Page images

work (for such is their understanding of freedom), why should they work ? The man born in 1827, when he grew up, would naturally ask why he should not be free, as well as the man born in 1828 or 1830. And, in fact, it will be a matter of little importance to the proprietors, whether the cultivation of the plantations shall cease at once, or be continued for a few years, amidst strife, suspicions, insurrections, and blood, till the free-born people grow up, when it must of necessity cease, unless the emancipatists can effect something very like a miracle, and change the disposition and habits generated under slavery and barbarism, into such as are formed in Europe in free and civilized states. If they can do this, the sooner it is done the better, both for the slaves and the masters: but, on the other hand, if all they can do, is to set the slaves free from the authority they are now under, without being able to establish any other for their government, they may ruin the planters, but they will not benefit the slaves.

Is it to be inferred, from what has been said, that the slavery in our colonies must be perpetual ? Certainly not-but that the evil must be allowed time to work itself out there, as it has done in other countries. If Mr. Stephen is correct in the account he gives of the views of those who carried the abolition of the slave trade, it is to be regretted that the party who now call themselves the ABOLITIONISTS, do not possess the same prudence and good sense. They did not aim,' says he,


[ocr errors]

an emancipation to be effected by insurrection in • the West Indies, or to be ordained precipitately

by positive law; but they never denied, and 'scrupled not to avow, that they did look forward

to a future extinction of slavery in the colonies, to be accomplished by the same happy means which formerly put an end to it in England, namely, by a benign though insensible revolution in opinions and manners, by the encouragement of particular manumissions and progressive melioration of the condition of the slaves, till it should slide insensibly

into general freedom. They looked at first to an emancipation, of which not the slaves but the masters should be the willing instruments. • In England, if it should be asked, what cause ' most powerfully contributed to the dissolution of ' the degrading bondage of our ancestors, the an

swer clearly must be— the extreme favour shewn * to individual enfranchisement by the judges and • laws. That baneful growth of foreign conquest, or

early barbarism, villeinage, had nearly overspread • the whole field now covered with the most glori'ous harvest of liberty and social happiness earth

ever produced, and where not one specimen of the * noxious weed remains. Yet it was not ploughed up by revolution, or mowed down by the scythe of legislative abolition, but was plucked up, stalk * by stalk, by the progressive hand of private and voluntary enfranchisement. Slavery ceased in England only because the last slave at length ob

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

tained his manumission, or died without a child.'Report of the African Institution, 1815.

Happy will it be for the negroes, if the slavery in the colonies is thus allowed to slide insensibly into freedom; a glorious haryest of liberty and social happiness will follow. Unfortunately, the publications constantly issuing from the press, and harrowing up the public mind on the subject of slavery, are calculated, and seem intended, to urge on the British public, unaware of the difficulties and danger, to attempt schemes of emancipation by the scythe of • legislative enactment,' which would prove equally fatal to the slaves as to their masters; while it is manifest that, without such interference, slavery would, in due time, become extinct in the colonies, as it did in England, by the encouragement par* ticular manumissions, and progressive melioration

of the condition of the slaves.' The first stage of improvement is by far the most difficult to a rude and barbarous people; but the progress which the negroes have already made is far from inconsiderable. No person who saw the situation of the slaves in Jamaica twenty years ago, would have believed it possible that so great a change for the better could have taken place in so short a period ; and no one who sees the progress they are now making, can, in reason, wish more than that they should continue to go on at the same pace.

The improvement in their manners, dress, and general appearance—the greater intelligence they display from understanding the language better — the

the greater


comforts they enjoy from improved habits of industry, and the advance they have made in religion (I speak more particularly of the eastern part of the island, where I resided), are in the highest degree satisfactory and encouraging.

But as some persons at home take upon them to deny that there has been any improvement in the colonies, it may not be improper to enumerate here (for the sake of those who may not have patience to read through a controversial work) a few of the changes in the condition of the negroes, and of the meliorations on the slave laws.

At no very distant period, It is now limited to 39 stripes, when savage Africans were pour to be inflicted by order and in ing into Jamaica, and while there presence of the master or overwere yet but few natives or seer, and 10 by subordinate Creoles, the master's power of agents: and, comparatively punishing his slaves was little speaking, is but seldom rerestrained by law; and was ex quired at all. There is not now ercised to a great extent by the one punishment for twenty that subordinate white people and were inflicted fifteen or twenty the drivers.

years ago. Ten years ago chains were in The use of them is now encommon use on the plantations, tirely abolished. for punishing criminal slaves.

Twenty years ago, there was Now they are nearly all bapscarcely a negro baptized in tized. Jamaica.

Twenty years ago, the churches Since then, the number of were scarcely at all attended by churches or places of worship of the slaves.

one kind or other, has been more than doubled, in fact nearly trebled, and yet, in the districts where I have had an opportu

nity of seeing them, they are all fully attended, and princi.

pally by slaves. Twenty years ago, negroes Negroes are now buried duwere buried at midnight, and the ring the day, and in the same funeral rites, in the forms of manner as the white people. African superstition, were the occasion of continual excesses among those who attended.

Ten years ago, the marriage The number now married is rite was altogether unknown not inconsiderable, and is fast among the slaves.

increasing While the importation of Afri It is now seldom heard of. cans was continued, the practice of Obeah was common and destructive,

The working of sugar mills It is now prohibited by law, encroached on Sunday during and Sunday is strictly a day of сгор. .

rest. Formerly the Negroes culti Now they have by law 26 vated their grounds on Sun- working days in the year for day-white persons were even this purpose: every manager sent to superintend them. must swear that he has given

them this number of days; and no slaves now work at their grounds on Sunday, but such as are more inclined to make money than to attend chureh. A law to forbid their working at all would be of doubtful policy, till they learn to employ the day better than in idling and drink

ing. When the abolition of the Now the plantation slaves in African trade took place, a Jamaica have all houses of their large proportion of the slaves

own, and grounds of their own,

« PreviousContinue »