Page images
PDF
EPUB

REVIEW

An Appeal to the Religion, Justice, and Humanity of the Inhabitants of the British Empire in behalf of the Negro Slaves in the West Indies. By William Wilberforce, Esq. M. P. Pp. 78. Hatchards, 1823. Negro Slavery as it exists in America, the West Indies, and Jamaica. Pp. 118.-Hatchards,

1823.

WE rejoice to find that the abolition of slavery in the British colonies is now about to be seriously attempted. Six and thirty years have elapsed since the African slave trade was first attacked, and sixteen years have passed away since the British Parliament abolished that detested traffic. But during this long period, no progress whatever has been made towards the termination of slavery. The wretched victims of the guilty cupidity of our ancestors are still retained in cruel bondage; and we who, as a nation, have publicly renounced the guilt of stealing men, are yet content to retain the stolen property, and to perpetuate upon the unhappy negroes, even to the remotest generations, the dreadful miseries of that situation to which they are reduced. But, thank God, such are not the feelings of all. The Liberator of Africa comes forward once more to plead the African cause; and in an Appeal, which must be read to be duly appreciated, calls upon his countrymen to remove this evil from among them.

OF BOOKS.

To all the inhabitants of the British em

pire, who value the favour of God, or are alive to the interests or honour of their country-to all who have any respect for justice, or any feelings of humanity, I would solemnly address myself. I call upon them, as they shall hereafter answer, in the great day of account, for the use they shall have made of any power or influence with which Providence may have intrusted them, to employ their best endeavours, by all lawful and constitutional means, to mitigate, and, as soon as it may be safely

done, to terminate the negro slavery of the British Colonies; a system of the grossest injustice, of the most heathenish irreligion degradation, and unrelenting cruelty.—

and immorality, of the most unprecedented

P. 1.

To explain this system, to illustrate its dangerous and ruinous tendency, to point out the hopelessness of any remedy without the interference of the British Legislature, and the duty and necessity of such an interference, constitute the subject of Mr. W.'s Appeal-an appeal which must be irresistible to all who are not rendered insensible by prejudice or cupidity. The second pamphlet contains an illustration of negro slavery in the United States, inserted originally in the Christian Observer for February 1819, as a review of Hall's and Fearon's Travels, and a body of evidence concerning the West Indies, and especially Jamaica, from the statements of Dr. Williamson, Mr. J. M. the Rev. Thomas Cooper, and the Jamaica Royal Gazette. Both these pamphlets deserve, and will doubtless obtain, a very extensive circulation.

Mr. W. justly remarks, that it is to the public ignorance of the actual evils of West Indian slavery, that we can alone ascribe its having been suffered so long to remain unreformed and almost unnoticed; and we shall therefore endeavour to communicate to our readers a brief outline of the information which these pamphlets contain, inserting important extracts, as notes, by way of illustration, and recommending to all who have the opportunity of procuring them, a careful and attentive perusal of the whole. The

negro slaves in our colonies are the absolute property of those by whom they are purchased. Their owners are restrained by fine or capital punishment (according to the island in which they live) from murdering or mutilating them,

*

but this is almost the only restraint under which they are placed. The immediate superintendence of these slaves is intrusted to managers, overseers, drivers, &c. The slaves go out to work under the care of drivers, each of whom carries with him a whip, whose lash is as heavy and stroke as severe as that used by carters in this country*. This whip the driver applies to the poor negroes whenever he thinks proper, just as the carter to his horses in England t. He is, indeed, restrict

