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* Resolved,-3d. That the above be published for one month in the Royal Gazette, the St. Jago Gazette, the Cornwall Gazette, and the Cornwall Chronicle, and signed by the chairman and secretary of the meeting.
• John SHIPMAN, Chairman. • Robert Young, Secretary.'
• Fifthly; (continues Mr. Stephens) many offences have been made capital by those laws when perpetrated by a slave, which, when the act of a freeman, are but petty larcenies, misdemeanors, or at most felonies within the benefit of clergy; and in some instances, the negro is punished with death for actions which would subject a freeman to no punishment at all.' p. 303.
This heavy charge against the colonists of the present day is proved by reference to some old and obsolete statutes of the Bahamas, Barbadoes, Bermuda, &c. the dates of which, in general, are prudently withheld. No notice of Jamaica.
Attempt to murder by poison.
• Sixthly.—These humane lawgivers have further enlarged their sanguinary catalogue, by punishing the bare attempt or design to commit crimes as severely as the crimes themselves.' p.
Under this charge Mr. S. specifies the attempt to steal, murder, rob, burn houses, set on fire sugar canes, to poison free persons, &c.' and for proof that the attempt to do such things is felony, cites certain old laws in the margin, one of which (though brought forward to prove the present state of slavery in our colonies) he tells us he understands is repealed or suspended ;' and some more of them,' says he, ‘ may have been repealed since 1788; but if so, I am ignorant of the fact.'
p. 304. The charge, as respects Jamaica, is, that * the attempt to poison free persons' is punishable with death; for which he refers to the consolidated slave law of 1816, cap. 25, s. 52.
True, by that law it is enacted, that a slave who shall mix poison with intent to give, or cause it to be given, although death should not ensue
on the taking thereof,' shall, when duly convicted, suffer death. But it is not true that this punishment is limited, as Mr. S. says, to the case of an attempt to murder FREE persons.-Now, as to the inhumanity of the law. By Lord Ellenborough's Act an assault with intent to kill is felony ; and we put it very confidently to the father of a family in this country to say, if a personal assault upon himself with intent to take his life, is not even a venial crime compared with that of the wretch who puts on his table a dish of deadly poison for his and his family's destruction, even if it providentially happens to be discovered before the fatal purpose has been effected} · Of all species of deaths, says Blackstone, the most detestable is that of poison, because it can of all others be the least
prevented by manhood or forethought.' Yet Mr. Stephen thinks it most cruel that the colonial laws should condemn a poor slave for only attempting to poison his master and family.
As to what the learned gentleman says, that this penal law does not affect “the white law'giver,' or 'the privileged class,' the reader should recollect that the slave law was made for the slaves
only; and if there had been occasion to make such a law for the free population, it would not have been done by a clause in the slave code. The danger to be guarded against was not from free persons ; but, though I am not a lawyer, as Mr. Stephen is, and must speak with diffidence on such matters, I am not aware that the slaves are in this particular put on a worse footing than free persons.*
Another part of the slave law which Mr. Stephen disapproves of, is the punishment of obeah with death ; but he has not assigned his reasons for thinking that it has been, for the most part, the 'ground of a fanciful though fatal imputation on ' the poor slaves.' p. 305. The deaths which the obeah-men occasioned by working on the imaginations of their superstitious countrymen, and by poison, certainly were not ‘fanciful,' whatever their pretended supernatural powers might be.
I was present, some years ago, at the trial of a notorious obeah-man, driver on an estate in the parish of St. David, who, by the overwhelming influence he had acquired over the minds of his deluded victims, and the more potent means he had at command to accomplish his ends, had done great in
By the 43d Geo. III. c. 58, it is enacted, that if any person shall wilfully and maliciously administer to, or cause to be administered to, or taken by any of his Majesty's subjects, any deadly poison with intent to murder, he, his counsellors, aiders, and abettors, shall be guilty of felony without benefit of clergy.' So the attempt to murder by poison, which, by the common law, was only a misdemeanor, is now made capital crime.-Christian's Notes to Blackstone's Commentaries, vol. iv. p. 196.
jury among the slaves on the property before it was discovered. One of the witnesses, a negro belonging to the same estate, was asked—Do you know the prisoner to be an obeah-man?'
Ees, massa, shadow-catcher, true.'
: What do you ' mean by a shadow-catcher?' Him ha coffin,
(a little coffin produced,) him set for catch dem • shadow.' " What shadow do you mean?' 'When • him set obeah for summary (somebody), him 'catch dem shadow and dem go dead ;' and too surely they were soon dead, when he pretended to have caught their shadows, by whatever means it was effected. Two other causes, besides the law, have contributed to make this now a crime of much less frequent occurrence,--the influence of Christianity, and the end put by the abolition to the importation of more African superstition. In a few years it will most likely be extinct ; meantime, it is quite in consistency with Mr Stephen's course towards the colonists, at one time to accuse them of leaving their slaves in ignorance and barbarism, and at another, to charge, as an act of severe oppression, a law which is calculated to put an end to the most fatal and destructive of their superstitions.
The constituting perjury a capital offence by Perjury how the slave code is also represented as an act of cruelty, although the very principle that led to the enactment was humanity; so widely do the minds of men differ in considering such matters. The law
givers of Jamaica, well knowing how grossly ignorant this class of people were, how little they could appreciate the solemnity of an oath, and anxious to protect innocent life, conceived it humane to hold up every possible terror against false swearing and with this view made perjury a capital crime. Between their opinion and Mr. Stephen's let the world judge. I am not aware, however, that there has ever been a capital conviction under this law. The learned gentleman has reversed the object of the statute with an ingenuity worthy of a special pleader,—the evidence, says he, is to be hanged for swearing falsely to save the prisoner. In England, we are told, it has been deemed a defect in modern law that this offence is in no case punishable with death; to prevent, we presume, the lives of prisoners being saved by false swearing
Compassing or imagining the death of any white person' is another felony by the slave code, which attracts severe animadversion; and we can readily forgive Mr. S. here from a perfect conviction of his sincerity. It is altogether impossible he can think that a negro ought ever to suffer death for compassing or accomplishing the death of a ' petit • blanc.' The sneer of derision intended by the appellations white monarchs' and 'white majesties,' here applied to the English colonists, is in the liberal spirit by which our author is distinguished. It must be confessed he is unrivalled in the art of calling names.