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Also known as Jac Du or Jack Black, little is known for sure of John Ystumllyn's early life.

He is likely to have been a victim of the Atlantic Slave Trade and was taken as a child to the Wynn family's Ystumllyn Estate in Criccieth. Here he was taught English and Welsh, and learned horticulture, showing great talent in the estate gardens.

He began a romance with, and finally eloped with and married, the local maid Margaret Gruffydd with whom he had seven children. They continued to work on estates in and around the area eventually being given a cottage and garden in recognition of service.

John Ystumllyn died in 1786. He is the first Black person in North Wales whose life was well recorded.  According to later writers he was well-regarded and widely liked, though the colour of his skin drew attention throughout his life as did his marriage to a white woman.

He is commemorated by a sandstone memorial at St Cynhaearn's Church, Ynyscynhaearn, which is now Grade II Listed. He is also commemorated by the John Ystumllyn rose, named in 2021.

Read Alex Wharton's poem The Gardener, inspired by John's life.

The Gardener

I’ll take cover, watch

the rain pass. (the smell

of water on the summer grass)

This is my boundary, my place.

Within the old stone, cold

stone walls.

I am the Gardener.

I clear things up, make good.

Plant seeds, watch them grow.

           Mist and light, Moss and bark.

I know where wind moves.

Why birds sing. My thoughts drift –

wrap and climb like clematis.

Nothing separates me from

this land, but the cries of

my mother. A dream or

nightmare. A mixture of both.


I see the maid, Margaret-

Tip toe through the meadow.

Her fear, a few steps ahead.

I’m hacking at bramble,

      She’s butterfly quiet –

But I am no black devil!

Maybe she’ll run again,

Flinging the plate of bread and ale.


But if she stays:

I’ll show her the roses, how

Petals make use of shadows,

Or is it the opposite?

  I’ll turn soil for her,

Show her that darkness

Isn’t emptiness but

endless giving.

Flowers are birthed here. 

Food and life.


I hope the sun pours

light upon our skin. And we

melt into each other,

into everything. Maybe the trees

will speak, as they sometimes do.

Whispers from the shade -

                                          Run, run away.