Page images
PDF
EPUB

selves confessed their value, as property, was increased onethird by their increased habits of regularity and industry.

Whatever might have been said to the contrary, it was plainly to be inferred, from the evidence, that the flaves had not been under the protection of law. Colonial statutes had, indeed, in some cases, been passed, which might seem to afford them a sort us qualified protection ; but, however ill treated by their masters, they had not been considered as having a right to any redress. A curious instance in point occurred to his rtolseci ion: it was contained in the evidence of Mr. Ross, a gentleman, for whom he must be allowed to express sentiments of unfeigned respect and regard. There was something in the manner os his coming forward, to give his testimony, that reflected the Iiighest honour on his character. Some of his nearest and most intimate connections were in the West Indian line; but when he (Mr. Wilberforce) without any previous acquaintance or introduction, called him forth to tell what he knew, he did not disregard the appeal, but stept forward from a principle of duty which superseded all personal considerations. Mr. Ross mentions an instance of astonishing cruelty, committed by a Jew. It was but justice to add, that the man was considered with detestation whenever the circumstance was told ; but, though a matter of notoriety, it does not seem to have entered into the contemplation of any person, to call him to a legal account; and Mr. Ross expressly declared, that he conceived a master had a right to punish his stave in whatever manner he might think proper. The fame was declared by numberless other witnesses. There would be no end of going into particulars. An assertion, however, was to be found to the contrary, and some records of convictions had been sent over as proofs of it. Mr. Wilberforce went into the particulars of these records, for the purpose of refuting the conclusion they were meant to establish; particula ly remarking, that the convictions were all of a very late date, and that in one of them, where 3 master had cruelly cut the mouth of a child, of six years old, almost from ear to ear, so strange and so novel a doctrine did it appear to the jury, that a master was liable to punishment for any act of cruelty exercised on a stave, that they brought in a conditional verdict, "guilty, subject to the opinion of "the court, if immoderate correction of a stave, by his master, be a crime indictable." The court determined in the affirmative ; and what was the punishment of this abominable act of barbarity? a fine of 40 shillings currency, equivalent to about 2 5 fliillings of our money ! the flaves were but ill off in point of medical care; though that was an article wherein it might be expected there would be the least defect, when they were the property of affluent planters, because it was

that in which a prudent regard to interest, wa> the least likely tobecounteracted by any sudden effects os passion. Sometimes 4 or 5, or even 8 or cooo flaves, were under the care of one medical man; which, dispersed on different and distant

e/ia(es, were a greater number than he could properly attend

to.

There was reason to believe t'le slaves in general were underfed: he might refer to the positive declarations to that effect contained in the evidence, and would confirm them bv two pt three additional arguments. The slaves, in general, were supported partly by the produce of their own provisiong^*«iid; partly by an allowance from their master of flour or grain. In those islands wherein the produce of the former were very trifling, owing to long and frequent droughts, their allowed food, instead of being pioportionably greater, was actually less, than in other islands, where this produce was the me st considerable. In one of the islands, where, we are told, provision ground dees not answer one year in three, it was from 5 to 9 pints per week : in Dominica, where these never failed, from 6 to 7 quarts; and yet, even in the latter, ir was universally remarked, that the slaves were in far better health and spirits, during the five or six months of the crop or harvest season, notwithstanding the much harder labour of that period, owing to their being then somewhat better fed. It appeared, in the evidence of a respectable witness on the fide of our opponents, that the utmost weekly allowance, generally given to a working negro in Nevis and St. Christopher's, where there wasno provision-ground, was but 11 pints; yet, in the act of Assembly, lately passed in Jamaica, it is prescribed, that 21 pints shall be allowed weekly to every flave confined in prison. In Nevis also, so long ago as the year 171 7, the rate of food was fixed at a pound of meat or fist), and a pound of bread, daily. A prison allowance is not in general meant to be such as will pamper the body; yet how touch does it here exceed that of the working field flaves in the old Leeward islands?

It was easy to see how, in the several particulars he had been mentioning, the slaves would feel the bad effects of their masters'being embarrassed in their circumstances; whence would naturally result an abridgement of their food, with an increase of their labour: but this led him to the mention of a capital cause of the negroes' sufferings, and consequent decrease. This was the non residence of the planters, many of them persons of affluent fortunes, of sound understandings, and liberal hearts; who, if they were on the spot, would attend to these poor creatures, and feel themselves bound, both by duty and inclination, to promote their happiness. But it was to no purpose to send out orders, of the execution

Vol. XXIX. Dd of of which they could know as little, as a king, who lived in his capital, could answer for what was carrying on in the most distant part of his dominions. An honourable baronet, Sir George Young, and many others, had laid, they saw the slaves treated in a manner they were sure their owners would have relenti-d if it had been known to them : another honourable gentleman, Mr. Orde, had animadverted, in the strongest terms, on the misconduct of m nagers; the very changes of them, which wete confessed by almost all planters, were an irrefragable proof of this misconduct. The factwas, that in general they fought to e 'ablish their characters, which, as Mr. Ottley suggests, is generally determin< d by this consideration, the producing la«ge crops at a small immediate expence, too little considering how fir the slaves might fnffer from ill-treatment and excessive labour. Mr. Long had noticed, and severely condemned this practice; and even the managers themselves had acknowledged it to be their leading principle. Hut, if from these causes, the staves were such giievous sufferers, even when they belonged to opulent and worthy men, what must th?ir state be, subject to the severe exactions of want or avarice, and to the capricious cruelty of vulgar and unfeeling tyrants? the fad and humiliating effects were but too abundant in the pages of the evidence, and he had rather refer to them there, than undergo the painful task of reciting them.

