Thursday 22 August – at 6.30 A.M. we came to our old anchorage in Carlisle Bay, opposite Bridge-town, in the Island of Barbadoes. Almost as soon as we came to anchor, boats belonging to the rival houses of Betty Austen & Hannah Lewis came off to see and engage whatever passengers there might be, and to present the compliments of these respective ladies to the Captain. These were soon followed by the arrival of others, with their various articles for sale – or barter – and others with money in their Pockets to purchase potatoes or cheese &.c Amidst the bustle the clack and laughter of these black Madamas & demoiselles, our men could scarcely pursue the necessary duties of the Ship. When all were disengaged from duty and had time to turn their attention to their guests & Customers, the sound of voices in contention, expostulation, recrimination and cutualy [?], was loud and furious – and you might have imagined in the distance that we had a legion of babblers on board, or that the men had mutinied, instead of the innocent clamours of a few black & brown women. Most were engaged with the sailors, but a few of the better dressed and more genteel came aft to bother the officers. I should really fancy that the negroes had some Irish blood in their veins – for they I assure you they have much of their lively tho’ not blundering fancy – and are abundantly supplied with the gift of the gab, alias blarney. It is inconceivable how pertinacious they are in their attacks on your purse. If rebuffed on one tack, they go on the other. The acts of flattery – coaxing – ridicule & cajoling are professed by them in perfection – and he must be obdurate indeed who is uninfluenced by some one or other of their various inducements to buy from them. Tell them flatly, you want none of their wares, or that you have not a sliver to spend – and they will immediately up and reply to your first reason for being a non-purchaser that their peppers – preserves – bay rum – castor oil – pickles – cayenne & fruit are the very best in the world and not to be in such excellence any where, & that they are moreover the cheapest – and to your second insuperable objection viz. the want of cash, they artfully insinuate that it must need be that an officer like you – an English Officer too – must be flush of cash – & that indeed, if you had been a French or Spaniard, they would readily have yielded credence to you plea. Thus driven by the discovery, unanswerable on your part, when they have appealed to your British pride and vanity, you have no recourse left but to reward the skill and flattery of your fair opponent by purchasing some thing of her – and I have no doubt but when she receives not your money, she is all the while laughing in her sleeve at your simplicity and gullible vanity. I wish I could convey to you in language the peculiar tone and dialect of the negroes. The tone is a kind of drawl or elongation of the last syllable – so prolonged indeed, as they were too languid or too lazy to bring it out with more rapidity. Their language is a corruption – perversion – & adulteration of the Kings English, with the addition of a considerable number of words, for which you might look in vain in Johnson’s dictionary – Both together the accent and the dialect render what they say perfectly unintelligible to a New-Comer, while they afford abundant matter of ridicule and laughter to an old hand. Their observations, when translated shew them not to be destitute of cuteness or intelligence. In all that concerns their own interest – they have as much savvy (their phrase) as the most intelligent buckra i.e. white man in the world.
