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On the abundance of Land Crabs and Fish in Jamaica,
and Negro Methods of catching them.
Crabs abound in the eastern part of Jamaica, Land Crabs. at all seasons, but are considered to be best in the months, the names of which contain the letter R, April, &c. They are most plentiful in May, the season at which they deposit their eggs, or
run,' as the negroes express it, and when the earth is literally covered with them. At this season it is impossible to keep them out of the houses, or even out of the bed-rooms, where, at one time scratching with their large claws, and at another rattling across the floor, they make a noise that would not a little astonish and alarm a stranger. Occasionally they willlodge themselves very snugly in a boot, and if a person puts in his foot upon them inadvertently, he has quick intimation of the intruder, by a grasp of his nippers. For a few weeks in this season, they may be gathered in any quantities, and the negroes sometimes hurt themselves by making too free use of them. Even the hogs catch them, although not always with impunity, as a crab sometimes gets hold of one of them by the snout, from which he is not easily disengaged; and the terrified animal runs about squeaking in great distress. At other seasons, and when more valuable,
they are caught by torch light at night, and put into covered baskets. Crowds of negroes from the neighbouring plantations pass my house every evening, with their torches and baskets, going to a crab wood on the other side, and return before midnight fully laden. Their baskets will contain about 40 crabs, and the regular price is a fivepenny piece, our smallest coin, equal to about 3}d. sterling, for five or six crabs. At this rate a negro will make 28. 6d. currency in an evening; and the more improvident, who will not cultivate provision grounds, depend in some measure upon catching crabs, and selling them to the others. A hundred plaintains usually sold at five shillings, will purchase from sixty to seventy crabs; and two of these, eaten with plantains or yams, make an excellent meal. I have seen upwards of a hundred negroes pass my house in an evening, and return with their baskets on their heads, not only full of crabs, but with quantities of them fastened by the claws on the tops of the baskets. I make but a moderate computation when I suppose, they must have had at the very least, three thousand crabs. Almost every negro family has an old flour barrel pierced with holes, in which their crabs are kept. They are fed with plantain skins, &c; and taken out and thrown into the pot as wanted.
There is a great variety of crabs in Jamaica, of which two only are eaten. The black is the finest, and has ever been esteemed one of the
greatest delicacies in the West Indies, not excepting even the turtle. These live in the mountain forests, on stony ground; and feed on the fallen dry leaves of the trees. The white crab, as it is called (although rather purple than white) used principally by the negroes, but by the white people also, is larger and more resembles in taste the lobster of this country. These are amphibious, and are found in the low lands, principally in the woods, where, as I have already said, they are caught at night with torches.
But they are numerous also in the cultivated fields, and in some of the low lying estates, frequently do considerable injury to the planters in dry weather, when vegetation is slow, by nipping off the blade of the young canes and corn as it shoots through the ground. In situations of this kind, the negroes have a somewhat singular method of catching them; they know from the appearance of a crabhole if there be a crab in it, and dig down with a hoe through the soft loam, till they come to water (about eighteen inches or two feet); and then close the hole firmly with a handful of dry grass. In this manner a negro will shut up two or three dozen of holes in a morning. About four hours after, he returns, and his prisoners being by this time drunkened (half drowned), they tumble out along with the plug of grass and are caught.
In the year 1811, there was a very extraordinary production of black crabs in the eastern part of Jamaica. In the month of June or July of
year, I forget which, the whole district of Manchioneal (where the great chain of the Blue Mountains, extending from west to east through the centre of the island, terminates on the east coast) was covered with countless millions of these creatrues swarming from the sea to the mountains. Of this singular phenomenon, I was myself an eye-witess, having had occasion to travel through that district at the time. On ascending Quahill, from the vale of Plantain-garden River, the road appeared of a reddish colour, as if strewed with brick-dust. I dismounted from my horse to examine the cause of so unusual an appearance, and was not a little astonished to find that it was owing to myriads of young black crabs, about the size of the nail of a man's finger, crossing the road and moving at a pretty quick pace direct for the mountains. I was concerned to think of the destruction I was causing in travelling through such a body of useful creatures, as I fancied that every time my horse put down a foot, it was the loss of at least ten lives. I rode along the coast a distance of about fifteen miles, and found it nearly the same the whole way, only that in some places they were more numerous, and in others less so. Returning the following day, I found the road still covered with them the same as the day before. • How have they been produced in such numbers? or, where are they come from ? were questions every body asked, and no one could answer. It is well known the crabs deposit their eggs once a
year, and in the month of May: but, except on this occasion, though living on the coast, I never saw a dozen of young crabs together, and here were millions of millions covering the earth for miles along a large extent of sea-coast. No unusual number of old crabs had been observed that season; and it is worthy of remark, that this prodigious multitude of young ones were moving from a rock-bound shore formed by inaccessible cliffs, the abode of sea-birds, and against which the waves of the sea are constantly dashed by the trade wind blowing directly upon them. That the old crabs should be able to deposit their eggs in such a part of the coast (if that, as would appear, is the habit of the animal) is not a little extraordinary. No person in Jamaica, so far as I know or have heard, ever saw such a sight or any thing of the kind, but on that occasion ; and I have understood, that since 1811, black crabs have been abundant farther into the interior of the island than they were ever known before.
I have already observed, that Jamaica, (the Fish. name of which, is said to have signified the island of springs,) is most bountifully supplied with water. Down every rugged and woody glen in the mountains, pours a crystal rivulet; reaching the plains, and collecting together, these form considerable streams, which passing through rich fields of canes, and turning sugar mills on their banks, gently wind their course to the ocean. Every river and streamlet abounds with fish, of