UK Guardian Reports Ironmaking Method from Jamaican Slaves in Saint Thomas Led to England’s Success

UK-based newspaper The Guardian, in a recent report, is suggesting that the innovation behind England’s rise as the world’s leading iron exporter during the Industrial Revolution was actually appropriated from an 18th-century Jamaican foundry. The technique known as the Cort process, credited to English ironmaster Henry Cort, allowed mass production of wrought iron from scrap iron for the first time. However, an analysis of correspondence, shipping records, and contemporary newspaper reports reveals that this innovation was initially developed by 76 black Jamaican metallurgists at an ironworks near Morant Bay, Jamaica.

Profiting From the Hard Labor of West Africans 

Many of these skilled metalworkers were enslaved individuals from West and Central Africa, where iron-working industries thrived. The research sheds light on their contributions and challenges the narrative that solely credits Cort as the inventor. The Jamaican ironworks, owned by white enslaver John Reeder, was forcibly shut down. Cort acquired the machinery from the Jamaican foundry, shipped it to England, patented the technique, and gained recognition as the inventor.

UK Guardian Reports Ironmaking Method from Jamaica Made England Successful

Challenging the Narrative of Innovation

The innovation involved the use of grooved rollers to mechanize the process of removing impurities from low-quality iron, transforming it into valuable wrought iron. By 1781, the Jamaican ironworks was making a significant profit, while Cort faced bankruptcy. The English government later ordered the destruction of the Jamaican ironworks, fearing its potential use by rebels. Cort learned of the Jamaican ironworks through a visiting cousin who transported seized equipment from Jamaica to England.

Dr. Jenny Bulstrode, a lecturer in the history of science and technology at University College London, emphasizes the significance of challenging existing narratives of innovation and acknowledging the contributions of black people, including those who were enslaved in Jamaica during the 18th century.

The research not only highlights the hidden history of technological advancement but also has implications for the reparations movement, providing documentation of the genesis of science and technology and promoting the discourse of technological transfer as a key aspect of reparations.

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