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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.

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