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Memorial plaque to slave-owner in Dorset church to be reviewed

17 July 2020

Creative Commons/Oast House Archive

St Peter’s, Dorchester, in Dorset

St Peter’s, Dorchester, in Dorset

A CHURCH in Dorset has said that it will consider removing an “unacceptable” plaque that commemorates an 18th-century slave-owner. The monument on the north wall of St Peter’s, Dorchester, pays tribute to John Gordon, a plantation–owner in Jamaica who is buried in the church grounds.

The inscription celebrates Gordon’s suppression of an uprising in 1760 known as the “Tacky’s Revolt”, which led to the deaths of 500 slaves, calling it a sign of his “bravery” and “humanity”. The church decided to put up a sign deploring the inscription after it was highlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement.

“We have been aware of the John Gordon plaque for a while, and every time we handed out a visitor leaflet we had thought about putting up a notice next to the monument saying that the language and actions on it are unacceptable, and its future is under consideration,” Val Potter, one of the churchwardens, said. “We have got the notice up now, and we are grateful to Black Lives Matter for helping us to make this a priority. . .

“Nobody wants to destroy it. We want to tell the full story, and learn the darker truth about what created the wealth in this county. The county museum is next door to the church, and they have been given a grant to build an extension. They want to tell that story about where the county’s wealth came from, and this memorial would make a suitable part of the display.”

She also said that any attempts to move it would be complicated and involve consultations with different groups, including Gordon’s descendants. “We’ve been in touch with the Gordon clan, but it’s hard to know which members are his closest relatives. Ironically, he had no direct connection with Dorchester: that was just where he died. However, what’s important is that we are talking to the community and local organisations about how best to go forward, including the South West Dorset Multicultural Network.”

The diocese of Salisbury released a statement on Wednesday of last week saying: “Across the country action is being taken by parishes to review monuments that have links to slave trading or the exploitation of people [News, 19 June]. Our Diocese is no different.

“While it is legally a possibility that some monuments may be removed, we are only at the survey and consultation stage at the moment and any removal or amendment to a monument will be considered in the light of meaningful dialogue, the law and with descendants consulted.

“Key to determining what should be done in each context is the creation of a dialogue within communities, helping to lead and facilitate the conversation, not purely as a discussion around historical monuments, but also how we, as a broad and diverse society, value and represent people of all ethnicities and backgrounds.”


Read comment on what to do with monuments in churches

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