The Welsh slave owner and anti-abolitionist MP Richard Pennant

The first Baron Penrhyn, Richard Pennant, was a slave owner, anti-abolitionist MP and Irish peer. The fortune gained from slave plantations in Jamaica was crucial to his development of the slate industry and Penrhyn Castle.

In Jamaica there exists a community called Pennants. It was named after a family that arrived from Flintshire, who also gave their name to their slaves. Many people living there still bear the surname today.

In the 18th century the Jamaican sugar fields were worked by hundreds of slaves whose wealthy European masters also lived on the island. However, many settlers returned home because of high death rates.

Richard Pennant was the first baron of Penrhyn, North West Wales. He was born either in London or during one such voyage to Europe.

In 1765 Pennant married Anne Susannah Warburton, the daughter of General Hugh Warburton, acquiring the Penrhyn estate in Caernarvonshire. He invested substantially in this estate using money generated by the sugar and rum from his family’s Jamaican plantations.

Upon his arrival in North Wales he developed a unified industrial slate quarry and industry on a massive scale. He build road and rail links to connect the quarry to the port. He built the port and the ships, allowing him to ship his slate to anywhere in the world.

Pennant’s slate quarry is still the biggest in the world. Despite his links to slavery, he was known as Richard Pennant the Improver, and he planted over 600,000 trees in the area.

By 1790 he had established Port Penrhyn, a harbour at the mouth of the River Cegin. From there slate was transported to London, Bristol, Liverpool and Ireland.

Pennant became MP for Petersfield in 1761. Six years later he became one of the two MPs for Liverpool, which was by this time the major slave trade port. He held the post until 1780, and again from 1784-1790.

Through his family or business connections, Pennant became part of a powerful and influential pro-slavery network, and held connections to virtually all the major absentee plantation owners in Britain.

A prominent figure in the development of the Welsh slate industry, Pennant became the first Baron Penrhyn in 1783, though the Irish peerage did not prevent him standing for election in the House of Commons.

Pennant was chairman of the West India Committee, an organisation of merchants and plantation owners, and from 1788 chaired a special sub-committee to organise opposition to abolition. Its tactics included sponsoring petitions to parliament and producing pamphlets that supported the slave trade and explained its economic benefits.

The owner of vast properties in Caernarvonshire and Jamaica, Pennant also owned hundreds of slave labourers. Although Pennant never saw the plantations first-hand, he relied on maps as guides to his properties.

Bangor University holds hundreds of letters written by Pennant to his estate managers in Jamaica after he took control of the plantations in 1781.

The letters Pennant wrote are full of discussions on slavery. Many times Pennant asks for his managers to treat his slaves well. Whether he was looking out for his workers or his profits is unclear, but the slaves were a valuable asset to him.

There is talk of not enough children being born to slave women, and of “breeding” being cheaper than buying new workers. One of Pennant’s managers speaks of offering bonuses to midwives for live births.

Although well aware of the controversies surrounding the slave trade, Richard Pennant rejected the abolitionists’ arguments. Instead, he used his position to become an outspoken champion of slavery, arguing that the banning of the traffic of Africans would be an economic disaster.

The continuous flow of money from Jamaica allowed Pennant’s heir to built a magnificent home in Wales. Penrhyn was an ostentatious show of wealth, spread over more than 300 rooms, which the family mostly used to entertain guests.

The fortune gained from the slave plantations in Jamaica was never less than crucial to his developments in North Wales. The trade was the spur to create the North West Wales that exists today


I am a Pennant of Jamaica W.I. and I am facinated by this history of my family name. We came to America in the late 60’s. Our family name was unusual and not well known. Today there are so many Pennant in the USA it is staggering. We know that there are many in the UK also. We have known about our Wales begining but did not have a way of tracing our ancestry. This info is awesome. If there is anyone one who reads this and want to contact me, I would welcome their input.
Thanks you,
Annier Pennant

I’m a Pennant from the UK and although I have known about the history the amount of pennants there are around the world is staggering

My parents have property in Pennants and I have just returned from the town in Jamaica

I am from North Wales and we are researching this story and have strong links with Pennants village where we are trying to help the schools. I was over there last year with a delegation from Wales. We have set up the Jamaica Wales Alliance, with the blessing of the Jamaican High Commissioner.