The slaves on the estate were constantly attended by drivers with cart or cattle whips, which they were in the habit of using as here carmen use their whips on horses; and occasionally one or more slaves were ordered out of the line of work, laid prostrate on the ground, and received a few lashes (from two or three to ten) on their posteriors, for no other offence that the witness could perceive or hear of but that of being indolent, or lagging at their work, or being late. He saw a few working with iron collars round their necks, connected with each other by a chain; a punishment which, he understood, was usually inflicted for running away, and continued sometimes for several weeks. The huts of the slaves were very indifferent, and almost destitute of furniture. On Sunday they either attended market, or worked in their own grounds; but none went, or were expected to go, to any church or place of worship; nor did he ever see or hear of any instruction, religious or otherwise, being bestowed upon them. Many of the slaves had women living with them as their wives; but as for marriage being used, either as a means of civilization or for any other purpose, he never even heard the word mentioned as it respected them. He understood, that the white servants were not allowed to take those women who so lived with particular men: but as for any others, they not only chose and took such as pleased them, but they were expected to do it as a matter of course. Accordingly, he was invited by the overseer to follow the general practice, the very first day he arrived on the estate.

In a spare house, kept for the occasional purpose of persons coming thither for a few days, were women whom he understood to be at the service of whoever came to occupy the apartments, and two of them were spoken of as the children of a former proprietor.

When a negro seems to be tardy at his work, the driver sounds the lash near him, or lets him feel it, as he thinks

ed to ten lashes at a time, and the overseer to thirty-nine; but as the time is not very exactly defined, the restriction is, in point of practice, nearly useless. Every stroke of this whip usually draws blood; and when thirty or forty are applied, the poor sufferers are in a dreadfully lacerated state §, and in very

proper." From all this, the "impression made upon the passenger, who is probably a stranger, is horrible indeed."

In one of his printed letters, in which he is replying to an objection, Mr. Cooper incidentally, but very significantly remarks, that "to a Jamaica man" it would be "truly astonishing" to learn that the whip was not needed, or that its sound was rarely heard.

These minor punishments, Mr. Cooper says, are very frequent. He believes, that seldom a day passes without some occurring; and he has heard of as many as sixty negroes being flogged in one morning for being late.

One overseer told him, that a woman had disobeyed bis orders, and he put her in the stocks by way of punishment. She complained to the attorney of this proceeding. He ordered her to be thrown down on the ground, in the customary manner, and thirty-nine lashes were inflicted on her naked posteriors; after which she was raised up, and immediately thrown down again, and received thirty-nine lashes more, applied in the same manner.

When punishment is inflicted by flogging, the limit should not be extended above thirty-nine lashes, which the overseer is only empowered to inflict by law. It cannot, however, be denied that this limit is often outdone, and by repeatedly punishing offenders, the parts become insensible to the lacerations which tear up the skin. When that barbarous consequence is arrived at, the infliction of the lash becomes a matter of indifference to the unfortunate negro, and new sources of torture must be found out by which the commission of crime may be checked.

§ Another negro belonging to the estate was a notorious runaway. Being taken, he was flogged in the usual manner, as severely as he well could bear, and then made to work in the field. During the interval of dinner-time he was regularly placed in the stocks, and in them also he was confined the whole night. When the lacerations, produced by the flogging he had received, were sufficiently healed, he was flogged a second time. While the sores were still unhealed, one of the book

many cases the punishment has a fatal termination. The infliction of it is not confined to age or sex, and is accompanied with the most indecent exposure, men and boys, young girls and pregnant women, being treated exactly in the same way

During crop-time, that is, five months in the year, the negroes labour for the benefit of their masters six days and three nights in the weekt. The night work is variously

keepers told Mr. Cooper that maggots had bred in the lacerated flesh. Mr. Cooper mentioned the circumstance to the attorney, who did not manifest any surprise on bearing it.

Just before Mr. Cooper quitted the

island, as he was walking in the streets of Lucea, the port town of Hanover parish, in company with the captain of the vessel in which he had taken his passage, they saw an old man who appeared to have been recently flogged. He was standing in the public street with his posteriors exposed and bleeding, and yet he seemed to excite no attention whatever from any one but Mr. Cooper and the captain.

