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
Byron: The Expert View Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team article icon

History & The Arts 

Byron: The Expert View

Lord Byron lived a tempestuous life - Hamish Johnson takes us through some of the highlights.

After Waterloo: What happened next? Copyright free image Icon Copyright free: Bibliothèque Nationale de France article icon

History & The Arts 

After Waterloo: What happened next?

After the collapse of Napoleon's army two hundred years ago, what happened next? We catch up with the news from July 3rd, 1715

A walk around... Dunkeld Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC audio icon

History & The Arts 

A walk around... Dunkeld

Few battles changed the course of Scottish history as the Battle of Dunkeld did in 1689. Find out how and why it happened with the Dunkeld audio walk.

30 mins
Behind the camera Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission article icon

History & The Arts 

Behind the camera

When you use film as a historical source, explains Douglas Allen, you must first understand the person behind the camera.

A walk around... Glasgow Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC audio icon

History & The Arts 

A walk around... Glasgow

A roaring trade with the Americans and Europeans helped transform Glasgow from a nondescript, small town into a thriving metropolis with huge and expensive buildings. Find out how the Tobacco Lords changed the face of the city with Neil Oliver and guests.

30 mins
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: