The Wills family

The Wills family of tobacco producers gave the University considerable financial support.

In fact, they might be described as the founding family of the University.

They were not enslavers, but their business and financial success benefitted from slavery as they traded in tobacco grown by enslaved Africans and their descendants.

They also benefitted from exploitative 'sharecropping' arrangements where tenants give landowners a share of their crop in return for leasing land on tobacco plantations during the latter 19th century.

No members of the family claimed compensation when slavery was abolished in 1833.

Between 1909 and 1957 the University of Bristol received gifts of land and property worth £1.37 million from the Wills family.

Donations from the Wills and Fry families made up 89% of the University of Bristol's inaugural funding of £200,00 (worth £25 million today) of which the Wills family contributed £161,000 (worth £20.5 million today) and the Fry family contributed around £29,500 (worth £3.7m today). (We derived today's values using the calculator.)

Between 1909 and 1960 donations from the Wills family represented 63% of the University of Bristol's identified gifts. A considerable proportion of the University of Bristol's current estate is down to their support.

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