How the Slave Trade Helped N.Wales; Amateur Historian Huw Thomas on the Region's Links to Cotton Plantations across the Atlantic

Article excerpt

PEOPLE in North Wales have had the opportunity to see the moving and harrowing film 12 years a Slave'.

This brilliant film, which many believe deserves an Oscar, tells the story of Solomon Northup, a black free man living in upstate New York, who was kidnapped in 1841 and sold into slavery.

For the next 12 years he was a slave in the plantations of Louisiana, where he was whipped, starved and worked six days a week for a series of increasingly sadistic masters. Northup was finally rescued and wrote his book.

I have discussed the film with others, all who are appalled at the depiction of slavery in the southern states of the USA, with its barbarous system of control through torture, hangings and rape; the owners having absolute rights over their 'property' - the slaves.

In Britain we are rightly proud that we were the first major nation to abolish first the slave trade in 1807, and then the institution of slavery itself in 1834.

We pay less attention to the fact that in the 18th century Britain played the major world role in the slave trade and the ownership of slaves.

Slavery and the sugar trade paid an important role in Britain's economic development, including banking, insurance and finances for the Industrial Revolution.

The growth of Liverpool and Bristol was mainly due to the sugar and tobacco trade, which in turn relied on slavery.

North Wales benefited economically from slavery. There were many North Wales captains and crews on the slave ships. An important item of exchange for slaves were manillas - lengths of copper rods used as a currency in parts of West Africa.

The slave ships were clad in copper to protect their wooden hulls from boring marine creatures.

The copper for the manillas and the hulls was mined from Parys Mountain on Anglesey, and smelted in Holywell and Swansea.

The great Welsh entrepreneur, Thomas Williams (1737 - 1802) held a monopoly on this trade. A prominent member of the pro slavery lobby, he claimed he would never have developed Parys Mountain without the slave trade. …