John Ystumllyn – One of the First Black People to Live in North Wales
John Ystumllyn (also known as Jac Du or Jack Black) was one of the earliest documented black people to live in North Wales. He was taken from Africa at age eight and taken to Gwynedd, where he worked as a servant at Ystumllyn Estate for many years.
He wed Margaret Gruffydd, a local maid, and they had seven children together. As thanks for his services to Ellis Wynn, the latter gifted him with a cottage and garden at Y Nhyra Isa.
Early Life and Education
In 1746, an eight-year-old John Ystumllyn from West Africa was brought to Gwynedd, North Wales. He served the Wynn family’s Ystumllyn estate in Criccieth as a servant and learned horticulture and craftsmanship by working in their garden.
He became a well-known and respected local figure, married to White woman Margaret Gruffydd and raising his family in Ynysgain Fawr near Cricieth. His remains were interred at St Cynhaearn’s Church near Ynyscynhaearn near Criccieth where a memorial stone was raised in his honor.
John Ystumllyn’s story still resonates two centuries later, and he remains one of few black men whose name and life are well known in Britain today.
John Ystumllyn, better known locally as Jac Du or Jack Black, was a freed slave who arrived in Wales after being taken from Africa. He was brought to Criccieth to work on the Wynn family’s Ystumllyn Estate.
He studied English and Welsh, excelling at horticulture with great skill. Eventually he fell in love with and married Margaret Gruffydd, a local maid.
Zehra Zaidi, founder of We Too Built Britain, was inspired to launch the John Ystumllyn rose after reading an article about him in Horticulture Week 2020. She reached out to Harkness Roses and collaborated on a campaign around the bloom which was unveiled at RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2022 and planted in Buckingham Palace’s gardens.
Achievements and Honors
Ystumllyn was one of the earliest black people to settle in North Wales, and his story still resonates today. He was taken from Africa around 1746 and brought to Gwynedd, where he worked as an outdoor servant on the estate of Plas Ystumllyn owned by the Wynn family of Criccieth.
He learned Welsh and English, then became a gardener. Additionally, his hands were very skilled: he created wicker baskets, wooden spoons, and small boats with his own two hands.
He was affectionately known by the locals as ‘Jack Black’ or ‘Jac Ddu’ and married Margaret Gruffydd. Together they had seven children, five of whom survived. As a gesture of appreciation by Ellis Wynne, his employer gave the couple a cottage and garden on his estate in Ystumllyn, Criccieth in recognition of their service.
At the age of eight, John (also known as Jack Black or Jac Ddu) was taken from Africa and raised in Gwynedd. For over thirty-five years, he lived in Criccieth where despite all odds he found love and success as a gardener.
In 1768, he wed Margaret Gruffydd, a maid on the Wynne estate. Their tale has become legendary throughout North Wales, preserved in folklore as an example of perseverance against racial and class obstacles.
A small oil portrait depicting Ystumllyn as a young man was painted by private hands and hangs at Ynyscynhaearn church near Criccieth.
John Ystumllyn (also known as Jac Du or Jack Black) was a gardener who settled in North Wales during the second half of the 18th century. He was taken captive from Africa and educated at Wynn family’s Ystumllyn estate near Criccieth where he became proficient in both English and Welsh; later becoming a successful gardener and marrying local woman Margaret Gruffydd with whom he had seven children.
His first documented portrait is a small oil painting on wood that depicts him as a young man in standard working dress, dating back to 1754. He wears jacket and waistcoat with neckband; the portrait currently belongs to an unknown artist and serves as a remarkable record of the first black person in North Wales.