PRESENT STATE OF SLAVERY IN THE WEST INDIES. IF it could be proved that the condition of the West Indian slave is a happy one—that he is subject to few privations—that his la- bour is moderate—that his state of mind is contented, and his body subject to few diseases, and those, when they occur, care- fully attended to by skilful persons,—then, though slavery may be allowed to be an evil, still it would follow that the evil at any rate was not of a very pressing or urgent description. In taking steps for destroying this evil there would appear no demand for precipi- tate measures—no cause for zealous displays of compassion—no call for eloquence—no ground for clamour or intemperate discus- sion. The evil has existed in many other countries : it has gradually worn out when the circumstances which created it have changed or disappeared. In its nature it seems an evil which contains in itself the seeds of destruction : before increasing intelligence and the growth of civilization, it has always died away ; and in the case before us, it would also in all probability die away in due time. But there are always men who wish to put their shoulders to the wheel of Time : sometimes they succeed in accelerating its pace a little, sometimes they overturn the car into the mire.
In order to prove that the condition of a West Indian negro la- bourer is that of a happy and contented person, we should fear- lessly go into court with one single volume, the book whose title
is placed below It is unlucky that Mr. BARCLAY has thought proper to arrange his facts and opinions in the form of a categori- cal answer to Mr. STEPHEN .S work ; for though this is one of the most convincing modes of discussion, it is far from being one of the most agreeable. It is not the medium best calculated to disse- minate the information it contains ;—so much of which is highly
i interesting even to the idle reader, and all of which is so satisfac- tory and important to the inquiries whether of philanthropist or statesman.,
We give Mr. STEPHEN credit for sincerity ; but with many who take an interest in the slave question, this admission is not so easily made. Lawyers so habitually place their self-satisfaction on exertions of ingenuity and skill, that they lose an acute sense of another kind of pleasure—the pleasure of truth. It is the nature of the human mind to love that in which it excels, and to forget the love of that which it is seldom called on to exercise. The love of truth is one to which the mind is early trained, but the whole life of an advocate leads him to the relish of an incom- patible taste. Mr. STEPHEN drew a highly-coloured picture of the state of the law as it affects the slave ; Mr. BARCLAY has shown, article by article, what the practice is as regards him. In Mr. BARCLAY there is little of the spirit of advocacy : we regard him, on internal evidence, as an extremely fafr. writer. He spent half a life in Jamaica : he has been bookkeeper, over- seer, planter, and is, for anything we know, proprietor: he pos- sesses perfect familiarity and intimate acquaintance with the mi- nutest details of a West Indianlife. To reject the testimony of such men, is to reject the means of knowledge : and why a man, be- cause he is a planter, and because it imports him deeply to under- stand the West Indian question—why his opinion and evidence should be inadmissible, we are at a loss to know. Surely there may be found an instance of a Jamaica colonist being a fair man, a lover of truth, a philanthropist—at least an honest man. We, at least, on the perusal of this work, never hesitated about the credi- bility of the author's testimony : and we are very certain that no impartial person can take up the work without giving the author credit for extreme fairness, as well as abundant intelligence.
If it could be proved, as we said before, in the teeth of certain noisy, philanthropists, that the present condition of the West Indian slave is a happy one, ewlit qucestio. We think that it is proved in the work before us. The case of the Emancipators is made up, first, of a confusion of terms ; next, of appeals to prejudices ; then • of old or isolated cases of oppression—of quotations of obsolete or neglected laws, now a dead letter—of the application of prin- ciples, applicable to one condition of society, to another totally dif- ferent; lastly, of the coloured and plausible misrepresentations of the advocate. It is remarkable, that all those who feel most deeply the miseries of the West Indian slave, are those who have never witnessed them: they who are well acquainted with the West Indies are silent. A few who, under peculiar circumstances, have really known something of the Colonies, and still joined the Eman- cipators, arc, as far as we have seen their works, capable of an easy refutation. We are neither Planters nor Emancipators ; at the same time, it is right to state that all our prejudices were on the side of the advocates of Emancipation. It is generally the case with the better class of Englishmen, xho know nothing more of the subject than the gossip of society; it is the easiest side to fall in with, and harmonizes with many of our best principles and sentiments. In our case, inquiry left us quite on the opposite bank from that on which we had embarked. We would engage that it would almost universally have the same effect, if the mind of the inquirer were not warped by those powerful reasons v.bich few human minds are strong enough to resist—the force of connexion—the authority of respected persons—and, above all, interest, direct and indirect. A trifling passage occurs in a work which we noticed last week —the Disowned, a popular novel, written by a very fair representative of * A Practical Vicw „f t1.• :-,t;tte of :1::tr,:ry in tho West Tidies; or an Eszminatiot: of My. ShTlitua', of 1,1r, West 1,1:1;:t under Barclay, Lately and for occ-and-tw,o }'ear.; rcsidtmt Jamaicit. the superior and enlightened classes of Great Britain. In this pas-. sage, a West Indian planter is quoted, " to point a moral and adorn
the tale," as a monster of cruelty, simply by the bye, and with no
thought or intention to wound. If the intelligent author of the Disowned were to spend a week in looking at the state of the Co- lonies, he would' be ashamed of his sentence ; he would erase it from his next edition, and apologize in a note, by saying that he had no. more definite idea of a West Indian planter than lie has of any other popular bugaboo. Let us turn to Mr. BARCLAY, and see if we cannot collect from his pages a few anecdotes of slaves, which serve to show that we must rectify our notions of the condition: the word slave does the mischief.
