under the names of John Newton, William Wilberforce, John and Henry Thornton, Charles Grant, Granville Sharp, Zachary Macaulay and Lord Teignmouth.

[39] See, for example, Philip Sampson, ‘Cross Purposes?’, Third Way, June 1999, 23–5; Brian Stanley, The Bible and the Flag, see the index under ‘anti-slavery’.

[40] Interestingly, Gwynne E. Owen in his MA thesis of 1964 notes as follows: ‘A survey of anti-slavery material contained in the newspapers and periodicals printed in Wales during the period [1823–33] reveals a marked contrast between the English-language and Welsh-language publications. Whilst the former usually showed concern for the economic implications of the abolition campaign, the latter usually criticized slavery on moral and religious grounds and were rarely concerned with the economics of the anti-slavery movement. In both English and Welsh periodicals letters defending slavery were exceptional’ (‘Welsh Anti-Slavery Sentiments 1790–1865’, 47).

[41] Thomas Clarkson (1760–1846) was an important figure in the kick-starting of the campaign for the abolition of slavery in the 1820s, as he had been in the early years of the campaign for the abolition of the slave trade in the 1780s. Clarkson travelled extensively throughout Britain in 1823 and 1824 to gather support for the campaign to abolish the institution of slavery in British territories, spending some months in Wales in 1824. A diary of his travels in 1823–4 is lodged in the National Library of Wales (NLW 14984A) – see E. D. Jones, ‘Thomas Clarkson in Wales, 1824’, National Library of Wales Journal, 6:2 (Winter 1949), 185. Gwynne E. Owen makes extensive use of the diary in his MA thesis, ‘Welsh Anti-Slavery Sentiments 1790–1865’, chapter 2.

[42] It is worth noting that William Wilberforce was on his death-bed when the bill for the abolition of slavery was going through Parliament. After having campaigned against slavery for almost fifty years, he died on 29 July 1833, three days after hearing that the bill had been passed by the House of Commons. In this context, it is striking to see William Knibb (1803–45), the Baptist missionary and fierce champion of the Jamaican slaves, refer thus to Wilberforce at the close of his speech at a public meeting of the ‘Friends of Christian Missions’ in Exeter Hall, London on 15 August 1832, one of the great mile-stone meetings of the campaign to abolish slavery: ‘For nearly fifty years has that friend of humanity, Wilberforce, advocated the claims of the oppressed African. Now that he is gathering his mantle around him, and preparing for his entrance into eternity, let the attending angel, as he descends to convey his ransomed spirit to the realms of felicity, whisper in the ears of the departing saint, that ‘Africa is free!’ ” – J. H. Hinton, Memoir of William Knibb (London, 1847), 156. William Knibb’s address at Exeter Hall, together with the address by the Wesleyan missionary, Peter Duncan, on the same occasion, was published in booklet form under the title Religious Persecution in Jamaica, which went to at least five editions before the end of 1832. A Welsh translation of the third edition of that booklet, by John Evans (‘I. D. Ffraid’; 1814–75) from the Conwy valley in north Wales, was printed in Llanrwst in 1833. In an introductory note, the eighteen-year-old John Evans says that his purpose in translating the work into Welsh was in order to give the common people of Wales accurate information regarding the state of affairs in Jamaica, since – in contrast to the Tories and many ignorant religious people, who believed the common people should be ruled by the whims of others – he believed that they should be allowed a voice, and that they were indeed the backbone of every significant change for the better. A shopkeeper and a prolific author and translator, Evans would become prominent in the temperance movement and the ‘Liberation Society’ and an ordained minister in the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist denomination.

