Skip to content

The profits of slavery: The Jeffersons of Whitehaven

Updated Tuesday 17th October 2006

A museum in Whitehaven tells the "Rum Story" of two Cumbrian wine merchants who owned slaves in the West Indies.

Rum story sign Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC North

Robert and Henry Jefferson were wine and spirit merchants who owned plantations in the West Indies which used slave labour. There is now a museum in Whitehaven "The Rum Story" which tells the story of the Jefferson business.

Rum was first produced in the Caribbean in the 17th century, and fast became popular. In 1655, when the Royal Navy took control of Jamaica, the sailors were each allowed a portion of the captured rum as a reward. This tradition of a daily tot of rum was only ended in 1970. Rum, along with sugar and tobacco, became one of the three main items that ships took back to Britain.

Africans were captured and taken to the plantations in the Caribbean. Life on the plantations was extremely hard for the slaves. Many people committed suicide rather than stay in a foreign land, or died from overwork or tropical diseases.

Map of Northern England Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission

Hands on History - Black history

Take a look at  Black history to find out more about the slave trade, it has a huge database of photos, recordings, documents and stories which enable you to find out more.

The BBC and the Open University are not responsible for the content of external websites.

 

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?

Other content you may like

Black History Month Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: iStock article icon

TV, Radio & Events 

Black History Month

In recognition of Black History Month we have pulled together some content from across OpenLearn for you to explore. 

Article
The Z Files with Benjamin Zephaniah Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: The Open University article icon

Health, Sports & Psychology 

The Z Files with Benjamin Zephaniah

In recognition of Black History Month, we focused on notable black people in the fields of science, technology and engineering.

Article

History & The Arts 

Black British Jazz

What is Black British Jazz? This short film explores the research carried out by The Open University research team led by Dr Jason Toynbee who has been examining the history of Black British Jazz and the stories of the artists who have performed it. This video looks at the history of jazz and how the story dates back as far as 1919, documenting how successive waves of black musicians have contributed to developing new and uniquely British sounds, as well as addressing the problematic issues surrounding race and cultural identity.

Video
10 mins
Britain's Great War: Download your free 'The First World War Experienced' booklet Creative commons image Icon The Open University under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license article icon

History & The Arts 

Britain's Great War: Download your free 'The First World War Experienced' booklet

From casualties to commemoration, explore the realities of war with this free booklet.

Article
The People on the Notes: Elizabeth Fry article icon

History & The Arts 

The People on the Notes: Elizabeth Fry

Elizabeth Fry, sometimes known as 'the angel of prisons', was depicted on the £5 note for over a decade - only recently being replaced by Winston Churchill. Here's what we know about her:

Article
Heritage Centres Guide Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Open2 team article icon

History & The Arts 

Heritage Centres Guide

Find your Industrial Heritage! Click one of the links below to find Industrial Heritage centres in your area:

Article
Election days: 1769 - when 296 votes beat 1148 Copyright free image Icon Copyright free: The Gentleman's Magazine article icon

History & The Arts 

Election days: 1769 - when 296 votes beat 1148

The radical John Wilkes had been pursued by the courts following his publication of a semi-pornographic parody of the work of Alexander Pope. His supporters returned him to the Commons as MP for Middlesex, but on the grounds of his conviction, Parliament had expelled him in February 1769, twice; and then again in March. He was re-elected every time. By April, the authorities came up with a way of avoiding the cat-and-mouse game: effectively refusing to acknowledge his win.

Article
Portchester Castle, Hampshire Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team article icon

History & The Arts 

Portchester Castle, Hampshire

Portchester Castle is one of the best-preserved Roman buildings in Britain.

Article
Egyptian Mathematics Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: OU article icon

History & The Arts 

Egyptian Mathematics

The classical Greeks believed that mathematics was invented in Egypt but there is disappointingly little evidence of the Egyptians’ mathematical attainments. Dr June Barrow-Green examines the evidence that exists.

Article