The next ships in the Flotilla reflect the rising prosperity of Welsh ports prior to the Industrial Revolution – a prosperity which was also linked to the slave trade. Money made overseas was invested in roads, bridges and harbours, as well as enriching personal fortunes: it also supported the slate industry of North Wales. Although slaves were not brought directly to Holyhead, the ships often carried cargos of sugar, cotton and tobacco from the plantations to all ports in the UK.
The trade itself provided work for seafarers, shipyards, labourers and even craftsmen whose copper and bronze trinkets were sold to African leaders in exchange for slaves.
Many Welshmen prospered as plantation estate owners, the best-known in North Wales being Lord Penrhyn, Richard Pennant, of Castell Penrhyn, who inherited the largest sugar plantation in Jamaica. The success of the Parys Mining company in Amlwch, Anglesey (and of its sister companies at the copper rolling mills in Greenfield Valley in Flintshire) was also partly due to the slave trade. In 1788, the director of the mines, Thomas Williams of Llanidan (1737–1802), actively petitioned parliament to quash a bill which proposed preventing British ships from carrying slaves.
I decided, as it is a big and harrowing subject, to focus on the quality of ‘absence’ in my vessels. Both are empty hulls containing only stark ribs, as structure and cargo.
A History of Wales and Slavery
Penrhyn Castle and the transatlantic slave trade
Wales and Slavery – National Museum Wales
8 December 2020