But, in addition to al! he had already said, concerning the causes which had prevented the keeping up the stock of staves by breeding, he mult maintain, that it was incontestably proved that the object had never been seriously attended to. Here also, he need only appeal to the testimony of the most respectable witnesses, who not only formed the opinion as an infallible conclusion from what they saw with theirown eyes, but who learnt it from the express declaration of the managers and overseers themselves. But this was confirmed by the testimony of their opponents, also. Mark the state of this controversy! tlie advocates for the abolition alledged, that the increase of the produce was more attended to than the keeping up the stock: the reverse of the proposition was' maintained by the planters. Now, it was natural to imagine that men would be always best informed on those subjects with which their minds had been most conversant. Yet it was likewise evident, most universally, that the owners and managers, when asked concerning planting and the produce of their estates, are perfectly at home: whenalked concerning their proportion of males and females, the number of infants, and other such particulars, they know little or nothing about the matter. Even medical men were perfect adepts in the art of planting; but when asked the latter questions, connected nested with breeding and rearing, they seemed quite amazed, andcould give no information.

Here it became necessary to ie"mind the Committee, that in opposition to his statement of the condition and treatment of the negroes, many very respectable witnesses had heen called, and, in particular, several persons who had served in the islands in high professional situations. He knew what was due to their worth and characters; and lie trusted that they would do him the justice not to think him guilty of the smallest degree of personal disrespect, whilst in the discharge ofaduty which was indispensable to the talk he had undertaken, he should freely canvas their declarations. In the first place, he must enter a general protest against their testimony. He had formerly stated, that an Admiral's visit to a plantation must make a holiday, and CO' hi afford no adequate idea of tile general situation ot the slaves. This, indeed, might reasonably be imagined; hut the Committee was now told as much by one of the party. " I have.often," faysMr. Ross, " had the honour of attending both Gover"norsand Admirals upon tours in the island of Jamaica; in "the course of which, the estates generally visited belonged "togentlemen of distinction, where we were entertained "with every mark of respect, and whose estates in general "might be considered in high order and good management; "and it is not likely, even upon going into the fields 1 or works where the negroes were employed, but that at* "tension would be paid by the white people and drivers, not "to harrow up the feelings of strangers of distinction, by "the exercise of the whip, or the inflict ing of punishments "at that particular t ime; and even if there were any disgust"ing objects, it is natural to suppose that they would he * temovtd upon such occasions." In fact, these gentlemen Warded many proofs of their being under the influence of prejudice. Two or three he would mention: they, many °f them, declared that the abolition would be ruinous to the "est Indies. Now, every person will acknowledge, that this must depend upon the practicability of keeping up the ""ck, without African supplies: yet, when asked as to this arcum-stance, their answer is, They know nothing about it! "ence it appeared, they had formed a conclusion without premises, a superstructure without a foundation, which, of cf"r!e- must fall to the ground. Another point worthy of pwvation was, that their evidence often extended through a TMg series of years. No defect, no ill treatment, is remarkTM> many portion of the time, nor is there any distinction "•periods. The slaves are uniformly well cloathed, so well Wi se well treated, that nothing can exceed it: yet, almost ;n tae fame breath, you are told of their amended situation,

D d a . and and that they are now far better off than they were formerly. One of them, to whim his country is under high obligations, in proof that the negroes enjoy the protection of laws, mentions a master's having been sentenced to death for the murder of his own slave; but the lecollection of the respectable personage must surely have failed him here; for the fact is, that the murder of a slave was not then a capital ctime. But it was less extraoidinnry, that the noble person alluded to, should be mistaken on a subject not within his own province, when others weie misinformed on it, to whom it more immediately belonged. Of this there were repeated instances. A very reject able governor being asked, whether a master was liable; to be punished capitally for the murder of his own slave, replied, "he never entetsained a doubt of it himself, "nor ever heard a doubt of it expressed by any sensible or "reasonable man;" yet, had he looked into the statute-book of his own Island, he would have found, that the wilful murder of a slave was punilhable only by a fine of about ; 801. steiling. This however was a heavier penalty than that inflicted by the Barbados! law; for 1^ 1. sterling was there the amount of it. In fact, their opponents' witnesses, by attempting to prove too much, had proved nothing. "The slaves were said to be in a better state than the peasantry of thiscounfry, whom, tons'.* the emphatic language of Mr. Ross, he would not " insult with a comparison ;* and those very circumstances had been infilled on as proofs of the assertion, by which it was rr.nst palpahly refuted.

It had been declared, also, that the negroes were happier as slaves, than if they were made free; and that, when made free, they never returned to Africa. I here was scarce, perhaps in the whole course of the business, a more striking proof of prejudice, than was afforded by the first of these assertions. He allowed that a slave, who was industrious, and in a situation wherein he might, to advantage, dispose of any commodities he had been able to raise for sale, could annually lay bv a little money, which Mr. Wilberforce was glad to have it to fay, he believed, was never taken from him.— When the savings of many years at length had accumulated to a considerable amount, how did .they then dispose of it? With this sum, for which they had been struggling during the whole course of their lives, they went to their masters and bought their freedom; they purchased their release from their situation of superior happin ss, by the sacrifice of their last shilling! and theie was ica-cel v any instance mentioned of a slave's possessing property, whicli was not accompanied by that of his havirg thus employed it: or, when they thought the little which was left of their own lives not worth redeeming, they v.-ould purchase the freedom of a son, a 1 brother,

« PreviousContinue »