« PreviousContinue »
against the English colonists which are equally unfounded.
It has been stated, as one of the good effects of the registry law, that it has increased the revenue of Jamaica. True, it has compelled a great number of poor people, principally of colour, who own a few slaves, to make returns of them to the parish vestries, which they previously did not, and has thus subjected them to the poll-tax. But what proportion does the increase of revenue, thus acquired, bear to the total expense of registration ?
• Sect. V. Of the sources of Slavery in the British colonies.' Sources of
After tracing English slavery or villeinage to its source, the immemorial servile condition of * all the paternal ancestors ;' after expatiating on the origin of this state in Europe, Asia, and the unexplored regions of Africa, our author passes to the origin of slavery in the British colonies, and repeats what he has again and again stated, that no act of assembly has expressly declared in what manner slavery shall originate. Neither has he told us of any act of parliament in England, by which it was declared that villeinage should originate' from the immemorial servile condition of * all the paternal ancestors ;' or, indeed, of an act of the legislature of any country, declaring how this state should originate; yet surely such an act must have been more necessary in countries where
slavery did originate, than in Jamaica, where it exists it is true, but never did, and never ean, originate. There, as in other places, the state is hereditary, and passes to the descendants of African slaves ; but there is no law by which a freeman, whether white, black, or brown, can possibly be made a slave.
The original stock, it is well known, had been purchased in Africa by English merchants, and were by them carried to the colonies and sold. But the blame, it seems, is due to the colonists (always the greatest offenders) for not ascertaining that the African title was good. A court of equity established in a Guinea-yard in the West Indies, to hear and decide on the titles to the slaves brought in, would certainly have been a novelty in judicature, from the variety of tongues in which the proceedings must necessarily have been carried on, and from the circumstance that every question at issue must have been decided by the evidence of the parties themselves, the English ship-master and his cargo; and even if all these difficulties could have been overcome, would England have acknowledged the right of a Charibbean island to exclude commodities, which, according to her laws, were legal ?
The Colonists are falsely accused of reduring free persons to slavery.
As already mentioned, no act of assembly is to be found in any of the colonies, by which a free man can be made a slave. But Mr. S. tells us, that without any act of assembly, usage and
'popular opinion, received in the colonial courts
as law, have established these comprehensive • maxims: that no white person can, by any means * whatever, be reduced to slavery; and that every man, woman, and child, whose skin is black, or whose mother, grandmother, or great-grand' mother, was of that complexion, shall be pre-'
sumed to be a slave, unless the contrary can be ‘proved.' p. 364.
It is true, no white person can, by any means whatever, be reduced to slavery in Jamaica ; no free person, whether white, black, or brown, can be reduced to slavery. But there is a slight distinction, for as there never was a white slave in Jamaica, there cannot well be a presumption against an unknown white person that he is a runaway slave, however liable a black vagrant may be to such a suspicion.*
He adds, that by various acts of assembly in different islands, unknown negroes and mulattoes, and persons of that unfortunate race who have committed or are suspected of any offence against the police, are liable to be apprehended and kept in gaol, without even the warrant of a magistrate ; and unless they are claimed within a limited time by some owner, who can prove them to be his property, or they themselves can produce legal evidence of their freedom, they are publicly sold by the Provost Marshal, whose bill
"How unjust, how abominable, that men should be kept in bondage merely on account of their colour!' is the cry of many ignorant persons, as if the Africans had been slaves in their own country because they were black ; as if the trade in African slaves had been encouraged by parliament because they were black; or the colonists had ever had white slaves, and liad emancipated these while they kept the negro in bondage, because he was black. As well right they say that Englishmen are free, because they are white; or that they are more civilized and refined than the Africans, because they are white,
of sale is a valid and unimpeachable title.' p. 368. 'And that free negroes are in fact often deprived of their liberty by proceedings under these unjust and tyrannical laws, there is abundant reason to believe.' p. 369.
The laws thus misrepresented are certain police regulations, necessary to protect property and preserve the peace of the country, as I shall
presently shew; but I would first propose to Mr. S. the following questions : If there exists among the English colonists such a disposition to reduce to slavery every man, woman, and child, with a black or coloured skin, who are one and all the offspring of slaves, how did these people ever happen to be free? If they or their parents were, without any compulsory law, emancipated by the whites, is it credible that, while the whites were thus emancipating them on the one hand, they were wrongfully enslaving them on the other? Let our author explain this inconsistency; let him also account for the fact no less at variance with his assertions, that the number of free persons of colour in the island, stated by B. Edwards, in 1788, at 10,000, has now increased, as appears from Stewart's View of Jamaica, published in 1823, to 35,000, and, I believe, to nearer 40,000.
These facts certainly do not appear to accord with the charge against the colonists; but perhaps they will explain the reason why in support of it Mr. S. and his friends do not adduce a single case of a free person having been reduced to slavery in
the colonies, and are obliged to let the accusation rest on, there is abundant reason to believe.'*
In an island like Jamaica, containing 320,000 slaves, it is very evident there will be criminals, and, as in all other communities (not excepting England itself,) a number of indolent, profligate, and improvident beings, who, if they can help it, will do nothing either for themselves or for others. Slaves of this description are of course prone to desertion; and the extent of uncultivated country, and means of supporting themselves in it, are
* I had formerly occasion to mention an idea entertained by the Africay negroes, that false swearing may bring some disease or temporal calamity upon them, but that their having a broken rial in their mouth, when giving evidence, is a charm to prevent it; and I cannot help noticing here that, as human nature is every where pretty much the same, there exists a practice very similar to this in our own country, where some persons have a way of advancing the most unwarranted charges agaiust those they wish to injure, only using the precaution to have an I think, or I fear, in their mouth, as a salvo or broken rial, Thus our author, speaking of the black troops disbanded in the West Indies, says, They have been taken up and sent to prison as run-away slaves, and
hare been sold, I FEAR, in many cases, upon the presumption of law arising ' from their colour, because they could not, within the short time limited by those laws, make proof of their freedom.' p. 427.
It is easy to recognise the broken rial here; and an attentive reader of the work from which the quotation is taken, cannot fail to observe other instances of the use of it, and that it is a figure admirably calculated to serve the purposes of such an author. The next soi disunt.friend of humanity,' or 'advocate of the slaves,' quotes the assertion, forgetting or omitting the rial, which, ins deed, many careless readers will overlook. Thus the lie gets into circulation, and the purpose of its author is attained.
Mr. S. complains, in his Preface, of certain calumnies touching himself and bis son ; and it is not unamusing to see how vehemently indignant a man who is so liberal of abuse to others can be, is but a hair of his own head is touched. Regarding those accusations it is not my wish to say more or less. I am willing to believe they are calomnies till I see proof to the contrary; but granting they are, might not av enemy, who chose to use the weapons with which our author assails the colonisis, thus express himself : Mr. Stephen's zeal for the system of slave-registration was, I fear, a mere cloak for selfish ends. He succeeded in getting his son into a lucrative situation; and that he has seduced him into official perfidy, in betraying the secrets of the colonial office, there is ubundant reason to believe'?