[43] For an outline of the increasing tensions between the missionaries and the slave owners and colonial authorities in Jamaica, which culminated in 14 Baptist and 6 Methodist chapels in Jamaica being destroyed by whites in 1832, following the slave revolt often referred to as the ‘Baptist War’, see Brian Stanley, The Bible and the Flag, 85–91. Sent in 1832 by his fellow missionaries from Jamaica to Britain as their spokesperson, William Knibb (1803–45) played a key role in changing the Baptist Missionary Society’s policy of non-involvement in the civil and political affairs of Jamaica; selections from his remarkable address to the Society’s Annual Meeting in Spa Fields Chapel, London, on 21 June 1832 – ‘that memorable day [when] the death-knell of Slavery [in the West Indies] was rung’ (Baptist Magazine, 1866, 760) – may be read in J. H. Hinton, Memoir of William Knibb, 145–8. It is said that Knibb’s response to hearing, on his arrival in the English Channel, that the Reform Bill had been passed, was: ‘Thank God. Now I’ll have slavery down. I will never rest, day or night, till I see it destroyed, root and branch’; and his tireless campaigning in the following months and years, over the length and breadth of Britain, would be a crucial contribution to the abolition of slavery in Jamaica. It is worth noting in the present context that his wife, Mary Watkis (or Watkins), who worked closely with her husband in his anti-slavery campaigning, was a Welsh-speaker, born in Pontypool in Monmouthshire about 1798 (John Clark, ‘Memoir of Mrs. Knibb’, Baptist Magazine, 1866, 757–65). Her favourite hymn was Williams Pantycelyn’s ‘Guide me, O! Thou great Jehovah’.

[44] The printer’s name is given as ‘Jones, Argraffydd [= Printer], Llanfair’, probably Robert Jones (‘Bardd Mawddach’, 1801–66). Printing began in Llanfair Caereinion when the Wesleyan Methodists set up a press and bookroom there in June 1824. Robert Jones was employed as foreman and compositor at the Wesleyan press from the outset, and subsequently ran his own printing office in Llanfair Caereinion from 1827 until about 1835 – see Ifano Jones, A History of Printing and Printers in Wales, 159; John Iorwerth Davies, ‘A History of Commercial Printing and Printers in Montgomeryshire, 1789–1960’ (unpublished Fellowship of the Library Association thesis, 1975), chapter 6; Philip Henry Jones, ‘The Welsh Wesleyan Bookroom, 1824–8: A New Set of Printing Accounts’, in Peter Isaac and Barry McKay (ed.), The Reach of Print (Winchester, 1998), 37–49. The main publication of the Wesleyan Methodist bookroom and press was the denominational monthly magazine, Yr Eurgrawn Wesleyaidd (‘The Wesleyan Magazine’), which strongly supported the movement for the abolition of slavery – see A. H. Williams, Welsh Wesleyan Methodism 1800–1858 (Bangor, 1935), 322. In his thesis, J. Iorwerth Davies lists items printed at Robert Jones’s press. Although not on the subject of slavery, it is interesting to see in the list publications by the Independent ministers Robert Everett and Samuel Roberts, Llanbryn-mair, two of the most prominent of all Welsh anti-slavery campaigners both in Wales and in the Welsh communities of North America. Richard Jones printed at least one other anti-slavery ballad, namely an edition of the influential poem, ‘Cân y Negro Bach’, by the Baptist minister, Benjamin Price (‘Cymro Bach’) – see note 59.

[45] John and Llewelyn Jenkins ran a printing office together in Cardiff from August 1831 until John left to become a missionary in Brittany in September 1834 – see Ifano Jones, A History of Printing and Printers in Wales, 269. They printed and edited the Baptist monthly, Greal y Bedyddwyr (‘The Baptists’ Miscellany’), which, like the Wesleyan Eurgrawn, strongly supported the abolition of slavery. Hengoed, where their father, John Jenkins (1779–1853), was minister, was the home church of Morgan John Rhys, the author of the first anti-slavery poem to be printed in Welsh.

