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S4C repeats documentary about American slavery and the Welsh

Tomorrow night (Thursday 18 June) S4C is re-showing America Gaeth a'r Cymry (22.00 English subtitles) a documentary about the Welsh in America and their relationship with slavery, to coincide with the current events of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

In the three-part series, Professor Jerry Hunter of the School of Welsh and Celtic Studies researches the history of the Welsh and slavery in the USA.

The series tells the story of the involvement of Welsh-Americans (Welsh-speaking Americans, to be precise) with slavery, from its inception to the end of slavery in the USA in 1865.

Thursday’s first episode begins with the early period, a period when some Welsh immigrants in America, such as the poet Goronwy Owen of Anglesey, owned slaves. Some Welsh people in the 18th century raised their voices against the immoral regime, people such as the poet Iolo Morganwg and the radical thinker Morgan John Rhys. 

By the 1830s / 1840s, Welsh-language evidence from America shows that there were Welsh-speaking Americans who spoke out on the question against Slavery. The next two chapters therefore offer an opportunity to learn more about the history of people like Robert Everett, the Welsh minister from Flintshire who was the minister of a couple of Welsh chapels in 'upstate New York' and who actively used the pulpit, the printing press, the anti-slavery society, and political parties to radicalize the American Welsh against slavery.

The final chapter contains much about Welsh-speaking Americans during the Civil War (1861-65), including fascinating Welsh evidence of Wisconsin Welsh soldiers who helped runaway slaves to escape their masters in Kentucky during the war.

Prof Jerry Hunter has since developed this research and is currently working on a whole book about these Welsh soldiers from Wisconsin and their attitudes to slavery.

The series features 'reenactors' who depict some of the historical events in question in a vivid way, all cleverly filmed by Gareth Owen.

Professor Jerry Hunter said:

“The programme’s producer Ifor ap Glyn took great steps to realize the potential in the research; the series uses the evidence of slaves and ex-slaves to illustrate the nature of their lives, and Ifor ensured that a range of African-American voices were included in the series.

Because the personal narrative of one ex-slave that I wanted to use was written in Arabic, Ifor struggled to find a man who could read the quotes in Arabic but with an accent from west Africa - just as Omar ibn Said would have shared his testimony, but with Welsh subtitles, of course. ”

Publication date: 17 June 2020