Page images
PDF
EPUB

plantation, gives five or six white persons to each property. The overseer presides at the head of the plantation table, and it is almost unnecessary to add, that upon his prudence, humanity, and good sense, depends not only the prosperity of the estate, but in a great measure, the comfort of the white people, and to some extent also that of the negroes. About fifteen or twenty years ago, it will readily be admitted, the young men in subordinate situations were allowed too great latitude in the punishment of the slaves, and the same remark applies to the drivers or head men; but of late years, a very great change has taken place. No book-keeper or tradesman, on well managed properties, is now suffered to use the whip at all, or to lift his hand against a slave; all they can do is to represent the case to the overseer, or perhaps send the culprit to the stocks till this is done. A fair hearing is then afforded to both parties: if the book-keeper establishes his charge, the negro is punished ; if not, he not unfrequently loses his own situation. The complaint that negro evidence is rejected, does not apply here; at this summary court, in settling petty differences between negro and negro, and between the negroes and subordinate white or other free persons, it has every attention paid to it; and they are by no means deficient in abilities to state their own case.

Description of the Drivers or

But it is not only the subordinate white persons, Head Negroes. who, according to Mr. Stephen, are clothed with

an unbounded licence “to beat, scourge, wound, • and otherwise afflict and injure' the slaves; 'it would be well,' says he, comparatively, for plantation slaves, if the delegation ended here; • it descends also to the drivers.' p. 48.

This charge applies to times past, but not to the present. Formerly, as above stated, the drivers, as well as the book-keepers, had too great latitude in punishing slaves; but this is not now permitted. Assuming however, that the drivers are entrusted with an unlimited power of the whip over their brethren, Mr. Stephen has a fine subject for his pencil. He describes them as being 'selected from among the most athletic,' to make sure that they have full strength to satiate their cruelty of disposition; and as 'plump, robust, and · pre-eminent in health and strength,' (p. 55.) that they may appear the more formidable rivals in the amours he represents them as having with the men's wives under their authority; and, having drawn an imaginary picture of horror, he concludes by imploring the pure and compassionate • heart to consider what, in such cases, is likely to • be the odious use of their power, and of the • terror they are able to excite.' p. 56.

Now what is the fact? That in nineteen cases out of twenty, the driver or principal superintendant upon an estate, the only responsible negro, instead of being athletic, plump, and robust, is an old grey-headed man, selected in consideration of his good conduct, intelligence, and esta

blished character for sobriety, attention, and honesty, and the influence he possesses among the other slaves on the property; an influence gained, as in other communities, by meriting their respect, and felt the more strongly when old age superadds a feeling of veneration. Next to a good overseer, the welfare of a plantation depends mainly on a good driver, or headman, as he is more properly called by the negroes. He superintends the labour of the principal or great gang; but this is only a secondary part of his duty: he must be a man who has the interest of his master's property at heart; he must have an eye to every department,-see that the cattle are regularly worked, that the watchmen do their duty in protecting the cane-fields from being trespassed upon by stock, and the provision-fields from depredations of thieves. Above all, he must be a man whose good character commands respect among his fellowlabourers; and in this case, his influence and authority are truly valuable. Many petty crimes may be committed by the slaves, and concealed from the overseer, which cannot so easily be concealed from the driver; against such, of course, he acts as a salutary check. These are the qualifications required in the headman on a plantation; and considering how important it is to the overseer to have such an assistant, it is manifest how deep an interest he has in selecting the best qualified, and how unimportant it is that the person be ATHLETIC. It is true he carries a whip-a

practice established at a period, and during a state of things, when the use of it was perhaps absolutely necessary, and which custom yet continues, although it has now become little more than the badge of his office, as the accustomed amount of work is known by the negroes and performed without coercion.

He invariably, also, carries a long staff with a crutch or crook on its head, round which his whip is attached, and which serves him to rest upon. Instead, therefore, of an 'athletic, plump, and ' robust,' young man, exercising his strength in cutting and slashing a parcel of unhappy creatures placed under his unmerciful authority, and indulging himself in licentious amours; go to a field of labourers in Jamaica, and you will see a venerable old man standing behind them, leaning over his staff, and engaged in conversation with some one of the gang, among whom as many jokes are passed, (often at the expence of the white people, whose foibles they are not long in discovering), and as much noisy mirth prevails, as in a field of labourers in the mother country; generally, indeed, much more.

To expose the fictions circulated in England under the title of the Driving System, &c. we would only ask of an impartial person to go and see our labourers in the field, and say if their appearance bespeaks that starvation,if the work they are performing bespeaks that oppression, or if the mirth that prevails bespeaks that sense of degradation

and broken-heartedness, of which he has heard such affecting reports.

False and unmerited as the charges against the white people of the colonies are, they are not more unfounded than those brought against the head-negroes, who, taken all in all (and I speak from a personal knowledge of a great many), form a body of people, who, notwithstanding their skins are black, would command respect in any country. Mr. Stephen himself says, they are selected from the most intelligent' of the slaves ; which is true: but on what principle he can satisfy his friends, that, the most intelligent of this class of people being such merciless and depraved characters as he represents them, the general mass are so amiable, so little likely to deserve punishment, and so well prepared for general emancipation, is a mystery we cannot comprehend.

The Whip

After the drivers, follows a description of the whip; and, considering what kind of athletic' hands it is placed in, the reader cannot be surprised to learn, that at one stroke it will fairly

cut through the tough hide of a mule!' The truth, however, is, that the cat used in the mother country, whatever

may

be represented or believed to the contrary, is by far the more formidable instrument of the two. A few years ago, a gentleman, not unknown in the literary world, and who is a considerable proprietor in Jamaica, made an

« PreviousContinue »