Slave owners’ former home, Chepstow

button-theme-slavesSlave owners’ former home, Piercefield, Chepstow

Near St Arvans, the Wye Valley Walk passes Piercefield Park, which was owned at different times by unrelated slave owners. One of them was born a slave.

The original house at Piercefield dated from the 14th century or earlier. Valentine Morris (1727-1789) inherited the estate from his father and spent lavishly on improving the gardens. They became famous in the late 18th century, when the Wye Valley attracted early tourists.

Valentine was once governor of St Vincent. He inherited slaves with several Caribbean estates. He spent some of his fortune on public improvements, including Monmouthshire turnpike roads. Having overspent, he sold Piercefield in 1786. Subsequent owners rebuilt the house.

In 1802 the estate was bought by Nathaniel Wells (1779-1852), whose mother was a slave called Juggy. His father William Wells owned three sugar plantations and had several children by his domestic slaves. He acknowledged that they were his children. Nathaniel and his brother and sister were baptised, which probably ended their status as slaves.

Nathaniel was sent to England for schooling and inherited most of William’s estate in 1800. William’s will freed all four of his house slaves. Juggy was soon living in her own house under the name Joardine Wells.

Nathaniel quickly freed some of his slaves. He sold one of the estates but retained two, including their slaves. After Britain abolished slavery in 1833 he had to free 86 slaves on St Kitts and the government gave him £1,400 compensation (more than £165,000 in today’s money). There was no compensation for the slaves.

He was described as being “so much a man of colour as to be little removed from a Negro” but that didn’t bar him from holding high office (sometimes breaking new ground for a black person in Britain). He was a magistrate and became the Sheriff and deputy lieutenant of Monmouthshire. He was a warden at St Arvans Church, where he funded construction of the tower in 1820. He married in 1801 and again (after his first wife’s death) in 1823, and left his fortune to the children of both marriages.

Piercefield was sold to Chepstow Racecourse in the 1920s. The derelict house was used for target practice by American soldiers in the Second World War.

Sources include the Centre for the Study of Legacies of British Slave-ownership

Postcode: NP16 6BE    View Location Map