[46] On this ballad sheet, Solomon Nutry’s surname is spelt ‘Newtry’. The printer’s name is given as ‘Davies, Argraffydd, Caerfyrddin’ (= ‘Davies, Printer, Carmarthen’), probably John Powell Davies, who had a printing shop in King Street, Carmarthen, and was a prominent town councillor. It is worth noting in passing that the poet and printer, James Davies (‘Iago ap Dewi’; 1800–69), won second prize for an anti-slavery poem at an eisteddfod held in Carmarthen during this period, while he was an apprentice printer in that town, at the printing house of John Evans, publisher for many years of the newspaper, The Carmarthen Journal. The connection between the abolition and missionary movements is underlined by the fact that the famous seal of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of Slavery, showing a black slave kneeling together with the slogan ‘Am I not a man and a brother?’, was reproduced side by side with an open Bible on the title page of the issues of the missionary magazine, Y Cronicl Cenadol (‘The Missionary Chronicle’), published between January 1819 and April 1820. The magazine was printed in Carmarthen by John Evans between 1818 and 1823, and edited by him in cooperation with the prominent Independent and Calvinistic Methodist ministers, David Peter, David Davies and David Charles (brother of Thomas Charles of Bala).

[47] The Wesleyan Methodist leader from Brecon in south Wales, Thomas Coke (1747–1814), John Wesley’s ‘right-hand man’, was a key figure in development of the Wesleyan Methodists mission in the Caribbean and strongly opposed to slavery – see, for example, A. H. Williams, Welsh Wesleyan Methodism 1800–1858, 70–1.

[48] The ballad’s opening lines are ‘Trigolion De a Dwyrain, / Oll o’r bron, / Gorllewin oll yn llawen, / Oll o’r bron, / Rhown glodydd ’nawr yn weddaidd [. . .]’, which may be translated ‘Dwellers of the South and the East, / All together, / All [dwellers] of the West, joyfully, / All together, / Let us now give seemly praises [. . .]’. It has been preserved on three four-page ballad leaflets, all undated. One was printed at Llanfair Caereinion, Montgomeryshire, by Richard Humphreys for Evan Jones. Richard Humphreys (1801–85) moved to Llanfair Caereinion in 1824 when the Wesleyan Methodists set up their press and bookroom there. He later worked for Robert Jones (‘Bardd Mawddach’) at his printing office in Llanfair Caereinion, and from about 1835 to about 1838 worked closely with Evan Jones, who succeeded Robert Jones as manager of the printing office – see note 44. The other two leaflets were printed respectively by Evan Prosser at Pontypool in Monmouthshire (he printed there between 1831 and his death in 1842) and by Thomas and Henry Williams at Llandeilo in Carmarthenshire.

[49] The Emancipation Act received the royal assent in August 1833. Under the Act, all slaves in the British West Indies, the Cape of Good Hope, Mauritius and Canada were declared free as from 1 August 1834, although they were required to serve a subsequent period of compulsory apprenticeship to their former masters, which in practise meant that a form of slavery continued for a number of years afterwards – see Brian Stanley, The Bible and the Flag, 90.

[50] The best-known example is probably John Ystumllyn, who was brought as a slave boy to a mansion in the Cricieth-Porthmadog area of north-west Wales in the mid-eighteenth century. He married a local Welsh girl, and some of his descendants are still living in north Wales – see Alan Llwyd, Cymru Ddu / Black Wales (Cardiff, 2005), 26–31.

[51] The ballad is entitled Cân Newydd am Ŵr a Gwraig o Gymru (‘A New Song about a Man and Wife from Wales’). Its opening line is ‘Cydnesewch Gymry mwynion’ (‘Draw near, all you kind Welsh people’). It was printed at least five times. The only version which names Eleanor Nutry as author is the one printed by Isaac Thomas in Cardigan in 1835. (It may be significant that Isaac Thomas was the printer of the Baptist monthly, Greal y Bedyddwyr, between January 1827 and January 1833, when it moved to Cardiff, to the printing office of John and Llewelyn Jenkins, printers of one of the versions of Solomon Nutry’s first ballad – see note 45.) The other versions of the ballad were printed by Peter Evans at Caernarfon, by John Jones at Trefriw and by Jonathan Harris at Carmarthen, together with one anonymous printing. The version printed by Isaac Thomas is dated 1835 and the anonymously-printed ballad specifically includes the date 1834 in its title. However, the version printed by Jonathan Harris at Carmarthen is dated 1822, and the version printed by John Jones, although undated, must have been printed in 1825 at the latest, since he moved his printing business from Trefriw to Llanrwst in that year.

