History KS3: The Slave Owner

In this film, Dr Sam Caslin from Liverpool University looks at historical sources relating to the life of Sir Richard Pennant; a wealthy Welsh politician and industrialist, who owned a number of slaves working on his sugar plantations in Jamaica.

Even though we regard slavery with abhorrence today, it is sometimes useful for historians to try to understand the mentality of the people who supported it.

Dr Caslin visits Penrhyn castle in North Wales, the rebuilt former home of Sir Richard, and studies a huge portrait of him in all his splendor that is hanging in the castle’s dining room.

She looks online and discovers a Parliamentary speech from 1789 in which Pennant argues forcefully about the benefits of slavery to Britain; not least in allowing it to maintain its huge and impressive naval force.

Finally, Dr Caslin visits the National Museum of Wales, where she reviews a series of letters that Pennant sent to his plantation managers in Jamaica. In the letters it’s clear that although Pennant expresses concerns about the management of the slaves, he sees them as merely commodities, likening their supervision to his cattle.

This clip is from the series Hunting for History.

Teacher Notes

Historians use sources to try to understanding the mind-set and values of people in the past. Students could be told a little about Sir Richard and that he was a defender of slavery.

They could then be asked to speculate as to what arguments he might have made.

They can then follow Dr Caslin’s analysis of the sources and see how far their speculations were valid.

Curriculum Notes

This clip will be relevant for teaching KS3 History in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and 4th level People, past events and societies in Scotland.