Please link ASAP. We have some great plans and we will be delighted to have a Pennants Party over here at the Pennant family castle, well its owned by the National Trust now! www, My friend Marian put this together.

[…] castle and grounds have a very interesting past. It’s a huge ostentatious family home built between 1820 and 1833 by the Pennant family. […]

I am a Pennant I am ashamed to say that. I live in Nottingham, furthermore the Afro Caribbean side of the Pennants you matter little to those Welsh set.. You all disgust me with your fascination in this barbaric slave owner Richard. I despise Richard Pennant who wanted to hold on to the slavery of our people. Enough said although I have much more to add..

Shame on all Pennant who are alive to day.

Yesterday I visited Penryn castle knowing nothing about its horrible history. The minute I saw it I felt disturbed and miserable. I couldn’t wait to get out of it. Modern slavery continues.

All my family have the surname Penrhyn – Lowe since Jane Pennant married into the Lowe Family
Any knowledge of this union would be appreciated.

I am working on a novel chronicling the life of Cuba Cornwallis and I put in in my novel.. His thinking wasn’t revolutionary at the time since slave labor was very important. Such savaged people!.

My family surname is Sweeney. Pennant recruited a Mr John Sweeney from Ireland as overseer to come to Jamaica I believe in the 1800s to assist with the enslavement of my ancestors. It sickens my stomach as much as it is good to know about your family history that someone could benefit so greatly from other peoples pain and injustice. I pray that in some way he would have been repaid for the enormity of all the suffering that he had caused. Your never too rich to go to hell.

As a descendant of enforced slavery … and a descendant of this heinous slave Master
How died he differ from the likes of Hitler?
…. the entertainer of hate, mass genocide, rape , torture .
This Man Pennant was. nothing but s terrorist that terrorized people from a different land.
Enriching himself and his kinfolk of Wales.
Ask your selfs who built the United Kingdom
and other countries/ cities around the globe
My African ancestors!

The surname Pennant is not exclusive to this monster, it’s Welsh meaning is Head of the Stream and is a popular name for houses and small holdings. Given that there are so baby Jones’ Williams’ Parry’s and so on in Wales it became common to nickname someone by relating their profession or home to them, which, in time, became surnames, so, not all Pennants are related to this abomination of a man

Pennant treated the people doing the work for him as commodities for profit and power. Exploitation of his quarry workers in Wales allowed him to do this and slavery, a greater exploitation, allowed him to do so more in the Caribbean. If the law had allowed him to treat his Welsh workers with greater exploitation he would have done so, as it would have been more profitable. To say he was just a racist would over simplify the reality, as his disdain went beyond those of African descent, though the racist laws at the time allowed him and others to exploit them more.

The Pennant family originated from London – they were not Welsh even though their estate is in Wales. They were cruel masters to the ordinary Welsh person in the slate quarries too – check the 3 year Great Strike – he paid his workers a pittance & kept them impoverished. In the end the empty stomachs of the strikers’ families ended the strike & the men went back to work in November 1903.

Should Penrhyn castle be demolished?

My father was born a first generation American in Tacoma
, Washington in 1921. His parents came from England in the early 1900’s.
My grandfather was a streetcar driver and instilled good ethics into his children, especially his only living son.
My father was an engineer for the railroad as a young man for nine years. When the railroad tried to force him to vote the way they wanted, he quit and took various jobs that allowed him to be true to himself.
Dad instilled in his four children his values and cared greatly for his fellow man. Dad helped many people to be able to speak out for themselves by training them in public speaking.
Many of these people he helped were prisoners .Dad did not have a prejudicial bone in his body and taught us to love all people. He served in the second World war with all races and every one was his brother. They stayed in touch until the day Dad
I am devastated at the probability that I am a descendant of this horrible, evil tyrant. My Dad would feel the same way.
Ever since reading this I am so saddened by my fellow man going through this tortured life.
I have been excited about discovering my Pennant relatives in Jamaica, Australia, England, and the United States. I love all of you and treasure getting to know you.
Please don’t hold us responsible for the horrific sins of ancestors.
My eyes do not see anyone being higher or lower in station thanks to my Parents installing loving others as myself.


