Slavery in Jamaica

State of Jamaica

Before finally bidding adieu to Jamaica I shall make mention the state in which we found that part of the islands visited by us. Martial law had ceased ever since February but with it the prevalent discontent and sense of insecurity had by no means ceased. Upwards of 3 or 4000 slaves had met their merited punishment of death by the bullet or the cord, and every where the Militia, and regular troops had been successful. But suspicion and dissatisfaction were still general. The calm was a dead one indeed but a person of the least sagacity could see that the storm was slumbering only to break forth with additional violence, and that the elements of a furious conflagration still subsisted tho’ apparently smoothed. For my own part, as an uninterested spectator, I conceive that the policy of the Government at home has been most mistaken in its ulterior view, and most mischievous in its immediate tendency. In consequence of the measures already pursued, the slaves of the colony have been led into the most fatal error of supposing that the Government in England had ordered their immediate and unconditional emancipation, and that the boon of freedom was forcibly withheld in opposition to positive orders – and that therefore, if the[y] rose en masse to assert their rights against their oppressors their Masters, they would meet with sympathy & support from that administration, which their Masters, as dependant colonists were bound to obey. And what has been the melancholy result. Property to an incalculable amount has been sacrificed in their fury – which loss again has been retaliated by miserable end of 4000 slaves. Nor is the actual loss in property sustained alone to be considered, large as it is, but we have to reflect that the plantations destroyed will not be brought into their former state until after a long period, if ever they will, and that meanwhile the owners have been reduced from a state of affluence to one of comparative indigence. Several years also in my opinion must elapse ere confidence and a sense of security can be restored.

I have myself conversed with several slaves and in particular with one, who holds forth on matters of religion at a Baptist meeting house. If their sentiments can fairly be taken as the standard of the discontented slaves, the whites must be constantly on their guard, and should they be worsted must expect to experience the most horrible treatment which implacable revenge for imaginary ill treatment can inflict. In the course of conversation with the above Baptist, I urged upon him the Christian doctrine that we are all bound to discharge the duties to which Providence has called us in our different stations, whether as Masters, servants, bond or free – and hence inferred that he having been born in slavery ought to be contented therewith, and leave to a rational government the gradual abolition of slavery. But no – all I could say was of no avail, and in reply to my observations, his answer invariably was that ‘were all bredren de sons of one common fader Almity’ and that all deserving equal rights from the same source, no one could make either black or white men a slave. I again said that the Apostle Paul in addressing slaves did not tell them to rebel against their Masters, who held them in an unjustifiable state, but on the contrary he exhorted them to be faithful servants in all things, not consulting their own advantage but always having a single eye to the interest of their proprietor. M.Baptist, however, did not care one fig for the opinion of Paul when it militated against his own preconceived opinions, and like the parrot in the fable, he reiterated and reiterated his solitary argument without a single change of note. Any one the would a priori judge that as this black gentlemen founded his claim to freedom solely on the beneficent doctrines of Christianity which he asserted to be a paramount authority to all others, that he must have been a truly religious character, and imbued with the very essence of its principles, which command us to love all men as brothers & to love our neighbour as ourselves.

Alas for poor human nature. The Whites have ere now raised the standard of revolt, committed the most horrible cruelties under the sacred name of religion – and ere long I am afraid that the Blacks will follow the same righteous examples. My friend the Baptist, the severe professor of the Christian doctrine, fully disclosed to me his views of brotherly love which were, that his sable brethren, if they should gain the ascendancy, were called in strict retributive justice, to return upon the heads of their white oppressors, in a tenfold degree the cruelties which they had inflicted – and that their motto should be ‘Kill & Slay – spare none, even as the Israelites destroyed the Amelikites the enemies of God.’  In short he was of opinion that the Tragedy of S.Domingo would be an acceptable performance to the Deity, and that upon the total extirpation of the Whites a Te Deum should be sung in token of thanksgiving and triumph. That such bloody sentiments are entertained, and that this is no exaggerated statement of mine, many incidents during the revolt will justly prove. Men put to death with excruciating tortures – women deforced and then murdered – and children slaughtered before the parents with the most ingenious cruelty were scenes which actually occurred. From the tender mercies of the Blacks, good Lord deliver us.

The most egregious hopes have been entertained by slaves when they are free. They look forward to leading a life of idleness and pleasure, without reflecting that industry, which they hate is the only means which can prevent them from starving. To work then they will not – and as a necessary consequence they must rob & murder. Instead of having all their bodily wants supplied, also being attended to in sickness, hunger, nakedness and irremediable disease must be their portion. In my opinion our Government has much to answer for, as well as those well meaning and philanthropic persons, whose Christian sympathies have been powerfully called into play by their fanciful ideas of the condition of slavery. I am not an anti-slaverite, as you might from the tendency of my observation imagine – on the contrary. I abhor the principles of  the slave trade and of slavery in general. I merely uphold that the slaves are not in a fit condition to be emancipated from their ignorance & their opinions, and that their Masters, possessing in them a perfectly legal species of property, ought to be indemnified for their loss. I think it possible that some plan might be fallen upon the secure the gradual abolition of slavery – and surely those who are anxious for the immediate abolition should cheerfully sacrifice some part of their means to form a fund of Indemnification, and thereby shew that the sentiments they express come not from the mouth but from the heart.

All slaves are by no means so eager for freedom. Many there are who possess common sense enough to perceive the fallacy of the expectations of their more ignorant brethren, and the great measure of comfort which they themselves at present enjoy. Several gentlemen at Kingston, with whom I conversed on the subject, told me, that they had offered to emancipate several of their slaves, and that their offer had been refused. Not satisfied with their declaration I interrogated several of the slaves to whom it was said, that freedom had been tendered and from their own mouths learned that the statement was true, and also the reasons they had for declining the proposed boon. They told me that they had kind Masters – plenty to eat and drink – clothes to cover them and a good house to shelter them – and why should they wish to change. Who was to take care of them, if they could not procure work, or if they were unable from disease to labour. Without work they must starve and the charge for medical attendance was too high for them to be able to pay. By being free they would exchange a state of comfort and certainty for one of many troubles and anxieties – ands an increasing family would only add to their miseries in place of being able to throw all their cares in that respect on their owners. If they had wished to be free, they could have purchased their freedom long ago & in deed many of them were possessed of money which they could leave to whomsoever they pleased.

I must however drop the subject of slavery and emancipation. I have merely stated my own opinion and leave to others the same right which I have exercised of retaining their own. I shall now proceed to state that on

Thursday 3rd May – we weighed anchor from Port Royal at 5.30 A.M. with moderate and favourable breeze & variable weather with occasional showers.

Friday 4th – fine weather. Moderate and favourable breeze.

Saturday 5th – light and favourable wind – fine weather.

Sunday 6th – fresh and favourable breeze – very fine weather.

Monday 7th – abreast of Bonaea at 9 A.M. and of Ruatan at 1 P.M. – fine w.r

Tuesday 8th – at 8 A.M. received a pilot on board at Half Moon Kay and made sail for Belize. Fine weather, and delightful sail among the numerous kays, which stud the Bay of Honduras. At 4.55 P.M. came to anchor in front of Belize when the Commander went on shore with the Mail.

Read on … Belize