A negro is so well aware of the feeling of consideration in a slave- owner for his slaves, that it is a common saying, when they think them- selves harshly treated, " He does not feet for a negro ; he has got none himself."—p. 7.
A negro who has committed a fault, will go to a neighbouring overseer friendly with his master, and beg him to intercede for him. The request is never denied ; and gentlemen often ride miles, and in the hottest part of the day, leaving their affairs, to accompany a slave home : if the affair is trivial, the slave will he content with a note ; if serious, he insists on the person going home with him.—p. 0. At crop-over or harvest-time, or the last cutting of canes, flags are dis- played in the field, and all is merriment : in the evening they assemble in the master's house ; and, as a matter of course, take possession of the largest room, bringing with them a fiddle and a tambourine. Here all authority and distinction of colour ceases ; black and white, overseer and bookkeeper, mingle together in the dance.—p. 10.
Sec the pretty description of a sett, p. 12, with the music. It is true, the driver carries a whip—a practice established at a period and during a state of things when the practical use of it was necessary: it is now little more than a badge of office. He invariably also carries a tong staff with a crutch or crook, round which his whip is attached, and which serves hint 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, 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 arc passed (often at the expense 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.—p. 41.
In the parish of St. Thomas in the East, with which I am more par- ticularly acquainted, I affirm, from the evidence of my own eyesight, that the congregations in the several places of worship, of which there arc six, consisting principally of slaves, would bear comparison, in point of dress and orderly deportment, with the generality of country congregations in Britain. Not a few of the slaves coming from a distance ride their own horses to church. In the little village of Batch, where there is a chapel of case and a Wesleyan meeting-house, the number of their horseswhich, durirne° divine service, are tied up under the shade of the trees in the street, never fails to attract the attention of strangers.—p. 50. They receive their allowances of every kind with the same independent feelings that labourers in this country receive their wages, and perhaps with even greater independence of manner. In taking his annual allow- ance of clothing, the slave examines minutely that he has full measure— that no one receives more than he does. If he happens to get the end or outside of a web in the least rubbed or damaged, he returns it with the utmost indignity, and will take none if he does not get it as good as others. In fact, there is no feature of the negro character that would strike a stranger more strongly, than the air of independence he will find where perhaps he expected the most abject servility.—p. 51.
The negro is a very different being from what he is constantly repre- sented: he knows what he owes his master, and what his master owes him : he considers his allowances of all kinds as his rights ; and when he has done his well-understood task, he is perfectly independent. He has his own time : if any part of it happen to be required by his master, it must be repaid. If a house servant, for instance, is employed on Sunday, another must take his place some other day in the week. If a negro makes a feast, and kills a hog for the occasion, this, of course, is at his own expense : but it, when sick and in the hospital, a few of his own poultry (from a difficulty in procuring others) are killed for his use, he not unfrequently demands and receives payment for them.—p. 51.
The late Hon. Simon Taylor had a large cluster of cocoa-nut trees near his residence : the slaves used to be permitted to have the fruit— they had got a vested interest : so that when the thicket grew to an incon- venient size—and it was wished to cut it down, Mr. Taylor found himself called upon to pay his slaves a compensation: each cocoa-nut tree, cut in his own garden, cost him It. Gs. 8d. Negroes will not be sold to a master they do not like the character of, in such cases (rare ones) as they come to be disposed of in this way. No man in his senses will buy unwilling slaves : they say to him, " If you buy us, you lose your money."—p. 56.
The overseer is appointed by the attorney or proprietor. The slaves call the attorney Trustie : he is looked to as their protector, and if they consider themselves aggrieved, they set off immediately to Trustie, who sees them righted. In any case of injustice or cruelty, the overseer would be immediately discharged.—p. 79. See a curious account of a secession in a body, pp. 81, 82, 83.
"Follow the overseer in his usual avocations, and you will regard him rather as the father of a family : you will see him attending to the com- forts and wants of his people, with a degree of kindness and solicitude which it would he vain and unreasonable in English labourers to expect, ou will sec him in an evening taking a walk among the houses of his people, gratified to see them seated at their cheerful firesides, while a good supper (a chief meal with them) is preparing. On negro days you will see him visiting them at their little farms, where each family is engaged by itscif in its concerns : the father and his eider children planting edocs, corn, or yams, or disencumbering the rich plantain and banana. trees of superabundant leaves, while_ the mother and young ones are roasting plantains under the shade of a tree. Leta stranger but visit such a scene, 1st him contemplate the abundance they possess, see their laughing faces, and listen to their careless song under the sunshine of a perpetual st_inirrie,-, and say if these arc the people who amidst the whole race of inanlrziiiii stand most in need of his commiseration : or %%rite:- Isla often a group of little negro children running to meet thk.r master' on his return home after a few days' absence, clinging to the skirts of his coat, anti vociferating the en- . clearing expression, Tata come, Tata come ;—and say if here, of all places on earth, there is a want of sympathy between the master and ser- vants"—p. 206.
If we had space, we could produce, from this volume alone, a thousand traits which would substantiate the position that the West Indian slave is practically happy, however others may be able to demonstrate him theoretically miserable.
Within five and twenty years the condition of the West Indian negro is very remarkably changed—partly by the cessation of the slave trade—partly by the fact of the present population being principally native—partly from the spread of intelligence and knowledge among both masters and slaves. If the Emancipators have given an impulse to the progress of light, they have done well ; but let them stop there, and leave the rest to the light itself.