*More serious punishments are only in

flicted by the authority of the overseer; and pelled to return to England, finding

the mode of their infliction is usually the same as has been already described. Whether the offender be male or female, precisely the same course is pursued. The posteriors are made bare, and the offender is extended prone on the ground, the hauds and feet being firmly held and extended by other slaves; when the driver, with his long and heavy whip, inflicts, under the eye of the overseer, the number of lashes which he may order; each lash, when the skin is tender and not rendered callous by repeated punishments, making an incision on the buttocks, and thirty or forty such lashes leaving them in a dreadfully lacerated and bleeding state. Even those that have become the most callous cannot long resist the force of this terrible instrument, when applied by a skilful hand, but become also raw and bloody; indeed, no strength of skin can withstand its reiterated application.

During that period, the general plan is, and that plan was followed on Georgia estate, to begin the manufacture of sugar on Sunday evening, and to continue it generally, without intermission, either day or night, till about midnight of the following Saturday, when the work stops for about eighteen or twenty hours, to commence again on the Sunday evening.

divided on different estates, but this is the usual quantity. The other seven months of the year they are allowed one day in the week, or one day in a fortnight, to raise provisions for themselves. Every Sunday is market-day. On these days the negroes must cultivate their provision-grounds, on which they depend for support, their owners only allowing a herring a day for an adult. They must go to market perhaps five, ten, or more miles, often carrying heavy loads. If they in any way neglect, they may be reduced to absolute want; and although this want might be supplied, yet the neglect would assuredly be punished. They have thus, in fact, no Sabbath; and accordingly the Rev. Mr. Cooper, who was sent out by Mr. Hibbert for the instruction of his slaves, and authorized to adopt his own plans of tuition, provided they should in no respect be found incompatible with the order and management of the plantation, was, after three years, com

he could not consistently with the order and management of the estate preach to the slaves above twelve times a year t.

But here it will be said, that Sunday was the very day on which that instruction might most conveniently and appropriately have been given. In the first place, the persons who had been toiling for six days and three nights in the preceding week, many of whom had continued that toil till past midnight on Saturday, could not be expected voluntarily to assemble, at a very early hour, to listen to lessons which they had not learned to appreciate. In the next place, Sunday was the only day which was allowed them, during the five months of crop, for cultivating their provision-grounds, for bringing thence the food requisite for their sustenance during the week, and for going to market.

"Within the last few years, it is true, curates have been sent out for the avowed purpose of instructing them in religion; but they meet with no adequate success. The negroes cannot attend on their service on a Sunday; and when I left Jamaica, no regulations had been made, or, I believe, thought of, for allowing them time in the

[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

The negroes cannot marry.-If under any favourable circumstances an union should take place, and a family be the result, and something like domestic comfort should dawn upon the poor negro, all his little prospects may at once be terminated. He, or his wife, or his children, may be seized and sold, and for ever separated at the caprice of his master, or by his master's creditors, who may enter upon the estate, and dispose of the live and dead stock exactly in the same way as is the case in this country when a farmer's property is distrained for rent. It is scarcely necessary to add, that the result of such circumstances is the grossest licentiousness, in which the unhappy negroes only copy their degraded masters.

The negroes can find no redress *.

week. These missionaries are expected to visit several estates every week, for the purpose of preaching to the slaves, if they can obtain leave of the proprietor, or person acting in his place, to do so. But this they very seldom get; on some estates not at all, on others once or twice in the year; so that their presence in the island can be of little importance. I have heard it, indeed, repeatedly declared, that the Curates' Act was intended for England, not for Jamaica; and this really appears to me to be viewing the subject in its true light; for it must have been known before it was passed, that the planters would not allow the slaves any opportunity for attending, on their new instructors, and that, consequently, such a law could have no tend

ency to improve their condition. In a thousand instances, the clergy are rather to be pitied than blamed; and I have not the least doubt that many a curate most deeply laments that ever he crossed the Atlantic."

