John Ystumllyn Rose
John Ystumllyn (born c. 1738, died 1786), also colloquially known as Jac Du or Jack Black, was an 18th-century Welsh gardener and the first well-recorded black person of North Wales.
Surprisingly, he is the first Black gardener to have a rose officially named after him, in the UK. John was by his own account, a victim of the Atlantic slave trade, and from either West Africa or the West Indies. In spite of his traumatic experience, John braved the odds. He went on to have a good education, learning Welsh and English, as well as horticulture in the gardens where he worked. He would become a respected gardener and the first Black person in the region whose life was well documented.
When he fell in love with a local White woman called Margaret Gruffydd, he left his job at Ystumllyn and eloped with her in Dolgellau. The couple had seven children, but two sadly died at a very young age. The remaining five went on to do great things. In fact, the couple’s eldest son became a huntsman at Glynllifon grounds, which was then a job of high status.
And even though he ran away from his job on the estate to marry in 1768, John later returned to work for the Wynn family. The family later gave him and his wife a house and garden. John’s marriage to Margaret was one of the very first records of a mixed-race marriage in Wales, according to history. Indeed, before he was laid to rest in 1791 in the churchyard of Ynyscynhaearn near Criccieth, his love story with Margaret that broke racial and class barriers became well known in North Wales, passed down in folklore. Ystumllyn died in 1786; his wife, Margaret, lived for more than forty years more.
Ystumllyn died of jaundice and was buried in St Cynhaearn's Church on 2 July 1786.Upon his headstone it reads:
Born in India, to Wales I came
To be baptized
See this spot, a grey slate marks
My cold resting place.
“Anyone who knows John’s story knows those are the values he embodied,” said Zehra Zaidi, founder of the group We Too Built Britain, told BBC last monthi, whose group raises awareness about the achievements of under-represented groups, grew up from a minority ethnic background in Carmarthen, South Wales. With John’s story so important to her, she said she approached Harkness Roses in Hertfordshire amid the Black Lives Matter protests recently and suggested the rose. Harkness Roses has bred roses named in honor of the Queen.
Campaigners believe John’s rose is the first to be named after an ethnic minority individual in the UK.
Dr Marian Gwyn, the head of heritage for Race Council Cymru, said: “We have somebody who is torn from Africa and taken to Wales, and despite that trauma makes a life for himself. It’s evident that he did experience racism and that this deeply upset him. But it is clear from many other reports that he was considered to be a fine gentleman. Dr Gwyn continues:
“Culturally, I think we tend to always associate gardening with white people. And what we have with John is a black man who made his career out of gardening in the middle of the 18th century. That’s significant because it overturns our idea of who a gardener is.”
“We believe in the power of gardening to bring people together and want to make it more inclusive. When Zehra Zaidi of We Too Built Britain approached us, this felt like such a positive and joyous thing to do. This might be one of the most important roses that we have ever launched. We want our roses to reflect and resonate across society and we are proud to launch our first rose after an ethnic minority Briton. We wanted to create a rose that does justice to the story of John Ystumllyn and that anybody in the country could easily grow, whether in a garden or in a pot on the patio. The John Ystumllyn Rose is a Hybrid Tea. It grows to 80cm tall and 60 cm wide. The flower itself is a beautiful golden yellow variety that doesn’t fade, it starts flowering early and goes on to the first frosts and has a lovely scent to it. We chose yellow because it conveys warmth and is associated with friendship. Even if some people do not garden themselves, we hope this rose will brighten up homes”.
To our knowledge, there is not yet a rose named after a person of color in the United States.