Unique piece of Wales’ Black history goes online

Front page of William Hall’s Personal Narrative

Front page of William Hall’s Personal Narrative

An extremely rare piece of Wales’ Black history has been published online for the first time.

Published on the city’s Bute Street in 1862, William Hall’s “Personal Narrative” is a shocking and graphic account of his birth into slavery in Tennessee, and his arduous journey to Cardiff.

Hall describes being sold to various plantation owners, detailing multiple attempts to escape his captors, as well as his encounters with other escaped slaves.

Now held in Cardiff University’s Special Collections and Archives, it is believed to be one of two surviving copies in the world. It is a small, fragile and unassuming pamphlet - and from today, it will be available online for anyone to read and download.

Director of Cardiff University Libraries and University Librarian, Tracey Stanley said:“This unique document is such an important part of the Black history of Cardiff, and Wales, and we wanted to make it available to everyone.

“We’re still discovering more about William Hall and his life thanks to ongoing research. By publishing this work online, we hope to inspire a new generation of researchers who will go on to explore Black history in Wales.”

The document was originally funded by people attending Cardiff’s Wesleyan chapels, and sheds light on historic support for the anti-slavery movement in the city.

Due to its rare and fragile nature, the pamphlet would normally be handled under specialist conditions at Cardiff University’s Special Collections and Archives.

The lockdown period has made accessing rare books a particular challenge for researchers - and digital technology is providing a way for this work to continue.

“Our staff have been working hard to support students and researchers during this difficult lockdown period. Here at Special Collections and Archives, that includes bringing some unique texts online, that may be rare or too fragile to handle,” said Alan Vaughan Hughes, Head of Special Collections and Archives at Cardiff University.

“Historic works by Black authors - such as William Hall’s work - deserve a wider audience, and we’re proud to be able to share this with the public today through the Internet Archive. We’re also grateful to Professor William Jones and Dr David Wyatt for shedding light on this significant document through their research.”

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