Society & Manners

I shall now speak of the different orders of inhabitants in Jamaica. Society in Kingston may [be] divided into two great classes – the white and the coloured population – but the latter is subdivided into different branches, as those who are free, and those who are slaves, those black, and those of a lighter complexion. I believe that the general character of the Whites is that of a frank and hospitable people. If any person visits Jamaica, even without letters of introduction, he is most kindly received, and overwhelmed with numerous invitations. None of the Whites ever walk any distance on foot – but hire or keep gigs or horses – it is a great disgrace to act the pedestrian, and make that use of your lower extremities, which nature intended – and if you ask the reason why, you are immediately told that none but negroes walk a comparison with whom indicates the slightest degree of manners and contempt.

Orders of Society in Jamaica

I have said that there exists but two great grades of society, the whites and the coloured population. On this point I propose to speak more fully. Between these, then, there exists a boundary of separation, which while the present taste of manners continues can never be passed without the worst consequences to the transgressors: By sharing with the prohibited class of coloured people in all the social relations of life, a white person would inevitably lose his caste (and the term caste is here as powerfully binding upon public and private opinion as in the regions of Hindustan) and would be for ever debarred from the intimate intercourse, which he had formerly held with his brethren. In particular if a white should marry a lady belonging even to the lightest shade of the debased colour – by such an act he virtually renounces his title and claim to rank in white society, and reduces himself to the level of the class a member of which he has, foolishly for himself, espoused. Hence you see that motives of self-interest will always operate against such a connection – and rare indeed are the instances in which white men have ventured to brave public opinion, and to link themselves indissolubly to the outcast race. To us, who view human society, apart altogether from the prejudices of West Indian Planters, and who live amidst a society where no such invidious distinctions prevail, the idea of excluding free persons, of considerable wealth, intelligence, and respectability, from any participation in the universalities, and rights, which we enjoy, appears absurd, and unreasonable.

Manners in Jamaica

In my own opinion much allowance is to be made, in consequence of the feelings in which the Planters have been brought up, and the influence which such restrictions secure to the whites – but still it is hard to go so far as is done. In the class of coloured people there are very many possessed of great property – and among the ladies there are not a few, whose polite and elegant attainments, and sensible minds would draw admiration from the best company in Europe. And is it not a severe law to deny them domestic commission, and social intercourse, with whites, many of whom by their vices and crimes are a disgrace to the colour which is so strictly honoured and are far inferior in intellectual acquirements to those upon whom they look down with contempt.

From the above mentioned feelings and manners, it will not, I am sure, excite your surprise, when you are told, that altho no lawful marriages are permitted, no derogation of character is attached to the very common practice of keeping a mistress chosen from the despised class. To be the Protector of one, or two mulattoes excites no animadversion even in the minds of those, who are accounted moral and religious – and I question if even a clergyman were in that situation, neither such a disgraceful circumstance would operate in his disfavour. In such a case the white man is invited without scruple to festive entertainments, as if no such connection ever existed.

You will perhaps think that comparatively few women will be found who would be content to barter virtue for so poor a price as a white man’s unlawful love. Strange it I to tell, that but too many are anxious to do so – and the principle upon which they act is a spirit of pride, in being raised as it were from above their despised class to a share however small and disgraceful, in the society of a White. In no other part of the world does the colour of a man’s skin affect his rank and privileges so much as in West Indies. It is truly the mark of honour and distinction impressed by the Creator, to all the coloured population. Thro’out the various shades of colour, from jet black, to a very slight brown, or rather pale white, the same opinion is entertained, that a white man is a superior being, and that any association with him is to be preferred to the advantages, which can be offered by any of their own class. Hence black and mulatto girls often choose rather to live in a state of concubinage with a buckra man than to enter into lawful marriage with one of their colour.

Manners in Jamaica – among Coloured People

Whilst there then exists two grand divisions of society, into Whites and coloured people – there are besides in the latter class many varieties and subdivisions. Many are free, many are slaves – some are brown, some black – some nearly white. The free people in their turn look down with contempt upon their less fortunate brethren, and equally with the whites refuse to associate with them – nay will consider themselves as highly insulted by any comparison either bodily or mental. But besides the important distinction of freeman and slave, the coloured generation go some steps farther in their opinions – for those farthest removed from the blacks are consequently nearest the whites assume to themselves when addressing them, as great an air of superiority as the Whites shew towards themselves. It must be under very peculiar circumstances indeed that a mulatto or a mustee will consent to marry a free black, however wealthy – as thus their descendents would retrograde and [have] lost caste, such as it was. If they cannot advance they will not recede and thus an almost insurmountable barrier is erected among the negroe & Quadroons.

State of Manners in Kingston

Again – Not to be behind hand, the free negroes will treat with violence and contempt one who is enslaved – & so imitates the ill manners of his superiors – nay I have heard, that a negroe who is possessed of a slave or slaves exercises towards them a far greater degree of severity than even a white man would, in so much that nothing will grieve a slave more than to be purchased by one of his own colour.

Of such a heterogeneous combination of materials is the population of Kingston composed – and it is wonderful indeed how well the mixture works. Tho’ the population of blacks and mulattoes infinitely exceeds the numbers of the whites, yet the acknowledged superiority and dreaded powers of the latter, have hitherto prevented any attempt to over power them – destroy their authority – and to raise the influence of their former on their ruins. What may have been the cause of the revolt of the negroes at S.t Domingo and their final success, I know not – but their example has not produced any effervescence of negroe feeling in Jamaica, which may be attributed to this additional cause, besides the one above mentioned, that the condition of the slave and the status of the free coloured population has been so improved to leave no ground of dissatisfaction to the former, and the prospect of a complete emancipation from their present thraldom and a participation in all the rights of the whites to the latter.

Read on … Slavery in Jamaica