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Dr April-Louise Pennant
Cardiff University
Early Career Fellowship

The source of the stream: centring the enslaved Africans who built Penrhyn Castle

Extending connections across the Atlantic, from Wales to Jamaica and back to West Africa, April-Louise Pennant decolonises the public memory of slavery, uncovering the hidden histories of the exploitation that built Penrhyn Castle

April-Louise Pennant looking up at the outside of Penrhyn castle.
April-Louise staring up at Penrhyn Castle in Bangor, North Wales and bearing witness to what the enslaved Africans in Jamaica, including her ancestors, produced the wealth to build. Photograph © April-Louise Pennant, 2021.

The English translation of ‘Pennant’ is ‘head of a stream’, and to date, little research has focused on the source of the stream and beyond the symbolic head of the family, the Pennants of North Wales. In light of recent and urgent questions around the role of the wealth produced by slavery in the history of Wales, research illustrates that this family’s legacy, Penrhyn Castle, and the surrounding estate, were built on the profits reaped from sugar produced at their Jamaican plantations. Yet, there remains a huge silence of the voices – and invisibility of the experiences – of enslaved African people. I seek to elicit perspectives and stories highlighting how there would be no stream of generational wealth without the enslaved African people in Jamaica – the source of the said stream. No stream of upward social mobility or status for the family, no slate quarry, no port, no railroad, and no livelihoods for the local Bangor communities. I aim to decolonise the public memory of slavery by centring the people who were pivotal to its existence but whose voices are seldom heard.

I was also inspired by the re-emergence of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in 2020, after the brutal murder of George Floyd. It reminded me that the Black lives of the enslaved Africans in Jamaica also matter and are yet to be adequately recognised or atoned. A timely project – at the intersections of sociology, education, social policy, history, heritage and economics – it aligns with some of the aims within the Welsh Government’s Programme for Government; the National Trust’s commitment to addressing the histories of colonialism and slavery of its properties and collections, as well as the programme of activities outlined within the UN’s International Decade for People of African Descent which includes recognition, justice and development. 

Lastly, as a descendent of one of the many enslaved African families that forcibly worked on the Pennants’ Jamaican plantations, I am excited to explore, recognise and honour their immense contributions. This fellowship will provide me with dedicated time and resources which will enable me to educate others about the legacies of enslavement.

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