Slave trader plaque sparks row


This from WalesOnline

Controversy surrounds the unveiling of a plaque honouring the memory of a slave trader responsible for the barbaric deaths of hundreds of captives. Councillors in Brecon, where the memorial to Captain Thomas Phillips is displayed, claim it is in tribute to his “liberal remarks”.

The 17th century trader was acclaimed as a pioneer of the anti-slavery movement for remarks in his 1690 journal arguing that no-one should be discriminated against for the colour of their skin. But critics claim the decision to honour the captain over “a few remarks” is disproportionate, and is disrespectful to the many slaves who died aboard his ships.

The plaque has been unveiled on Brecon’s Captain’s Walk.

In A Journal of A Voyage Made in The Hannibal, Captain Phillips referred to Africans on his large slave ship as “cargo”.

More than 300 of them died on the gruesome journey between the African coast and the Caribbean, when many of them died from disease and were eaten by sharks.

However, the town council stresses that the £600 plaque honours the Brecon slave trader’s contribution to racial equality, by realising the slave trade was wrong.

A council spokesman said: “The environment committee of this Town Council are not commemorating Captain Thomas Phillips’ 12-month period as a commander of a slave ship.

“We are commemorating the fact that in his journal of his voyage written in the 1690s, he was one of the first recorded persons of his time to make such liberal remarks on race.

“I quote: ‘I cannot imagine why they should be despised for their colour seeing what they cannot help and the effect of the climate God has given them.

“I cannot think there is any basic value in one colour more than another, nor that white is better than black, only we think so because we are so.’

“His diary is a valuable source for historians and we have many students coming to Brecon.

“The initial idea was to provide a bench for visitors to the Town who wished to visit the area near to Captain Phillips’ house. “Because there was no signage to signify the Captain’s Walk, a plaque and fixing was also ordered.

“The cost of the Welsh Slate plaque and fixing was £600. The cost of the bench was £300, both were made locally and we sited the bench as it is located on an 1888 map of the town.

“To suggest that this town council or anyone would wish to commemorate the slave trade is beyond any sensible belief.

“This council has provided a very pleasant seating area and a sign of historical reference.”

But critics question the merits of a plaque to commemorate a few sentences in later life, by someone who was responsible for hundreds of deaths.

Professor Chris Evans, a historian at the University of Glamorgan said: “Focusing on one or two sentences in his lengthy account is disproportionate, when elsewhere he refers to slaves in hostile and derogatory terms.

“I think the plaque is an over emphasis.

“I don’t see Captain Phillips as a pioneer of anti-racist sentiment in any way. The musings he made are not fantastically unusual for their time. I can see why there is a row about this.”

Local resident, Patricia Douse of Llanfaes, said: “Like many from the Caribbean, I am descended from slaves, possibly Captain Phillips transported some of my ancestors from Africa and it is good for me that they survived the cruise.

“If people wish to honour him with a plaque, good luck to them but please forgive me if I do not join the celebrations.”

Romana Cacchioli, of Anti-Slavery International, said: “In many ways the personal journey of Captain Thomas Phillips, from slave trader to a man who believed in racial equality, mirrors that of Britain itself, which after centuries of profiting from slavery became the leading abolitionist country.

“However, it is important that we remember his story in its entirety, which must include his role in capturing hundreds of Africans to become slaves, many of whom did not even survive the journey.”

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