Jacquemel, Haiti

Jacquemel – Appearances

Friday 4th – during the night we had heavy squalls, with a deluge of rain. At 2 A.M. we passed Alto Vela, a small island about 70 miles from Jacquemel, the first point of our destination. At 8 A.M. we had the satisfaction of seeing the clouds surcharged with rain dispersed, and also the pleasant prospect of entering our port with fine weather and a fresh breeze. Our expectation[s] of the first were not disappointed, but just as we had reached the entrance to the Bay of Jacquemel, the wind became very light, and our progress consequently slow. Ever since day light we were sailing along the coast, at no great distance, which enabled us to observe the island was very mountainous, and that its mountains were exceedingly lofty. The whole appeared covered with trees and the luxuriant vegetation of tropical climates, except where here and there (not far from the town) patches of cultivation presented a break in the uniformity of the scene and shewed where man had rescued from the grip of nature whatever he had deemed necessary for his profits or necessities.

It is considered rather difficult to make Jacquemel, from the narrowness of the access to it, and its own obscure & concealed situation. A remarkable white cliff, and the sudden sloping down of a hill near it, are the marks which guide navigators, and by these, we gained our object. The Bay of Jacquemel is of small extent, and surrounded by a semi-circle of hills and mountains, which covered almost entirely like other parts being lines as it were by/with wood & formed a picture at once picturesque and grand. Abeduly [?] at the entrance, are two batteries tolerably mounted, one on each side, and on that on the right, which was the largest and best appointed, the banner of Hayti (viz. a strip of blue and red placed horizontally as thus [sketch – blue stripe over a red stripe]) floated in the breeze.

Observations at Jacquemel

At the termination of the Bay, but considerably to the dexter side of it was descried the Town of Jacquemel, which was, I believe, a considerable rank among the towns of Domingo. Before this place at half past two P.M. we came to anchor in 7½ fathoms, close to a large brig, the Amazon of Leith, [1] and one of a much smaller class, belonging to the United States. As soon as possible after anchoring the Captain went on shore with the Mail accompanied by a M.r Lloyd, our passenger and myself. We landed at a tolerable wooden wharf projecting into the water some way. On it was saw several black & mulattoes, and a Haytian sentinel in the national livery of blue turned up with red, who appeared to me to be the best specimen which I had seen of a black soldier. The Captain was welcomed by a M.r Frith I think, who acted as his proxy, in the absence of the Vice Consul at Port Au Prince the capital of the island. By this gentleman we were conducted to pay our respects to a black Colonel the general commanding being indisposed. Here I was much struck with the easy freedom of his manners, and his knowledge of politeness, which would have done no discredit to persons who pretend to despise millions of their fellow creatures merely because of their colour. He wore a very neat and simple uniform, with a cocked hat and his dress really became him well. His house, the far from being imposing or elegant in its external appearance, was very comfortable within, and very handsomely furnished. From the Colonels we proceeded to the house of M.r Frith which is one of the best and largest in Jacquemel. As a matter of course we were immediately requested to partake of something – for such is the hospitality practised in the West Indies that you are in far greater danger from the importunate kindness of the inhabitants, who wish to satisfy their own feelings by cramming you with meat and drink, than from the climate.

American Doctor at Jacquemel

In a short time several gentlemen came in to see M.r Frith and hear the news: and among these was an American Doctor who speedily made acquaintance with me and requested me to accompany him to his domicile for the purpose of having a chat together. I easily readily agreed, upon which we adjourned to his ‘mansion,’ which was of respectable order, and convenient, with abundance of mahogany articles, the produce of S.t Domingo. I there spent several hours very pleasantly and instructively both giving and receiving information. He appeared eager to learn the latest medical news from Europe, and was well acquainted with the discoveries and improvements made in medicine of late years. I made several enquiries of him relative to the prospects of Surgeons settling in Hayti, and the picture which he drew was any thing but encouraging, at least with respect to Jacquemel. He told me that he was almost the only practitioner in that town and was obliged to act in the manifold capacities of Apothecary, Physician, Surgeon and Accoucheur – and that he is sometimes required to go a distance of 20 or 30 miles. This superabundance of employment and trouble is, however, by no means compensated by the receipt of large fees – on the contrary such is the low estimation in which medicine is held, and the comparative poverty of the people, that his service[s] are rewarded by a very inadequate remuneration. Speaking to him of the state of the bowels, he confirmed the common opinion that, when deranged in their functions, they become very costive and require very large doss of purgatives – as of calomel, salep, croton oil (6 or 7 drops). He told me also that he seldom met with acute cases of disease, because the blacks are so careless of themselves, that they rarely apply for assistance, until the sub acute or chronic form had commenced.

At 6 P.M. we returned to M.r Frith’s and at ½ past, sat down to a plain and substantial dinner, where there was no affectation of style, or great display, altho’ he is said to be of the possession of great wealth. At 10 we returned on board, when we immediately tried to sail, but we made very little progress all night, as the land breeze was exceedingly light.

I shall close my mention of Jacquemel with a few observations, which of course were hastily made, and very incomplete.