* Two women, who were pregnant, desired to quit the field during rain, on account of their pregnancy. The overseer refused them permission. They went to complain of this refusal to a magistrate, but were stopped in their way by a neighbouring overseer, and by him thrown into the stocks until he sent them back to their own overseer, who put them again into the stocks on their own estate, and had them flogged. Of this proceeding they complained to the attorney. The attorney

Their testimony cannot be received against any white person; laws, therefore, against murder, maiming, excessive punishment, &c. are perfectly nugatory. The hardhearted tyrant has only to take care that no other white person is present, and he may do what he pleases. This one circumstance is admitted, by a late Governor of Tobago, to "cover the most guilty European with impunity."

The negroes can have no property.-They, their children, every thing they have, is their master's. They can have no liberty. The black is presumed to be a slave. He may be taken up and imprisoned at any time as a runaway. -Though born free-though liberated by the kindness of his master --though honourably discharged from His Majesty's service, yet if he cannot prove his freedom-if he has not a legal document with him

if any scoundrel seizes or destroys that document, he must go to prison-must work so many weeks, and at last be sold by auction as a slave, and the money, after deducting expenses, is paid into His Majesty's Exchequer!!!

Will our readers believe this? Will they believe, that 800,000 fellow-subjects are in this enslaved, oppressed, degraded state, driven out every morning with less care than an English farmer sends out his cattle, flogged at their labour without the least hesitation-with no sympathy or remorse; driven home at night to a wretched hovel which no Englishman would think fit for his horse-with no other bed to sleep on but a board, or perhaps a blanket-supplied with a herring or two a day, and compelled

to violate the sabbath in cul

tivating the provision-grounds, or

was of opinion, that the overseer had acted with undue severity; but he considered the women to have been highly to blame for attempting to complain to the magistrate; whereas, he said, they ought in the first instance to have complained to him.

to starve, and be punished for negligence, at the mercy of an ignorant and hard-hearted overseer? Yet all this is positively stated in the pamphlets before us; and we do not find, that any man so much as attempts to deny that such is the general system, although he may endeavour to point out particular exceptions on some few favoured estates.

That such a state of things ought not, cannot long continue, is most obvious; but whence is the remedy to proceed? The West Indian proprietors say, from the colonial assemblies; from those merciful men, we suppose, who in Barbadoes rejected the message which their then governor, Lord Seaforth, sent to the House of Assembly, recommending them to make the murder of a slave a capital felony, and who thus perpetuated the old-law by which the murder of a man's own slave is fined 157. the murder of another man's 251. (provided, of course, some white person is a witness); or to those merciful persons who have increased the fine on liberating slaves from 50l. to, in some cases, 1000l. currency? thus practically effecting, that no slave should be emancipated *; those merciful and sagacious persons who have been in the habit of passing certain laws for the benefit of the slaves, which were never intended to be acted upon, have never since been regarded ; and the only object of which was, if we may credit the statements of various governors †, to gull the good

or to

* This was actually enacted in the Bermudas.

+As for the act of the Legislature, "An Acte for the Encouragement, Protection, and better Government of Slaves," it ap

pears to have been considered, from the day it was passed, until this hour, as a political measure to avert the interference of the mother-country in the management of slaves. Having said this, Your Lordship will not be surprised to learn, that the seventh clause of that bill has been wholly neglected.

people of England, and paralyze their benevolent exertions?

Our

Such being the case, nothing is to be expected from any other quarter than the British Legislature. We call, therefore, upon Christian readers to join their influence in support of the exertions of the anti-slavery societies; to be prepared to petition Parliament when the subject shall be brought forwards, which we are inclined to hope will be in the course of the present session; but, above all, to lift up their prayers to Almighty God, that this national sin may not rise up in judgment against us, but that measures may be speedily taken to terminate the existing evil, ever remembering the awful warning which Mr. Wilberforce has so appropriately prefixed to his Appeal, and which is so forcibly illustrated by the present distress of the West Indians in general: "Woe unto him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by wrong; that useth his neighbour's service without wages, and giveth him not for his work."

[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]
« PreviousContinue »