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white people in the colonies are charged by Mr. Stephen, one might instance, not merely the exertion of the masters' power for the protection of their people from every species of injury (in which there is little merit, though they have not credit with Mr. S. even for this); but the readiness of both masters and managers to do them such good offices, as flow entirely from kindness and good will. And among many little circumstances, which might be mentioned to shew the kind of feeling that exists between the classes, perhaps there is none that will convey a better idea of it to a stranger, than the simple fact, how customary it is, for a negro on a plantation, when he has committed a fault for which he apprehends punishment, to go to some neighbouring overseer, whom he knows to be on good terms with his own overseer, and solicit his mediation for forgiveness. If the fault has been trivial, such as a few days absence from duty, the culprit may perhaps be satisfied with a note interceding for him; if more serious, such as neglecting the cattle, and allowing them to destroy a valuable field of canes, or being a length of time absent, he insists on the person going home with him; and in cases of this kind, I have often known gentlemen, in the heat of the day, and in indifferent health, ride several miles to save a poor fellow from a flogging.
I never knew such mediation solicited that was not granted; usually, with a very proper admonition to behave better in future; nor did I ever
know such intercession made, and not successful; but in one solitary instance, which from its rarity was a topic of conversation in the neighbourhood. I have often myself been applied to, to be the intercessor for forgiveness on such occasions, and have left my business (as who would not?) to attend to the call.
When negroes are christened, it is a common custom with them to take the name of some white person for whom they have a regard, and whom they request to stand sponsor for them. This forms a lasting claim to some attention; the sponsor is in future addressed Godfather; and a friendly connexion is cultivated with him by occasional presents of poultry, fruit, &c. always accompanied with a profusion of kind wishes. Of course the presents must be fully repaid; but still there is something gratifying in such spontaneous marks of kindness and good will, to which no person can feel indifferent.
Do these minute facts (and they are too minute to be worth notice, but as they throw some light on the condition of the negroes, bespeak the existence of that horrid feeling of aversion and contempt for them, which Mr. Stephen describes as rankling in the bosom of the English colonists? Or do they warrant that sneer of scorn imputed to them in the elegant phrase, 'a vile negro, a brother! Foh!'
Even the very amusements of the slaves may Amusements of be referred to, to shew the feeling that exists
between them and the white people to be very different. The day on which the last of the canes are cut down upon a sugar plantation, flags are displayed in the field, and all is merriment. A quart of sugar and a quart of rum are allowed to each negro on the occasion, to hold what is called CROP-OVER, or harvest-home. In the evening, they assemble in their master's or manager's house, and, as a matter of course, take possession of the largest room, bringing with them a fiddle and tambourine. Here all authority and all distinction of colour ceases; black and white, overseer and book-keeper, mingle together in the dance. About twenty years ago, it was common on occasions of this kind, to see the different African tribes forming each a distinct party, singing and dancing to the gumbay, after the rude manners of their native Africa; but this custom is now extinct. Following the example of the white people, the fiddle, whịch they play pretty well, is now the leading instrument; they dance Scotch reels, and some of the better sort (who have been house servants) country-dances. Here the loud laugh, and the constant buzz of singing and talking bespeak their enjoyment, and the absence of all care about the present or future ills of life.
Such dances were formerly common, or I should rather say universal, at Christmas; but of late years have much gone out, owing to an idea impressed on the minds of the negroes, principally I believe by the missionaries, that the season
ought rather to be devoted to religious exercises. It is now considered more becoming to attend the places of Worship, or to have private religious parties among themselves; and in passing through a negro village on a Christmas night, it is more common to hear psalm-singing, than the sound of merriment.
The young people, however, still indulge in some amusements on this occasion, one of which may be worth describing. The young girls of a plantation, or occasionally of two neighbouring plantations leagued, form what is calle 'a sett.' They dress exactly in uniform, with gowns of some neat pattern of printed cotton, and take the name of Blue Girls, Yellow Girls, &c. according to the dress and ribbon they have chosen. They have always with them in their excursions, a fiddle, drum, and tambourine, frequently boys playing fifes, a distinguishing flag which is waved on a pole, and generally some fantastical figure, or toy, such as a castle or tower, surrounded with mirrors. A matron attends who possesses some degree of authority, and is called Queen of the Sett, and they have always one or two Joncanoe-men, smart youths, fantastically dressed, and masked so as not to be known. Thus equipped, and generally accompanied by some friends, they proceed to the neighbouring plantation villages, and always visit the master's or manager's house, into which they enter without ceremony, and where they are joined by the white people in a dance. Some refreshment is
given to them, and the Joncanoe-men, after a display of their buffoonery, commonly put the white people under requisition for a little money, to pay the fiddler, &c. A party of forty or fifty young girls thus attired, with their hair braided over their brows, beads round their necks, and gold ear-rings, present a very interesting and amusing sight, as they approach a house dancing, with their music playing, and Joncanoe-men capering and playing tricks. They have generally fine voices, and dancing in a room they require no instrumental music.* One of their best singers commences the song, and unaccompanied sings the first part with words for the occasion, of course not always very poetical, though frequently not unamusing; the whole sett joins in the chorus as they mingle in the dance, waving their handkerchiefs over their heads. All is life and joy, and certainly it is one of the most pleasing sights that can be imagined.
The last party of this kind I had the pleasure of seeing and dancing with, at Christmas 1823, belonged to Reach and Muirton estates, the property of Mr. William Bryan, and afforded a novelty I had never before witnessed, in a rude
* The airs they sing and dance to are simple and lively; the following is a specimen :