Slavery in Jamaica

In confirmation of the re improved condition of slavery now alluded to, I propose to make a few remarks upon slaves and slavery. To us, who live far from the West Indies and know nothing of slavery but the name, the condition of a slave must be one of the utmost misery and hardship – and our sympathies, misled by our ignorance, naturally and innocently too, are granted to the unfortunate wretch. In the accounts given us by the abolitionists we hear of the whip and the lash – the separation of the tender infant from its despairing mother – and the prison or the stocks. Now I have no doubt but these are either misrepresentations altogether, or partial statements, to suit a particular purpose – atho’ they were indeed so plausible and so Christian like, that I used heartedly to side with their views. I do not mean by this to advocate the slavery in its abstract – but merely in reference to West Indian slavery, to say that slaves there are happier in their present circumstances, than they would be, if, as some inconsiderate persons propose, they were presented with the gift of universal emancipation. For let us examine a little into the matter, entering into comparisons, and we shall see the truth of this opinion.

Tis true, that the slaves are forced to work for their masters, and that the engagements under which they come in the character of slave are strictly enforced. Tis true they possess not the freedom of will of our hardy & independent peasantry, who can be idle and refuse to work, if not under positive articles, at the risk of starving but with perfect freedom. Whilst the negroe is never permitted to be idle or to have a choice of his own. Tis true that the slaves can be punished with the whip, if he is disobedient and refractory – and tis also true that when one absconds and is caught, he is put into prison – which indeed is no more than would be done to any one who had violated his duty.

What then can be a sufficient compensation for all this hardship and suffering – what can be an equivalent for sacred freedom? Surely nothing – say the Abolitionist – consider the case fully, before you make this assertion exclaims the Abolitionist. If the slave is well fed – properly clothed – and furnished with a house and ground – but all this at the expense of his master, is his master not entitled to the value of his labour and time for these important advantages? And if a slave, in such a case, should refuse from idleness to give his labour and time, to the Master who feeds. Clothes, & houses, is it not right that punishment should follow this act of disobedience? Among many hundreds of slaves, it is contrary to human experience to suppose, that there are not some of wicked dispositions, of depraved & idle habits; and shall they indulge in their indolent propensities unpunished, while the active and the diligent, enjoying precisely the same benefits, are not otherwise rewarded? The supposition is monstrous – and therefore it is but just that the rogues and tyrants should suffer, and the well disposed are safe.

With regard to the comparison between our poor and the slaves of Jamaica. The scale of preponderance is in the side of the latter, as to the solid advantages they posses. Consider that if the poor man will not labour or cannot procure work – or is overtaken with sickness and disease, he stands in a very great chance of starving – or at all events, being encumbered with numerous progeny, he is but scantly supplied with the means of subsistence for so many mouths – consider too that if, as we have supposed he is attacked by sickness, he may die, and often does die, from want of proper medicines and the requisite medical assistance.

Now contrast this state of things with the conditions of the slave. If he is sick, he is immediately excused from all labour – he is furnished with what ever medicines are judged necessary and with medical attendance – and should his case require it, he has wine – fresh meat – fruits &.c – in short nothing is omitted which may be conducive to his comfort and complete recovery, without one farthing of expense on his part, or the least anxiety as to the state of his wife and children. How many are there, who would cheerfully consent to an easy slavery on such terms?

In addition to abundance of food & clothes, the proprietor of a slave is obliged to give him a house and a piece of his ground (as far as I can learn) he carries the slaves own property to a certain extent – that is, he cannot sell it, but he can bequeath it to whom he pleases – & thus one slave may be the owner of two or three grounds. I know not exactly what times are set apart for cultivating these – but it is but just to suppose that a sufficient time is allowed for that purpose. They are I know always encouraged to labour for their own advantage – and are supplied with seeds, plants, &.c from their masters. The produce of their grounds is exclusively their own and is sold by them for their own benefit. In order to be able to dispose of their fruit &.c they have every alternate Saturday and every Sunday – which is more than can be said of our hard working & free countrymen, who can call not day but Sunday their own and who can enjoy no ground without a proportional rent – a rent the amount of which often exceeds the whole produce of their labour.

Now let us suppose that universal emancipation were granted and the warmest wishes of the abolitionists realised, – and how would the matter stand with the new made freemen? In truth they would be even in worse condition than our labourers – and would probably under its influence commit excesses fatal alike to their former masters and to themselves – Their masters being now exonerated from all obligation to maintain them in health and sickness, might perhaps refuse them employment altogether – and if they had no employment, how were they to be supported? Murder, robbery, and rebellion would rage with uncontrolled fury – and Jamaica would become a scene miserable to contemplate – and all for what – that a name forsooth, may be erased from the vocabulary of an Englishman. Indeed the very slaves themselves know better and laugh at the abortive efforts made to procure freedom to uncomplaining slaves at the expense of doing manifest injustice to freemen born. They have the good sense to be content with the comforts of their present situation – and even many, who are able enough to purchase their own freedom refuse to do so – declaring that they are much happier as they are than they would ever be, if they were their own Masters.

From all these circumstances it is, that I have been led to alter my opinions respecting slavery, and emancipation – and I think, if you consider them attentively, you will come to the same conclusion. The only difficulty to you, perhaps will be do all the slaves enjoy these privileges? And may I not have given an Utopian account of the comfortable conditions of some favoured slaves? I answer, that all, as to the essentials which I have mentioned above are treated alike & indeed must be – for they are all affirmed by law and a slave can compel his master to grant them to him. There are no longer those arbitrary proceedings and capricious punishments which existed in the infancy of slavery – the laws recognise only certain offences which are punishable, and that only to a certain extent – as for instance the number of lashes must not exceed forty. If a slave is aggrieved by his Master in his property or person, the law is open to him as well as to the white man, and I am told, & I doubt it not, that justice is equally administered to both

No longer too do you see such heart rendering disruptions of all the _ualy and affectionate ties, which bind together the parents and the child – the husband & the wife – the brother and the sister, which was so common an occurrence formerly. It is now imperative upon the Master, who parts with his slaves, or upon the Executors of a deceased proprietor, to sell the whole family together – and they strictly enjoined not to dispose of them separately.

Differences of the coloured population of Jamaica

I shall now conclude the subject of slaves & the diversities of condition in society, with a very few words respecting the genealogy of the Coloured population, as it were. First of all we have Blacks & pure whites – the child of a Black and white is called a Mulatto – the child of a white and mulatto goes by the name of a Quadroon – the descendant of a Quadroon and a white is known as a Mustee – and lastly the generation of a white and a Mustee is defined by the term a Mustee-fino. The children of all these descriptions of colours, born in slavery are the Masters property but the offspring of a Musteefino and a White, are considered to be white and consequently, from the virtue of their colour, are in the eye of the law, free. For my own part I could never recognise the shades of difference and all I could tell was whether a man was black, brown or white. I believe however that the Kingstonians can pronounce upon the difference at once – and woe be to him who, thinking his slight shade of colour would not be discovered from the pure white, refuses to acknowledge the supremacy & dignity of the true white, by the most submissive conduct, as by never venturing to sit in his presence, or to use any but the most civil style of address.

I had always imagined that the word Creole implied that the person was one of colour – but I find that I am mistaken. For by the term Creole is meant one who has been born in Jamaica – and is precisely equivalent to our word Cockney. It matters not whether native of Jamaica are born of black, brown, or white parents – for the circumstances of their birth place determines them at once as a Creole.

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