Description of Jacquemel

The Town of Jacquemel is situated, as I have said, at the bottom of the Bay of the same name and rather to the right side of it. In size it is small, so small indeed that when at the entrance of the Bay, it is difficult to see it, except with a glass. It consists of two or three streets at right angles to each other, with several straggling collections of houses, built on the higher ground. I saw one house abuilding – but I cannot say whether all the others are on the same plan. Large long and thick posts of wood were driven into the ground, and other[s] were raised again on these to the height of two stories. These perpendicular posts again received support, and security from strong transverse beams. All the interstices between these would, I imagine be filled up with brick or thin strips of wood – covered with plaster – thus you see that they do not build so substantially as we do – and in my opinion, they have their advantage over us, that they can make alterations and additions with less trouble and expense – that they can easily destroy their habitations on the approach of an enemy, and lastly that they can enjoy greater comfort in their climate from this construction.

Most of the houses are of two stories, the lower of which is occupied as a shop or store-house, the upper as the proper dwelling place. Those which are only of one story have one door towards the sea breeze which is open during the day shut at night and a second door behind, where the family at night can enjoy the refreshing coolness of the land breeze. All the houses, without exception are furnished with piazza verandahs in front, which afford protection against the force of the sun. Taking everything into consideration, I would say that the houses of Jacquemel are cool, comfortable and clean – but I am sorry that I cannot say so much of the streets, which are unpaved and unequal.

There are few buildings of any note – the custom house is but so so, and one of the best is one situated on an eminence of large size, which is the residence of the President Boyer, when he visits Jacquemel.

Manners of the Jacquemelites

Jacquemel is a town, where very little trade is carried on – and that is chiefly coffee, cotton & Mahogany. There were only two large vessels in harbour while we were there, and only two very small ones. The appearance of the interior of the town too plainly indicates this. An almost deathlike stillness prevails – very [few] people seen on the streets – no bustle or activity whatever. I confess I was agreeably disappointed in my opinions – for in other places, where I had seen blacks there was sure to be noise and talking – here on it is contrary, the men were equally pursuing their several employment and the women quietly seated in the front apartments and conversing together. The manners also of the Haytians were extremely civil & shewed that they had not been so long the slaves of the politest people in the world, without having imbibed some portion at least of their ‘politesse.’ Every thing I observed gratified me much, and gave me an incontrovertible proof, that the capabilities of the black man’s mind are as great as those of the men who so unjustly asperse them – and if they do not make these rapid strides in refinement and knowledge, which the native of cold climate have done in a short time, this is to be attributed to the indolence produced by the climate, and to the fact, that being satisfied with their present acquirements and state of existence, not seeking after many foreign luxuries, while they have abundance of good food, they are not called upon to make those efforts, which the possession of these implies to be necessary.

Restrictions on the Whites

The revolution, which secured the independence of Hayti, under the form of a republic, is of so recent a date, and the cruelties which they endured under the power of hard task-masters are so fresh in the memories of many that certain restrictive enactments have been made respecting the whites, shewing their jealousy of them, which it is probable will be cancelled in the progress of time. Of the precise nature of all these regulations I am not aware – but I have been assured by our passenger M.r Lloyd, long resident in the Island that they do exist. No white man can hold any office in the influential departments of government.

No white man can retail any goods, but is at liberty to dispose of as much as he pleases by wholesale. This law is I believe often evaded, by procuring a native man or woman to transact the retail business for you (but in his own name). But there is a danger in this which is that the black or mulatto may prove treacherous, and refuse to refund his gains, whilst you, knowing how the law stands, cannot enforce your right to your property. Whatever, then, is retailed by a native as his own cannot be taken from him, and thus as a punishment for an infringement of the laws, you are completely espoused.

The basis of all the Haytian laws is the Code Napoleon – and to all appearances under their laws order and peace are every where maintained.

M.r Lloyd

I have now only to mention that we brought to Jacquemel as passenger a M.r Lloyd a Welshman and head of the firm Lloyd & Milne established at Port Au Prince. We all found in him a pleasant & well informed gentleman – and notwithstanding his long absences from home, in various parts of the world, full of clannish feelings. He has been long in S.t Domingo and seems to possess great influence with the President Boyer. He was somewhat of a Hypochondriac – for, altho’ he boasted of his strong constitution & excellent general health, he had got some crotchets into his noodle, such as that he was apoplectic – dyspeptic & I know not what. I suspect it has happened to him, as to many others, who having lived in good health, without much reflection in a hot climate for many years and being often spoken to on this subject comes to think more of the matter themselves and finally become exceedingly nervous. M.r Lloyd & I had many long conversations together and he invariably turned them upon medical subjects, with a particular reference to himself. If I am not mistaken he will not long remain in Hayti – but will return to settle in some of the branches of the house in England. He wished me much to come & reside at Port au Prince, and held out very flattering prospects – but I was afraid that I would at all like a permanent residence in so hot and unhealthy a country, and that the chances of making incompetence were small and uncertain, where there are so many Frenchmen settled among Frenchmen and where all speak the Gallic tongue.

Saturday 5th June – this morning found us only as far as the mouth of the Bay of Jacquemel, and we made no way until the sea breeze set in fresh at half past ten. Weather hazy and cloudy but cool. In sight of Jacquemel all day.

Sunday 6th – fine weather – and fresh breeze came in sight of Jamaica in the evening.