[52] Glanmor Williams, Samuel Roberts, Llanbrynmair (Cardiff, 1950), 59, 61.

[53] The authorship of the original English poem is rather complicated. It was first published as a poem of over 40 stanzas, both as a broadside and as a chapbook in Hannah More’s ‘Cheap Repository Tracts’ series in late 1795. In that version, after telling of Yamba’s capture and her ordeals as a slave, which leave her on the verge of suicide, the poem proceeds to describe her encounter with a Christian missionary and her subsequent conversion, and ends not only with an appeal to the British to put an end to the slave trade, but also for them to engage in missionary work in Africa, instead of ‘slaughter, vice and slavery’. However, it would appear that this published poem of 1795 is an edited and augmented version of a poem submitted for publication to Hannah More by a minor romantic and radical poet named Eaglesfield Smith (c.1770–1838). Smith’s original poem (which he published some two years after Hannah More’s augmented version) tells of Yamba’s capture and ordeals, and ends just before she commits suicide with an appeal by her to the British to free Africa of the slave trade. Smith’s original 22 stanzas are devoid of Christian content, and it would seem that Hannah More was responsible for adding the second half of the poem, which tells of Yamba’s conversion, and that it was Hannah More who also added to Smith’s original appeal to the British to end the slave trade, the appeal to them to evangelise Africa. For a detailed discussion of the relationship between the two versions, see Alan Richardson’s important article, ‘ “The Sorrows of Yamba,” by Eaglesfield Smith and Hannah More: Authorship, Ideology, and the Fractures of Antislavery Discourse’, in the University of Montreal’s electronic journal, Romanticism on the Net, 28 (November 2002). What is interesting in the present context is that S. R.’s 16-verse Welsh-language adaptation is to all intents and purposes an adaptation of the Eaglesfield Smith stanzas. Although Yamba is portrayed by S. R. as dying of the effects of her ill-treatment rather than committing suicide, and while he does include a Christian reference in the form of a rhetorical question asking what Christian can think of ‘the black labours of his enslaved brethren’ without pain in his heart, he includes no references to Yamba’s conversion or the evangelisation of Africa. This raises the interesting question of whether S. R. (despite attributing the English original to Hannah More) actually adapted his Welsh version from Eaglesfield Smith’s version, or whether he decided to leave out the references to conversion and missionary work because he sensed (as have others) a disjunction between the two parts of the poem as published by Hannah More: I suspect the latter.

[54] See, for example, the reference to her in a poem celebrating the emancipation of the Jamaican slaves, published in Greal y Bedyddwyr, September 1835, 271: ‘Mwy ni cheir Yamba, nac un o rai caethion, / I gael eu fflangellu dan Brydain a’i choron’ (‘No longer will Yamba, or any slave, / Be flogged under Britain and its crown’).

[55] Both the poem on the sorrows of Yamba and the one on flogging women were subsequently published by S. R. in his collection of poems, Caniadau Byrion ar Amrywiol Destynau (‘Short Songs on a Variety of Subjects’), published in 1830, and which went to five editions by 1849. Although it is often said that domestic and familial aspects of slavery were a particular feature of anti-slavery writings by women, it is interesting to note that the treatment of female slaves and the tearing of marriage and family bonds are prominent themes in male anti-slavery writings in Welsh, reflecting perhaps the emphasis on slavery as a religious and moral issue, rather than a political and economic one.

[56] Gwynne E. Owen, ‘Welsh Anti-Slavery Sentiments 1790–1865’, 67.

[57] Quoted in David Benjamin Rees, Samuel Roberts, ‘Writers of Wales’ series (Cardiff, 1987), 61.