I just found out from my cousin (family historian) that we are not descendants of this tyrant but we are related to the Jamaican Pennants!
I am relieved to hear this.

I suggest you take a bit more care before calling Richard Pennant a “Welsh” slave owner. He was as English as they come, and if you think that the ordinary working people of this part of North West Wales, who worked for a pittance under appalling conditions in Lord Penrhyn’s slate quarries, were treated with any respect, then you need to polish up on your history:

We “Welsh” – the Anglo-Saxon word for “foreigner”, incidentally, which is a fine irony given that it was the English who invaded and persecuted us Celts, the indigenous people of these isles, in the first instance) are tired of being tarred with the same brush as our oppressors.

I can see Penrhyn Castle from my home, many locals refuse to even look at it. The people of Bethesda, where his quarry is situated are brought up knowing the history of Richard Pennant and his cruelty in the West Indies and likewise towards his workers in the quarry. He is a disgrace to North West Wale. The Penrhyn estate still owns much of the land in the area.

My name surname is Pennant I have this surname as it was given to my ancestors during the slave trad. My ancestors worked for nothing on the white Pennant plantation without pay. It is now time to correct the wrong and pay out to those Black Pennants.

I am from Bethesda, Wales where Penrhyn quarry is situated.
I can categorically say that as youngsters we are taught of the atrocities and cruelty of Richard Pennant.
He is NOT known as Richard Pennant the improver to us OR as a native to Wales or our area, but rather as the cruel, cold hearted, anti “Welsh”, pro slavery monster that he is.

Mi gewch chi’ch crogi am ddwy dafad oddi ar y mynydd
Ond am ddwyn y mynydd mi gewch chi’ch gwneud yn arglwydd

I’ve been researching my Welsh ancestry for some considerable time, and recently I took an Ancestry DNA test. To my surprise and delight, I have quite a number of DNA matches with African Americans, who can trace their ancestry back to Jamacia. I can only assume that a family member, took the opportunity to broaden his horizons and became either a slave driver or an overseer. As my family came from Caernarfonshire, I imagine this has something to do with the Pennant family.

In Jamaica’s national archives in Kingston and Spanish Town (a true treasure if it is still open to the public), I to trace some of the family history. One of the more interesting things I learned was.that.many of descendants of the Pennant slaves not only took the name but to this day owned substantial amounts of land in southern Jamaica. I still myself own surprisingly large acerage that was passed on by my father & grandfather that still generates bauxite revenue.
The man might have been a slave owner but he took care of his people after he passed.

I would urge folk to do title search because a lot of that land was quietly taken by the unscrupulous.

(I won’t help, the records still exist in Jamaica.)

Today I visited pentasaph in north wales, former pennant home. I wrote this poem as Louise, one of the last pennant family left a wonderful legacy and the place now is a fransican monastery.
Monks in a Cistercian abbey
In the 11th century
Can we but imagine
The dissolution
That came to be
Land torn apart
Divided by the
Pennant family
Louise turned
the wheel full circle
In eighteen forty three
Stations hewn in
Welsh stone
On the trail to Calvary
Prayers for lands beyond
As you look across
The Irish Sea
From the height
Of Calvary
Now a
Philomena burns Breen

Very interesting article.
I am from the country in middle of Europe, where there was never slavery.
It’s sad to realize that wealth of many so called civilized countries was based on slavery.
I am curious, who is the owner of those properties in Jamaica now. I hope it belongs to Jamaican Nation.

If you are a Pennant born today, you are not responsible for the actions of your ancestors – or even your father. Many today are fixated on the blame game. Whites born today are no more responsible for the sins of their ancestors than blacks are for the sins of their African ancestors Many people were slaves or peasants in earlier regimes – many slaves were prisoners of war. A slave master or master of an estate might forward the interests of his dependents or exploit them. The same principle applies in business today. What matters is not what age you were born into, but how you treat those in your care, now. Jesus said love your enemies – don’t make someone an enemy because of what your great great grandads did!

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