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. 

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.


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.

10 mins
Maxwell Fry Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Copyright article icon

History & The Arts 

Maxwell Fry

Fry brought a liberal tinge unusual amongst a socialist-leaning movement.

Breaking the Seal: Church records Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC article icon

History & The Arts 

Breaking the Seal: Church records

Bettany Hughes reveals what church records can tell us about life in the past.

Richborough Roman Fort, Kent Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team article icon

History & The Arts 

Richborough Roman Fort, Kent

Richborough Castle - PORTVS RVTVPIAE - is known as the gateway to Roman Britain.

Listen to: The Suffragettes Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: audio icon

History & The Arts 

Listen to: The Suffragettes

The Suffragettes have got a reputation as a largely peaceful movement - but they were prepared to go much further.

30 mins
The making of Tournament 6: In JP Morgan's footsteps Creative commons image Icon peprice under CC-BY-NC-SA licence under Creative-Commons license article icon

History & The Arts 

The making of Tournament 6: In JP Morgan's footsteps

The Timewatch Team goes transatlantic.

Debate: Robin Hood Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Jupiter Images article icon

History & The Arts 

Debate: Robin Hood

An anonymous forum user proposed an alternate history of Robin Hood