Page images
PDF
EPUB

In the chapter we are considering, and through- Commercial out the whole of the work, the commercial cha- Sugar Estates,

how it affects racter of sugar estates is dwelt upon as an aggra- the Slaves. vation of West India slavery. “In what other

country,' asks Mr. Stephen, was the land and slaveholder, a manufacturer also ?' p. 105. .

Now is it not manifest, that the very circumstance of his being a manufacturer, promotes in a great measure the object contended for; an attachment of the slaves to the soil ?—that in addition to the value of the land, the immense capital sunk in erecting the buildings on a sugar estate, gives a double security to the labourers against a removal? If a planter were merely the cultivator of a raw article, and could regulate his fields, like a farmer in Europe, according to times and circumstances, he would be comparatively independent; but being a manufacturer as well as a farmer, and having a large capital sunk in his manufacturing establishment, he is compelled to persevere, however ruinous perseverance may be; for he cannot, like a farmer, change his crops; nor, like a manufacturer, discharge his workmen. Can it then be denied that the very circumstance of the planter being a manufacturer, as well as a farmer, while it makes him doubly the victim of times and circumstances over which he has no control, affords the best possible protection to his labourers, in attaching them to the soil, and thus securing to them the manifold comforts and blessings of a permanent domicile ? Such in general is the situation of the majority of the slaves in the British colonies;

they are by circumstances attached to the soil almost as firmly as they could be by law; but there are exceptions, and to make a positive statute attaching them to the soil, would in some instances be entailing misery alike on the master and slave.

That it is a serious evil to the planter to be compelled to mortgage his estate, is plain enough; but it is difficult to see how this can, as Mr. Stephen says, affect the slaves so seriously, as to endanger their very existence, considering, that by such deeds they are almost universally attached to the land, and transferred along with it; and thus having their homes secured, care very little who holds the title-deeds of the domain. In another part of his work, Mr. Stephen acknowledges this himself. Speaking of the hardships of slaves being sold under executions, he remarks that, if the • interposition of mortgages did not in the case of

plantation negroes, very commonly bind them ' to the land, the misery here mentioned would be • almost as general as the insolvency of the

planter.' p. 74. • Rule XI.—While the master's power of alienation is thus

despotic and unlimited, the slave has no legal right of redeeming his liberty on any terms whatever; or of obtaining a change of masters, when cruel treatment makes it necessary for his relief or preservation.' p. 106.

It is true, the sláve has no “legal right of ' redeeming his liberty;' but the consolidated slave law of Jamaica of 1816, cap. 25, s. 25, empowers the courts of justice to enfranchise him,

Enfranchisement for illtreatment.

[ocr errors]

when cruel treatment makes it necessary for his * relief or preservation;' and also provides him in such cases, an annuity of £10 per annum. Nor would it have been difficult for Mr. Stephen to have found records of such enfranchisement, had it suited his purpose. But this did not suit his purpose; and it is amusing to see with what ingenuity he argues, that the act of 1816 which extends the power of enfranchisement (formerly applicable only to cases of mutilation) to the smaller offences of cruelly beating, whipping, &c. gives no additional protection to the slaves !

Cases of such enfranchisement, it is true, are not of frequent occurrence; but the negroes are perfectly aware of the redress which the law affords them when cruelly treated; and there is no reason to doubt that appeals to it would be more frequent, were there cause for them. I was a juror some years ago on a trial of this kind, the report of which I shall give here— remarking by the way, that if those who have been led to believe that there is no proper feeling in the colonies, had witnessed the indignation at the conduct of the criminal, which prevailed in the court-house of Kingston that day, it would have satisfied them that Englishmen in Jamaica are not so different from Englishmen at home, or so callous to the illtreatment of the negroes, as some persons are anxious to have believed.

On Monday the 19th of January (1818,) in the Surry Assize Court, (Jamaica,) Joseph Boyden was tried under the Slave Act, for cruelly, maliciously, and wantonly maltreating, by

[ocr errors]

flogging and marking in different parts of the body, a Sambo slave, named Amey, his property, jointly with others.

“ This indictment was brought by the justices and vestry of Port Royal against the traverser for the crime above noticed, and from what was given in evidence, it appeared that Amey had committed some transgression which induced her to apply to a neighbour, to intercede with her master for forgiveness, which he agreed to grant; but she was afterwards marked in five places with the initials of his name, and that of the property he owned. In consequence of conduct so contrary to every principle of humanity, and to the general treatment of slaves, she left her home, and sought redress from those empowered to grant it. The traverser was accordingly summoned before a board of magistrates, where he confessed having branded the female in question in two places, but disowned any other act of cruelty committed on her, and there was no proof of Aagellation. Amey was produced in court, and the brands examined. After hearing counsel on both sides, his honor the chief justice made a charge to the jury, characterizing the crime as one of a barbarons, savage, and horrible nature, and upon which but one conclusion could be formed. The jury, with little deliberation, returned a verdict of guilty.

• On the Friday succeeding his honor the Chief Justice passed the following sentence:

• Joseph Boyden, – You have been tried and found guilty of maltreating a female slave, named Amey, the property of yourself and relations. The evidence in this case discloses in you a disposition at once so base and so ferocious, that the court despair of inducing any amendment in you, by any words they are capable of using. You can serve only as an example to deter others, if there be others like you in this country, from actions of similar atrocity. This at least may be fairly pronounced from this transaction, that whatever lawless and wanton severity is exercised towards a slave, the law is both ready and able to interpose for his protection. On her simple complaints, unsupported by other evidence, except that which your cruelty has, to your lasting shame, branded in indelible characters on

her person, the Governor directed an inquiry to be made by the magistrates, who in consequence directed this prosecution. The sentence of the law is, that you the said Joseph Boyden, be and stand committed to the Common Gaol of the county of Surrey, there to remain, without bail or mainprize, for the space of six calendar months, to be computed from this 23rd January instant, and that at the expiration of such imprisonment you be discharged; and it is hereby declared, that the said Sambo woman slave, named Amey, is free, and discharged from all manner of servitude, to all intents and purposes whatsoever.

· Jamaica Royal Gazette.

Other cases of the same kind might be added; but this will be sufficient to shew what truth there is in Mr. Stephen's canon, that 'the slave has no ' means of obtaining a change of masters when 'cruel treatment makes it necessary for his relief • or preservation.'

From Mr. Stephen's book, the reader will be led to believe that the whipping of negroes is a favourite pastime with English colonists,-a thing of daily, if not hourly occurrence, and the cutting off their ears and legs nearly as common! Unfortunately there was a time, when instances of such cruelty were occasionally heard of; there was also a time, when it was found necessary to make laws against the same enormity in England* ; but had truth been any object with the learned gentleman, he would have better promoted its cause by informing his readers that mutilations or dismemberments, cutting off ears and legs, are now just as

Coventry Act, 22 & 23 Car. II. c. 1. A shooting, stabbing, and maiming in Scotland bill, with a clause making the throwing oil of vitriol on a person a capital offence, was passed last session of parliament.

« PreviousContinue »