We’ve had some lively correspondence on Bath’s connections with those whose fortunes were enriched as part of this country’s role in the transatlantic slave trade. Something from which many European nations profited between the 17th and 19th centuries.
Several prominent people – who funded the building boom that took place in Georgian Bath used wealth that had benefitted from plantation earnings.
Both Bath University Lecturer Bryn Jones and local historian and guide Paul Jackson made contributions to the debate with Bath Newseum giving Mr Jackson space to ‘correct’ what he considered some factual errors in Dr Jones notes!
(see the article ‘The Facts of the Matter….’)
Bryn Jones has now sent his response – which l publish – while at the same time bringing this correspondence to a close.
“I apologise for some mistakes in dates in my overview of the role of William Pulteney , nee Johnstone (WJP for short), in slave-worked plantations and the development of Pulteney Bridge and the Bathwick estate. But some important, relevant facts of his career are relatively definite; and Paul Jackson’s claim that I have got these completely wrong is somewhat exaggerated. The following seem to me to be the key points of evidence. I have given my source for each point so anyone doubting their accuracy can check them.
1) WJP’s Political and Social Status
- He was a prominent MP, for Cromarty and then Shrewsbury, and a leading politician from 1768 to 1805. Under the then corrupt political system, he also purchased control of the four Weymouth seats. This combined ‘with the electoral interest in Scotland (inherited in 1794) made him a force to be reckoned with.’
- His status was such that he was for some time the government’s principal mediator in attempts to reach a settlement with the USA to end the War of Independence. [Frederick B. Tolles (1953) Franklin and the Pulteney Mission: An Episode in the Secret History of the American Revolution, Huntington Library Quarterly.
- WJP’s status warranted his portrait by the celebrated James Gildray (National Portrait Gallery – https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw62239/Sir-William-Pulteney-Le-Trsorier?LinkID=mp61761&role=sit&rNo=0
- As a Commissioner of Trade he could influence key aspects of Britain’s overseas trade and investments in West Indian and North America colonies (before US independence). At least one researcher thinks this influence over colonial policy, included the compensation for Grenada plantation owners after the 1795 black revolt [Douglas Hamilton (2005) Scotland, The Caribbean and the Atlantic World, 1750-1820,p 183].
- WJP was called the ‘richest commoner in the Empire’ as a result of his own investments and acquired wealth. His USA investments were valued at: £2.6 million; his British estates at £600,000. A total of £12.1 billion in 2007 prices. [Beresford & Rubinstein
- Ownership of Caribbean plantations by Henrietta Laura, WJP’s daughter, ‘is attributed to purchase by Sir William Pulteney in Grenada, Tobago & Dominica; UCL: Legacies of British Slave-Ownership <https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/2146632156>%5D
- WJP might have financed the 1774 completion of Pulteney Bridge, by his protégé Robert Adam, from other assets but his sale of the Domenica plantation in that year would have provided ready cash to pay its costs.
- Pro-Slavery Stance
- WJP strongly opposed abolition. When he clashed with Wilberforce in the Commons in 1805, his defence of slavery was based on both racism – that ‘negroes’ were a different class of human being that needed ‘compulsion’ (the slave-master’s whip?) to make them work – and economics: the plantation economies could not survive without slavery.
[Hansard 28th February 1805, HC Deb 28 February 1805 vol 3 cc641-74]
- His concern for the plantations’ economic viability at that time may have been connected with his own fragile financial situation. The costs of development and local mismanagement turned the millions of acres he had purchased in West New York state into a huge financial drain until 1805. At that time Pulteney allegedly said that his whole fortune was at risk. [Paul D. Evans “THE PULTENEY PURCHASE.” The Quarterly Journal of the New York State Historical Association, vol. 3, no. 2, 1922, pp. 83–104.]
Should the names of Pulteney thoroughfares built by WJP be changed? That’s an ethical choice but the facts on which to make such choices, or non-choices, are clear. William Johnstone Pulteney profited substantially from slave labour and he defended slavery on racist grounds despite knowing these had been refuted in Parliament (W. Baker, ‘William Wilberforce on the Idea of Negro Inferiority’, Journal of the History of Ideas (1970).”
Thank you Bryn. I will just add an email l have received from Paul Jackson in response to your response. It rounds thing off nicely.