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much unknown in the West Indies, as in England, and would be heard of with the same horror.
Magistrates may punish Slaves for groundless complaints.
Great fault is found with the 28th section of the Jamaica slave law of 1816, by which it is provided that two justices of the peace may hear complaints of the slaves in cases of improper and prohibited punishments: ‘and if it shall be found on enquiry * that the complaint is true, it shall be the duty of * the said magistrates, and they are hereby required 'to proceed against the offender according to law; • but if it shall appear that such complaint was 'groundless, the said magistrates shall punish the • complainant, and the person giving information thereof, in such a manner as to them may seem proper.'
• What is meant,' says Mr. Stephen, by the punishing of a slave by magistrates, the same act * will abundantly testify. The ordinary mode is a public cart whipping; but the number of lashes here, contrary to the usual style of these meliorating acts, is unrestrained.' p. 113. And hence the reader is to infer, that although these magistrates are selected from the most respectable of the community, although they must feel themselves the protectors of the weak against the strong, and although, in hearing cases of this kind, they can be guided only by their judgment, uninfluenced by passion, yet such a power in the hands of such men, unrestrained, must be abused !
He goes on, — The dilemma of the injured and complaining slave, therefore, is precisely • this : if he fails in proving his charge, (which,
as his own evidence and that of all the other • slaves is excluded, is most likely to happen) he • is to be cart-whipped by the justices; but if he proves it to their satisfaction, he is to be cartwhipped by his master: for who can doubt that · the same love of vengeance that ventured to transgress the law, will freely indulge itself when safe within its limits ?'
114. A dreadful dilemma, truly! But let us see on what foundation it stands: The two most cruel, ' and destructive,' says Mr. S., and at the same ' time most ordinary modes of oppression in this · sordid commercial slavery, are excess of forced · labour,' (by the driver's whip, as he has told us a thousand times) and insufficiency of food.'
Now the presumption certainly is, that whichever of those most ordinary modes of oppression was complained of, the complainant must carry evidence in his person to establish the charge, without the testimony of his compeers or others.
Mr. Stephen himself, arguing against the magistrates being compelled to give up the name of an informer, when the accusation, has been proved false, says, “the production of the slave, if unmutilated and unmarked with the effects of any cruel treatment, would at once refute the charge and put an end to the proceeding.' p. 115.
Checks and re
If the slave proves his charge, and gets redress, rity of panish- this, according to Mr Stephen, but exposes him
to the vengeance of an enraged master. To the minds of others, a more natural conclusion will be, that having found redress in one instance, he will be the more likely to complain again, if he has
And granting that there may be instances (and they certainly are but few), where the master or the overseer is sufficiently cruel and unprincipled, to harbour a feeling of revenge against a slave who complains to the public authorities of ill-treatment, it would be very difficult, or rather absolutely impossible for him to indulge it. These are crimes that cannot be done in secret. On every plantation, besides the overseer who alone exercises the highly responsible power of punishment, and who alone can therefore abuse it, there are other white persons, who not only will see, but speak, if there is any thing of this kind to speak of. Again, the hospital on every plantation is regularly visited by a physician, who has an opportunity of seeing every criminal under confinement, and will not be silent if he sees humanity outraged. The sequel need not be told; the damning facts will soon become public, and the result to the unfeeling perpetrator of such cruelty will be the sure loss of his situation, and what is worse, a loss of character never to be regained.
In the constitution of plantation management, there is another powerful check in restraining
severity of punishment. The overseer, although the responsible and acting agent, is himself but second in authority, holding his situation at the pleasure of the proprietor, or attorney, who employs him.
The negroes are aware that his orders must be obeyed in every thing just and reasonable; but if one newly put over them attempts any innovations on their comforts, or to exact more labour than has been customary, they have immediate recourse to their master, or * Trustie,' as they call the attorney, whose ears are beset with complaints of every description.
But, says Mr. Stephen, the overseer's revenge will make the poor wretches pay dearly for such conduct. They would laugh at such an idea ; aware, that if the overseer were weak or wicked enough to act such a part, nothing would more effectually aid their views against him. What! for having complained ? As certainly as punishment was inflicted on them for so doing, they would instantly return to their master or attorney to tell him of it, well knowing that such an act would be felt and resented, not only as an injury to them, but as a personal insult to himself.
Many deserving young men in the outset of life, by an over-zeal and over-strictness in the discharge of their duties, have thus raised against themselves the successful hostility of the negroes; who, not having the same feeling of emulation, or desire of approbation, to stimulate them out of their usual
pace, will not be driven, and therefore naturally enough set themselves to oust their new overseer from his situation. For this purpose, besides teasing the master or attorney with complaints, they have various other means of hostility to a person who has made himself obnoxious to them, not to say by severity of treatment, but merely perhaps, by a degree of vigilance or personal attention, beyond what they have been accustomed to. The canes are destroyed by the cattle, the cattle themselves are neglected, the sugar is spoiled in the manufactory, the mill is broken, thefts are committed, in short, everything goes wrong. Thus annoyed with their complaints to his employer, perhaps with desertions, and the many other means by which they can render him uncomfortable, and endanger his situation, the zealous overseer, if he does not immediately lose it, soon sees the impossibility of getting the negroes to work as he has seen the labourers at home work; and to secure not only his situation but any comfort in it, is glad to allow them to go on quietly and peaceably in their own accustomed way.
Case of groundless complaint.
But as Mr Stephen is not only highly displeased, that the magistrates are unrestrained in the punishment they may inflict, but that a slave should by law be subject to any punishment whatever for making groundless complaints; and as in a thing of this kind one may sometimes be better enabled to