« PreviousContinue »
Such has ever been my impression, from seeing among them so many poor creatures unable to provide for themselves and actually a burthen to those who became their masters; so many also with hereditary or constitutional diseases, which too often still visit the iniquities of the father upon the children. By no kind of management, no care or kindness, was it possible that they could have supported their numbers.
These are the principal causes which have occasioned the decrease of the slaves in Jamaica, these causes have now in a great measure ceased to exist; and when the over proportion of aged persons have died off, it cannot be doubted that a body of labourers provided with houses and homes, and unrestrained by the difficulties which oppose matrimonial connexions among the labourers of England, will rapidly increase.
Among the minor causes which have tended to reduce the number of the unfortunate Africans, was their almost universal passion for rum; which, being so plentiful, and so easily obtained, could not be withheld from them. This has been the bane of thousands, and will yet hasten many more to premature graves. Fortunately the Creoles, though they also are addicted to this destructive vice, are less so than their fathers. Perhaps a greater number die under ten years of age in the colonies, than in Europe; but this is not to be attributed to slavery, for it is equally the fate of the white and free coloured children ; and from
that age, if I am not mistaken, the registry returns will show that as large a proportion of the people attain to old age as is common in Europe. They are not subject to the violent fevers, which prove so fatal to Europeans in those climates, but on the other hand, they suffer more from dysentery, pleurisy, and other inflammatory complaints, which during the prevalence of the northerly winds in December and January, are often destructively epidemic.
In the end of the year 1820 or beginning of 1821, the measles were brought into Kingston, and ravaged the whole island, carrying death into almost every dwelling. The lives lost by this visitation were estimated at 10,000; and I am satisfied that the estimate was rather under the truth: many of the plantations lost to the extent of 40 people, and the streets of Kingston for some months were crowded with funerals of people of all descriptions.
About twenty years ago, a very great number of infants were lost by locked-jaw; but by a better system of management, deaths from this cause are become rare. The change of management consisted in keep
the lying-in room more open, and having no fire in it; dipping the infants in water, and washing them once or twice a day: covering them more closely, and paying more attention to keep them dry. Among children under ten years of age, the most fatal complaint now is worm fever, which the climate, the fruits, and the juice of the cane (and
it would be in vain to attempt to keep these from them), all, perhaps, tend to produce. Vermifuges are given them every month, and it is rather a singular idea among the negroes that their efficacy is greatest at the full of the moon. The most common article used and the safest is cowitch, a native plant; an infusion of the bark of the cabbage tree is also used, but is more dangerous, as an over-dose of it is nearly as fatal as an overdose of laudanum. Dirt-eating or mal de stomach, so prevalent and fatal some years ago among the Africans, and also among the creoles, especially about the age of puberty, is now scarcely heard of; and the yaws, a horrible African disease, has nearly disappeared.
These diseases are noticed merely to shew some of the casualties to which negroes are subject; for really many people in this country seem to think the slaves but for ill treatment would be immortal, and that the death of every poor negro' is a proof of oppression and cruelty on the part of his master. When time has removed the present disproportionate number of imported adults, there will be an excess of births in the other islands, as there now is in Barbadoes and the Bahamas, and the colonists will be happily relieved of a charge of oppression and cruelty, founded on the fact that they cannot keep alive the old Africans, and make them as prolific as young people.
Strictures on the Edinburgh Review ; or, Effects of
Negro Emancipation in St. Domingo.
THIRTY-FIVE years have now elapsed since the slaves in St. Domingo (instigated by the spirit for liberty and equality then raging in France, and fomented in its colonies by the philanthropic society of Paris called Les Amis des Noirs) broke out into insurrection, and after a protracted conflict, memorable for acts of ferocious cruelty unparalleled in the history of the species, effected their freedom by the destruction of their masters.
In the great question as to the propriety of abolishing negro slavery in our colonies, which for some years has received so large a share of public attention, this case of general emancipation in the largest of the West Indian islands, has been viewed with deep interest, as affording a practical solution of the problem—whether freedom, so valuable to Britons, is equally so to African slaves; and while one party has represented the experiment as having been signally crowned with success; another has as stoutly asserted, that the result could not have been more melancholy-merciless slaughter,
insecurity of property, annihilation of industry, and a military despotism.
In a late number of the Edinburgh Review, we find an article, On the state of Hayti,' in which ‘ the New Empire' as they call it, is said to be flourishing beyond any example in the world, and
An experiment of emancipation has been tried by our government in Berbice, and some idea may be formed of the result of it from what passed in a committee of supply (March 21st), last session of parliament.
Mr. HUMF said there was another item to which he wished to call the attention of the House, that of a sum of £1287 for James Walker, Esq. Superintendent of Slaves in the island of Berbice. This vote was of great importance. An opinion prevailed among some persons, that the free labour of blacks might be made as productive as that of the same persons in a state of slavery. In the colony of Berbice, the experiment was made, at the request of Mr. Wilberforce, upon between three and four hundred slaves, most of them artizans. These slaves were placed out in the manner that was thought most conducive to their interest, and most likely to be productive; but their labour was never found adequate to their support. The consequence was, that for four successive years the public was called upon to pay between £1600 and £2000 for their support. It was incredible what trouble the treasury was put to on so trifling a subject. In 1820, there were no less than thirty-two letters passed, in reference to it, between the Superintendent at Berbice and the Treasury- The Chancellor of the ExCHEQUER said, this establishment commenced under peculiar circumstances. When Berbice came into the possession of this country, the property in these slaves came with it: and it was thought a favourable opportunity of trying whether an improved system might not be introduced in the colonies by the manumission of slaves. It was managed for some years by Com- ; missioners, with zeal and prudence; but disorders having arisen, it eventually fell'into the hands of Government. It was certainly true, that the labour of these slaves did not pay their own expences; but there were the slaves, and here was the establishment, and the difficulty was to get out of it. The thing was altogether in an unsatisfactory state.
The case of the Maroons in Jamaica may also be referred to here, to show how little the possession of mere freedom can effect the civilization of a savage people. They have been free since the English took possession of the island, and what is now their condition? Have they become civilized ? Have they become industrious ? Have they in any one sense become useful members of the commonwealth ? Every one knows they have not. The men continue to roam half naked in the woods, hunting the wild boar ; and, as is the custom of all savages, make the women do every species of drudgery. Even the most common comforts of civilized life, good houses and good clothes, are utterly disregarded by them ; while the Negroes on the plantations, trained to habits of subordination and industry, acquiring wealth, and a taste for domestic comforts, and now at least to some degree instructed in the truths of religion, bave made no inconsiderable progress.