John Ystymillyn's grave

John Ystumllyn

John Ystumllyn aka Jack Black (Jac Du in Welsh) (c.1730s-1786):
St Cynhaearn’s Church, Ystumllyn, Portmadoc Road, Criccieth LL52 0PS

Unlike most, John Ystumllyn has a portrait of him as a young man, as well as a biography. The latter was written after his death by a local bard, Alltud Eifion, a.k.a. Robert Isaac Jones (1813-1905), whose grandfather had been the local doctor who had attended John Ystumllyn in the latter years of his life. It notes the already contradictory stories surrounding the early life of a man who became much-loved in his community.

It is almost certain that in c.1742, when he was still a young boy, he was captured in Africa by a member of the local Wynne family, major landowners in the Ystumllyn area. He is said to have remembered being captured, as well as the wails of his mother crying out for him. The biography tells us that he served the family as a servant, and was taught gardening and in particular horticulture, which he was said to excel at. He also learned English and Welsh, becoming fluent in both. In 1768, he married a local woman, Margaret Gruffydd. Their relationship had begun badly; having being sent to take him his lunch, it is said that she had screamed and turned tail when she first saw him as she had never seen a black person before. His quiet charm, noted in his biography, clearly calmed her fears, and they went on to have seven children.

As his health deteriorated, he returned to a small holding on the Ystumllyn estate. On his deathbed, he apparently confessed solely to playing the fiddle on a Sunday.

The inscription, added four years after his death, was composed by the poet, Dafydd Siôn Siâms of Penrhyndeudraeth (1743-1831), and mistakenly ascribes his birthplace as India.

Yn India gynna’m ganwyd – a nghamrau
Yng Nghymru’m bedyddiwyd;
Wele’r fan dan lechan lwyd
Du oeraidd y’m daearwyd

I was born in India – and then
In Wales I was christened;
Here in this dark, cold place
I lie under a grey slate.

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