I have now been pretty well accustomed to them and am tolerably proficient in their lingo – that is to say I understand them when they speak to me in their dialect but always answer them in my own, of which they are all perfectly cognisant. Fancy two or three of the Officers with our passengers standing on the quarter deck conversing together, when they are interrupted by a lady (they all call themselves ladies) who approaches confidently and with low graceful curtsey to each individual of the party. Having thus fulfilled the duties of politeness and received from each of us in return a proportionably low bow, she advances and recognises each of her old acquaintances with a particular address “Massa Docta’ habby to see you – how do Massa Geach – I hobe I see you really quite too well, since I see you last Massa Williams.” Here she stopped and was at a loss, looking expressively towards out passengers M.r Bonrmy, Mess. Deny – Miss Deny M.r Bowring. A polite bow and curtsey having passed between them she resumed “I ‘tought he was a ‘tranger – you neber in Barbadoes before.” “No never” was the reply – “Well I habby to see you in little England – you must buy something of me,” said she enumerating the different articles in which she dealt. Meanwhile we were encircled by a whole bevy of black & brown complexions, all pressing, hustling, and all striving to out do each other in vociferous, and over reaching each other. As a natural consequence from hot arguments, they fell to downright quarrelling & abuse. “High Miss Sally, why for you mash me’ demanded one black damsel of another, the horny substance of whose naked horny hoof had come into too rude contact with that of her neighbour – “You tief, you ‘pose me have no feeling – you botheration woman.” “Oh you black nigger,” responded the other in no very conciliatory tone. “Why for you ‘buse me – I’ll let you know that tho’ I hab small eye, I am wide awake – leave go my gown or I’ll mash you face, you good for nothing girl you are.” From words to blows the transition is easy, when your temper is up – and it is probable that but for our interference, the dispute would have ended in fisticuffs and the tearing of hair & cloths. The surrounded crowd were highly delighted with the squabble, and left all their goods to the mercy of chance as peace was restored, and the intended combatants reconciled, the trade of selling wheedling & coaxing was renewed with redoubled vigour and not without success. Their very pertinacity gained its own end – for who could stand the united efforts of flattery cajoling & teasing for a whole day without being influenced by them. Hardly one, I am sure, from the Captain to the cook.
Women at Barbadoes – Morals
Such were the general features of the scene, which our own Packet presented during the two days we remained at Barbadoes. To individualise even in a sketchy way would fill my Journal, and afford abundant food for ridicule & laughter. I am persuaded that if double the number of men as there were women were to come on board, and were to offer their articles for sale at half the price demanded of us, that they would not sell a quarter so much, simply because, if we were not inclined to purchase we could rebuff them – with a most peremptory refusal.
Barbadoes, almost ever since it came to be a place of great trade, has been noted for the immorality of its inhabitants. Happening to look into an old book of voyages, I stumbled upon the place where mention is made of Barbadoes and I found the author winding up his account of it with the assertion, that in his day and according to his own experience it was notorious among all the other Islands for the laxity of morals prevalent there. So that a young man coming out there must be possessed of great steadiness of principals and equal resolution of mind, to withstand the numerous temptations to aberrate from them which present themselves every day. And yet such is the perverse blindness of the human mind, that persons, especially of colour, who indulge themselves in unbounded licentiousness, are unconscious of the great sin they commit, and are as religious in the conversation as confident in their hopes of salvation as the most pious, charitable, temperate follower of the doctrine of the holy Jesus, who has denounced all the sins of the flesh, as condemnatory to those who practice them. Almost all the Barbadians would not for a great deal of neglect attendance upon divine service & prayer meetings. I spoke on the subject to two or three. They answered me as if with an air of the greatest complaisance, that they knew they were great sinners but that God was merciful, most merciful and that they became old, that is when they were incapacitated from sinning outrageously, they would turn unto the Lord, and live a life of righteousness. Unless therefore the obligations of morality are more strictly enforced, and the virtues of temperance and chastity most rigorously required to be attended to, the inhabitants of this fertile Island might just as well have been without the light of Christianity, which is at present to them nothing but vox et practerea nilibus. And the worst of the case is that where the practice of vice is so general, the odium and hatred in which it ought to be held lost altogether. Connections unsanctioned by religion are universally prevalent – and a very false idea is abroad, that when two persons live together, if they keep faithful to each other no sin is incurred – nay under that such a connection has this advantage, that where either of the parties are tired of each other they may with equal virtue & prudence separate, and form other connections. That this state of things does not originate in inherent depravity & vicious principles I would fain hope – and I look upon it with less abhorrence, when I fancy to myself, that the root of the evil takes its commencement from the nefarious _alrey [?] and pride of the whites who for their own gratification have upheld a condition of things, which is so favourable to their depraved minds. I hope ere long, the march of intellect & let me add of purer religion will do away with this deformed mass of vice and that when men shall be all on the same footing in regard to their civil privilege, the sacred institution of marriage will be more regarded and unlawful indulgences scouted and detested as much as it is in our own happy, moral, & religious Island. Amen so be it.