Slaves, Militia & Morality

Slaves in Carthagena

As may be expected from the history of the place its inhabitants as to mixture are kind of human olla podrida, prepared from Indians, Negroes, mulattoes and whites. The number of true whites is comparatively trifling and the greater proportion of the population are is descendants of the aborigines of the country & the Spanish settlers. The Indians and Negroes, altho’ their colour assimilates entertain a great antipathy to each other, and shew it on every occasion. In the estimation of the Whites, the Indians rank higher and, indeed from what I observed myself they always appeared better dressed and better off than the blacks. Not withstanding this the Negroes seemed not to be in a bad condition – and at least they appearance is far superior to that of the same class in the Brazilian Empire. There are now indeed very few classes in Columbia, and, if the present constitution and slave regulations should exist long universal emancipation will be gradually brought about. For, after the establishment of the present government, it was declared that all born after that period, should be restored to liberty, as soon as they reached the age of 18. This regulation is considered to be a hard one, since it deprives the master of the valuable services of his slaves, exactly at that time when they are most essential, while at the same time, he is bound to support, and cloth, him when he can obtain no equivalent for his outlay in the value of his services. Besides this very important clause in their favour, the achieved condition of the slave is not conformable. He is even fed and clothed at his master’s expense – he is treated with great gentleness and his services are regulated in the kindest terms so that in fact a footing of families of reciprocal kindness already exists between Master and Slave which could hardly have been expected between persons in such opposite relations of life.

Militia at Carthagena

I am not aware that any of the Indians are slaves – I believe not, and I observed that the militia, who in the absence of regular troops, who had been sent against Cordova, mounted in the city, were either native Indians, or of Indian extraction. By the bye, the militia presented a curious appearance, from their total disregard of all regularity in dress. I met a party passing along the streets, some with jackets ragged or with holes, more with none at all – some with white, some with blue shirts, some with shoes or their apologies for shoes, many with none at all. Their arms too were in very bad order, old and rusty – and I suppose that many of them consisted of muskets, which had been rejected, as no longer fit for service in the British army. This I judge from seeing several old worn out pieces of artillery, with the well known marks of G R on them. Whilst on duty before the Custom house, and other stations, they consulted only their will & pleasure in walking, standing, shouldering their arms or grounding them. Altogether they were an awkward squad, and if they should ever come to the crush, would rather be a subject of ridicule to an enemy, than an object of serious apprehension. They did however very well in keeping order among the unmannerly rabble towards whom they carried themselves with a great deal of importance and superiority.

Great passion for dancing & Gambling

I have seen nothing of the domestic life of the Columbians and consequently can not speak of it from actual experience. From several quarters however, on which I can rely I have heard several particulars, which I shall communicate to you. Their great amusement is dancing, and their great vice is an immoderate love of gambling, which infects all ranks of society! From the King to the beggar as we would say. At particular times such as the feasts of their Saints, these passions are displayed in their greatest extreme.

For days and nights (for the feast of la Popa lasts nearly a month) they give themselves up to unrestrained enjoyment of their favourite propensities. At a village in particular situated at the foot of la Popa, the grandest display is presented. It is a considerable length and throughout it gambling tables are ranged while large ball rooms are close at hand for those who tired of gambling, prefer the animating and wanton fandango, the national dance of the Spaniards.

Gambling at Carthagena

At the gaming tables are to be seen all manner of stakes from a real (6d) to a doubloon (£3-£4). Here immense sums are alternatively lost and won, or as it might be subtly termed, exchanged possession. Here many are utterly ruined whilst others are suddenly raised to the possession of a large fortune. At one and the same table may be witnessed the curious spectacle of the master & slave, of the black & white, of grandee & peasant, risking their money in common. So far as this passion of gambling carried, and so general in its influence, that even some of the reverent clergy may be seen hazarding, without scandal, the hard earned money which the poor man had accumulated for the pious purpose of having masses said for the repose of the souls of his children or relations. This season of relaxation is certainly very profitable for the priesthood, since most of the women always consider it an act of imperative deity to give a portion of their gains to the church in order that they may still have the same good fortune in their future speculations.

During the whole of the month of February I believe, this entire devotion to pleasure is continued – nothing is heard but mirth and jollity, the sound of the drum among the Negroes, and of more refined instruments among the whites & rich. I have heard several stories of immense losses sustained, & fortunes made – that general Santander in one night lost 30,000 dollars, and that another person had netted in one week, 200,000 dollars. Here observe I only report from hearsay, but, I have no doubt of their general correctness.

[State of morality – Smoking &.c]

From all the circumstances just mentioned, it will require no great stretch of fancy to conceive that a very lax state of morality is prevalent. Exquodam audio omnes phellas ase sine ulla imodestiae sensum et magis verbis imprudicis quam pudicis delectari. Omnium bonarum literarum penities ignarae – scientiae musices modice etudent praesertim citherae. Vultu imm—- et audie—t et dicunt turpia dictia, et (quod expectandum est) faeda factu perpebrant. Audivi quogue in quenbus dam insulas, haud procut. A Carthagena comin-urcium, inter seeus sine ullo discriminae fiere nee ab ullo conquigium sacrum desiderari.

[another long passage of underlined Latin – obscuring some of his more candid comments?]

I was much pleased with the general dress adopted, which consisted of light jackets, clean white trousers & cotton stockings. Very few wore long coats which are certainly very oppressive for the climate. Every person here smokes, black white & brown – nor is the taste confined to age, for I have often seen boys and girls scarcely able to walk toddling about with a lighted cigar in their mouths. This love of smoking is often a great retardation in business, for as I have been told, by a clerk in one of the principal houses here, they often come to his Master, and instead of proceeding to business they sit down and finish several cigars and tell numerous stories, or engage in indifferent conversation, before they come to the main object of their visits. Viz. to make extensive purchases with ready money.

Umbillical Hernia – [Tumethactio Testio] Common in Carthagena

Many of the young children here go about puris naturaltus, which circumstance enables me to observe a medical fact, viz. that a very great proportion of them are affected with umbilical Hernia. Some of these Herniae were of immense size, and if they should continue to increase, must ultimately prove very inconvenient, if not fatal. In none did I ever see any precaution used to support the hernia or prevent its enlargement. In one of the houses I visited saw a fine stout white boy affected with this, and upon enquiring into the causes of this appearance, and why it was so general, was told, that it was owing to the prejudices of the Columbian nurses, who remove the bandage from the umbilicus too soon, so that should the child be attacked, by a violent fit of coughing, the umbilical aperture not being sufficiently closed, gives away to the pressure of the intestines forcing outward. Another medical circumstance concerned with Carthagena is (altho’ the cause is unknown) testem saepe caeslere in miram magnitudinem sine dolores et sae colore mulato Istius _hase esse,causa dicitur. Agua, propter quasdam qualitates, adhue incognitas, tumores glandularum, A presertim glandulae testes afficere videtur. Caeli ardor quoque ad hune effectum haud parvo grado valere, fasile eredatur. Hine multi et Columbiani et peregrini suspensoris testum atuntur-nec quovis alio remedio.

[more Latin – but this time apparently of a medical nature.]

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