The Unfair Trade
by Sarah Skelton, Community Heritage Officer
The Unfair Trade that came to Herefordshire: the county's hidden history of slavery.
Herefordshire has a rich and varied heritage, some elements of which are well known and documented through history books such as Hereford city’s involvement in the civil war.
Some histories however, have not been so thoroughly explored and it is only now, 200 years since Britain took its first steps towards abolishing the Transatlantic slave trade, that these histories are coming to light.
The wealth of Herefordshire and the wealth of some local families are inextricably linked to the cruel history of the Transatlantic slave trade.
What often puzzles people is how does a completely landlocked county have connections to a trade in human cargo which crossed oceans taking enslaved Africans across the Atlantic and forcing them to work as labourers in the Caribbean and Americas?
Well of course, like today, money and power is a means to many things.
At the time of the Transatlantic slave trade, investment in the newly "discovered" Americas was the investment of choice for those who could afford it.
Who knew what profits and business ventures were available in this "new" world?
This is how local families came to be involved in the cruelty of the Transatlantic slave trade.
The Cornewall family who once lived at Moccas Court in Herefordshire are an example of this unexplored past.
This family owned sugar estates on the Caribbean island of Grenada in the 18th and 19th centuries, and owned enslaved people who worked this land.
Anti-slavery campaign sugar bowl c. 1800
Records survive to this day which help us to understand what life was like for the enslaved people on the Cornewall family’s La Taste sugar estate.
These inventories of property owned on the estate lists enslaved people with only one English first name, the job they did on the estate and an assessment of their character and their effectiveness at their work.
The records that survive from the La Taste estate also record an uprising of enslaved people across the island of Grenada in 1795.
The insurance assessor’s report sums up the attitudes of the day to enslaved people.
Whilst the estate windmill used for processing sugar is listed as having been damaged to the value of £2000, the list of enslaved people who lost their lives in a struggle for freedom from slavery are listed as having "no value".
The Transatlantic slave trade was all about making a profit for the investors.
With the money the Cornewall family made from their estates in the Caribbean, they renovated their home at Moccas Court making it into the luxurious building still standing today.
Other big houses in the county also have direct links to the Transatlantic slave trade.
Eye Manor was purchased by Ferdinando Gorges in 1673 as the house in which to spend his retirement.
Gorges had spent his whole life involved in the Transatlantic salve trade both as a slave trader and as a sugar plantation owner in the Caribbean.
He used the wealth he had accrued during his lifetime to purchase this rural retreat in Herefordshire.
It is Gorges who was responsible for putting in the elaborate plasterwork ceilings at Eye Manor, some of which still survive to this day.
The Barrett-Browning connection
Further links between people of Herefordshire and the Transatlantic slave trade are found through the family heritage of the Barrett family who lived at Hope End, Ledbury
The Barretts were a Creole family who had lived in Jamaica for many, many years
Despite themselves being the descendants of enslaved people they were also sugar plantation owners who used enslaved labourers to work their land.
Elizabeth Barrett-Browning, the acclaimed poet, was one of the first members of the Barrett family to be brought up in England for several generations.
Her poetical works often call for social justice; she even fell out with her father because of his involvement in the Transatlantic slave trade and slave ownership.
So Herefordshire, like all parts of Britain, is connected to the Transatlantic slave trade.
The wealth and riches of many families were made through exploitation of enslaved people.
The presence of tropical produce in our shopping baskets is also part of the legacy of the Transatlantic slave trade.
The impact of Transatlantic slavery is still felt in people's lives and in every part of society today, whether we are conscious of it or not.
So in 2007 at least we can now see our history as part of a wider, global history and can now recognise the threads of the past that link us all together.
last updated: 06/02/2008 at 10:45