[58] Ceiriog included his poem on the ‘Two Sams’, together with a lengthy explanatory note, in his collection of poetry, Cant o Ganeuon (Wrexham, [1863]), 37–42. On S. R.’s turbulent period in America and his attitude towards the Civil War and slavery, see Glanmor Williams, Samuel Roberts, Llanbrynmair, 73–93; D. Ben Rees, Samuel Roberts; Iorwerth C. Peate, Ym Mhob Pen … (Llandysul, 1948), 138–41; Aled Jones and Bill Jones, Welsh Reflections: Y Drych and America 1851–2001 (Llandysul, 2001), 23–5; Daniel Williams, ‘Hil, Iaith a Chaethwasanaeth; Samuel Roberts a “Chymysgiad Achau” ’, Y Traethodydd, April 2004, 92–106. S. R. wrote a lengthy defence of his position with regard to the Civil War in January 1867. He did not publish it at the time, but eventually did so in late 1882 in a 176-page book entitled Hunan-Amddiffyniad S. R., yn ngwyneb y camddarlunio fu arno drwy adeg cynddaredd y Rhyfel Cartrefol yn America (‘S. R.’s Self-Defence, in the face of his being misrepresented throughout the period of the raging madness of the Civil War in America’), citing the fact that he was still being criticized in the Welsh-American press for his stance, as his reason for publishing the manuscript after so many years.

[59] The broadside has no printer’s imprint and is undated, but the printing blocks used strongly suggest that it was printed by John Jones at Llanrwst. The four-page leaflet (also undated) was printed by W. Owen at Caernarfon. The broadside is entitled Cân y Negro Bach, while the Caernarfon leaflet is entitled Annerch y Negro Bach i Blant Cymru (‘The Little Negro’s Address to the Children of Wales’). This fuller version was also published by Isaac Jones (1792?–1858), the Baptist minister of Staylittle in Montgomeryshire, initially as an eight-page pamphlet entitled Annerch y Negro Bach i Blant Cymry (sic) and printed in Llanfair Caereinion in 1834 by Robert Jones (‘Bardd Mawddach’), the printer of one of the Solomon Nutry ballads. It was then included as an appendix to Isaac Jones’s undated Sunday-school catechism, Holwyddoreg at Wasanaeth Ysgolorion Ieuangaf yr Ysgol Sabbothol, printed in Llanidloes by John Jones (‘Idrisyn’, 1804–87), who succeeded Robert Jones (‘Bardd Mawddach’) as managing printer of the Wesleyan Methodists’ press. The eight-page pamphlet of 1834 attributes the poem to Isaac Jones on its title page, whereas in the second edition, appended to Isaac Jones’s catechism, the authorship is attributed to ‘Cymro Bach’ (i.e. Benjamin Price). This may perhaps indicate that Isaac Jones is the author of the extra stanzas added at the time of the emancipation in 1834, additions that are not dissimilar in their missionary emphasis to those made by Hannah More to Eaglesfield Smith’s poem about Yamba (see note 53). Both Isaac Jones and Benjamin Price were Baptist ministers in Montgomeryshire at the time.

[60] It appeared under the title ‘Cân y Negro Du’ (‘Song of the Black Negro’), together with a poem entitled ‘Cân Miriam’ (‘The Song of Miriam’), on a small two-sided leaflet with no date or printer’s imprint. It also appeared under the title ‘Cwyn y Negro am Ryddhad’ (‘The Negro’s Lament for Freedom’), together with ‘Cân Miriam’ – now entitled ‘Y Môr Coch’ (‘The Red Sea’) – and two other short poems, ‘Cân Moses’ (‘The Song of Moses’) and ‘Cân yr Oen’ (‘The Song of the Lamb’), on a four-sided undated leaflet printed by Benjamin Morgan in the great iron town of Merthyr Tydfil in north east Glamorgan. The poem ‘Cân Miriam’ / ‘Y Môr Coch’, whose opening line is ‘Chwythwch yr udgyrn ar gopa Baalsephon’ (‘Blow the trumpets from the summit of Baalzephon’), is by the Anglican priest and lyrical poet John Blackwell (‘Alun’; 1797–1840).