Page images

they are practised, by what is called, a make good bargain, namely, by a covenant from the lessor, to pay for any reduction in number and • value of the slaves during the term, by appraise

ment; and for the performance of this covenant * security is commonly required.' p. 86.

Now what is this but a stipulation for adequate allowance of food and clothing, and every thing else necessary for life and well-being ? What stronger tie can be devised than self-interest ? If I hire another man's negroes for a certain period, under a stipulation to make good any deterioration that may take place in my employment, surely I will be careful for my own interest, putting humanity out of the question, to treat them properly; and as far as possible to guard against such a calamity. In point of fact I never knew hired negroes, that were not treated by the lessee precisely as his own: a man would be deservedly hooted, not only by the community, but by his own slaves, who should make a distinction in their treatment.

Provision Markets of Jamaica

Where else,' asked Mr. Stephen, but in the supplied by the British West Indies, did the subsistence of Slaves.

'agricultural slaves depend on provisions to be bought or imported from abroad; consequently on the wealth, or the credit of their immediate 'master? and where else was he ever placed ' under so strong temptation or necessity to with· hold from them a sufficiency of food.' p. 105.


It is true that the West India Islands have occasionally been visited with hurricanes, which in one hour have laid waste the cane fields and provision grounds, and on such occasions there have been complaints of scarcity, as in other countries under similar circumstances. But does Mr. Stephen require to be told, that in Jamaica at least, the slaves do not, but on such happily rare occasions, depend on provisions bought or imported ?—that whether they are mortgaged or unmortgaged, they have land allotted them, and sufficient time allowed for its cultivation ; that they are not only the growers of their own food, but the farmers who supply the masters of the country with provisions; that the city of Kingston, and every town and shipping place around the island, is supplied from the surplus of their cultivation; and that an advance on the price of edoes, yams, and plantains, is the cause of as much joy to them, as a rise in the price

sugar and rum to their masters, or of wheat to the English farmer?

The current price of plantains in the negro markets of St. Thomas in the East, for several years, has been three quarters of a dollar


hundred—about three shillings. Six of these serve a man for a day; consequently, he obtains what constitutes the staff of life, at three pence per day. Edoes and sweet potatoes are yet cheaper, being sold at half a dollar, or about two shillings the hundred, which is under the price of potatoes in this country; and yet we are told, that disposing


of their surplus provisions at these prices, the negroes depend for subsistence upon provisions bought and imported from abroad, and that there exists a strong temptation or necessity on the part of their masters, to withhold from them a sufficiency of food!

The flour and rice imported into Jamaica, are regarded as luxuries, and no more as necessaries than the rice of Carolina is in England. They are used chiefly by the whites, or served to the negroes when sick; but the latter are fond of them for a change, (as the whites are of plantains,) and buy them when cheap; and it is not unworthy of notice, that upon many of the estates a sort of business is made by some of the slaves of baking bread and selling it to the others.*

Mortgage of a
West India

affect the Slaves.

Whether a plantation is mortgaged or not, is a estate does not matter so little affecting in any way the comfort

of the slaves, that they seldom know any thing about it; nay, the mortgage may be foreclosed, and the title-deeds passed to the mortgagee, without their knowledge. That many estates are involved, and many for even more than they are worth in the present state of things, is but too true; but what does this amount to, only that the mortgagee is the real proprietor; a fact which many merchants in London at this moment feel to

* They bake also a kind of sweet bread, or buns, (the sugar costs nothing); and when a basket of these is brought into a house, all the little negro children art immediately about their master to be treated.

their cost. Does it follow that the slaves suffer from this ? Facts do not bear out such a conclusion. The merchant who has his capital invested in a plantation, has too much at stake, and knows too well his own interest, to withhold what is required for their comfort and welfare. The extreme depreciation of West India produce for some years past, has made the strictest economy indispensable, but while every other description of plantation stores from England has been yearly curtailed, the clothing and other necessaries for the negroes have been held strictly sacred.

Few of the proprietors are resident in the island; and as their attorneys or representatives, who transmit annually to England lists of such supplies as are required, are in constant intercourse with the slaves, and by them looked up to as their protectors, it may be believed they will not feel disposed to make curtailments, more especially as they have no interest in doing so, and besides well know that the slaves, equally ignorant and indifferent whether their labour is or is not productive to their master, will be dissatisfied and discontented, if they find any of their accustomed allowances withheld.

It is due to the proprietors, and no less so to the mortgagees of Jamaica estates, to say, that however unproductive these may be to themselves, (and they are miserably so at the present moment,) they never do curtail the comforts of the slaves.

Of this truth, it is in the power of any one who

wishes, to satisfy himself, by calling on any respectable West India house in London, and comparing the quantity of clothing, salt-provisions, rice, flour, medicines, &c. furnished in prosperous times and the present. How long it may be in their power to act in this way, and avert the apprehended crisis described by the Jamaica House of Assembly, when universal ruin shall overwhelm equally the master and his people, we shall not pretend to say; but most certainly it will not be long, if public opinion is to be guided by misrepresentations, and the safer course of experience superseded by fallacious theories, applied by enthusiasts in England to a foreign community, of the state of which it is evident they are entirely ignorant.

Let any sincere philanthropist visit Jamaica, make himself acquainted with its institutions, with the condition and treatment of the labourers, in short, with slavery as it exists in practice; and then, if he can suggest how it is to be improved or ameliorated, consistently with the safety and welfare of the country, we shall not only be ready to listen to, but feel grateful for his suggestions; but when new and dangerous schemes and innovations, founded upon ignorance and false assumptions, are recommended, we should, as Mr. S. expresses it, “commit actual suicide

upon ' ourselves, were we to adopt them.'

« PreviousContinue »