Page images

brother, or a sister; thus affording at once, a proof of the va\ue they set on freedom, and of disinterestedness and social affection, which did honour to the human character. But the argument might be pushed still farther. It was not merely that the staves themselves desired their freedom, ignorant perhaps of what might really contribute to their happiness, but it was by the gift of it that their masters remunerated their long and faithful services, as the best reward with which they could be recompensed. Mr. Wijberforce would not so calumniate the West Indians, as to suppose they meant only to mock these poor people with a real evil, for an imaginary good; nor yet that they were mocked by the laws which held torth to them this boon of freedom, as the most valuable recompence they could receive. The dissatisfaction of the stives with theirstate of bondage would appear still more striking, when it IliQuld be considered, that they who bought their own freedom, in the manner he had above desc ibed, from the habits of industry, which were included in the very idea of acquiringlb much property, were likely to have smarted less than ordinary under the whip of the driver; and that they must rather be supposed to be influenced by the evils of their piesent state, than by the sweets of that to which they aspire; for their freedom, when obtained, was still a state of unprotected dt gradation, liable, as sufficiently appealed by the evidence, to perpetual injury and insult.

With regard also to their no; returning to Africa, this was an argument which could hardly be urged with seriousness. Sinking into years, perhaps, before they had saved enough to purchase freedom, and thus procure to themselves the opportunity, was it to be expected they sliould venture across the Atlantic? if they could even reach their homes in safety, all their kindred and connections would f>e now, perhaps, r.o more ; and when, above all, they would reasonably apprehend they might once more be kidnapped, once more hurried on board a stiip, and again forced to endure, and again survive the horrors of the middle passage! hut this love of their native country, and their desire to return to it, was proved beyond a doubt: many of the witnesses had heard them talk of it in terms of the strongest affection. The acts of suicide were fiequent, which, under their mistaken notions, they committed a* the readiest means of getting home, and under the fame notion that, by death, they were restored to their native land. Captain Wilson assures us, that the funerals, which, in Africa, were accompanied with lamentations and cries of sorrow, were attended, in the West Indies, with every mark of exultation and joy.

Mr. Wilherforce trusted that, on the whole, he had made good his first proposition, that the causes of decrease were so

many many and so great, that this decrease might reasonably have been expected to be very considerable. In fact, however, in the island of Jamaica, which, he conceived, he might take as a fair specimen of the whole, it was very trifling; or rather, he believed, he might assert, it had entirely ceased some years ago, and that the decrease was only on the imported slaves. He would not trouble the House at present with any thing more than the result of thecalculations; but he was Teady to enter into the detail of them whenever he should be desired. In the report of the Privy Council, they had the numbers imported, and the actually existing numbers during the last 90 years. From 169810 1730, a period of 32 years» the decrease appeared to be three and a half percent; in the second period, from 1730 to 1755, the decrease was two and a half per cent; in the third period, from 1755 to 176S, it vvas lessened to one and three quarter*; and from 1768, to 1788, at the utmost, it was not more than one per cent, which also must be ascribed in a great degree to an extraordinary series of hurricanes, and consequent famines, leaving a loss that would be fully accounted for by the numbers of iui-» ported Africans who perished in the seasoning, a cause of mortality which, it was evident, would cease with the importation. From this, and other considerations, he felt himlelf warranted to assert, that the slaves in Jamaica were now actually increasing: nor need this surprise the Committee; for it was borne out by the positive testimony of Dr. Anderson, a physician of considerable eminence, who solemnly gave in evidence, two years ago, to the Assembly of Jamaica, after enumerating the causes of the mortality of slaves, that, notwithstanding all these, he believed that there was a considerable increase on the properties of the island, and particularly in the parish in which he resided.

Mr. Wilbersoice said, he would now proceed to fulfil his engagement, and bring forward such facts and reasonings as justified his persuasion, that the slaves must henceforth he expected to increase, and that pven rapidly. And, in the first place, he must draw a most important inference from the gradual lessening of the decrease which he had already stated; for as this had uniformly kept pace with the melioration of the slaves' treatment, so there was every reason to hope, that as this soould be still mended, the decrease would continue to lessen in proportion. This expectation was put almost heyond a doubt by the following circumstance, that wherever any one of those causes, to which he had ascribed the decrease osslaves, had been either wholly, or in a great degree, removed, the decrease appeared to have been stopped, though all the other causes continued in full operation. Thus, in the cafe of several of their opponents' witnesses, whenever the gentleman examined had fed, or managed, or .treated his slaves better than ordinary, you were almost !ure to hear, in tlte leijuel, that lie had kept up the number of his gang. Mr. H illock gave his slaves an uncommonly large alloVrancs cffood, and their increase was accordingly. Mr. Ottley, Sir Ralph Payne, and many others, afforded also pleasing examples of a similar nature; ard the instances of estates which appeared in the evidence to have kept up their numbers were very main, and almost always to be accounted for from sooie circumstance of good treatment. In fliort, it would weary the Committee to enumerate the instances of plantations which are stated in the evidence to have kept up their numbers. A remedy had been lately found for a disorder by which vast numbers of infants had been formerly swept away. Mr. Long had laid it down, that whenever the slaves should bear a certain proportion to the produce they might be expected to keep up their numbers, and this proportion they now exceeded. The Assembly of Jamaica had given it as their opinion, " That when once the sexes shall become nearly "equal in point of number, there was no reason to suppose * that the increase of the negroes, by generation, will fall "short of the natural increase of the labouring poor of Great u Britain." The Committee would be aware that the inequality here spoken of, could only exist in the case of the African negroes, of whom more males than females are importsi. It was his decided opinion, for various reasons, with which at present he would not trouble the Committee, that the disproportion, even in this part of the island stock, was by no means great, nor would he allow, for a moment, that it was such as could counteract the natural course of population. In this he was certainly confirmed by Dr. Anderson, *ho gave no hint to the Committee, that, in the parish *herein he resided, one of the largest in Jamaica, the males females were in any other than the ordinary proportion, "or even that any more than common attention was paid to the (laves; yet there, he said, of his own knowledge, they ■ere increasing. Nor should it be objected, that several persons of undoubted credit had stated, that they had in vain, endeavoured to keep up their gangs without purchase; for, if this argument were to be deemed conclusive, it might be proved that the people of this and of every other country, were npidly decreasing. Should an inquiry on that head be carrying forward, many individuals might come and declare, tint their families had been swept away by consumption, ^er, or some contagious disorder, in spite of the most watchful care,'and the best medical assistance; all this rriiglit be Y*fy true, but it would afford no fair inference as to th% fnenl position.


But to j^aceed to the facts which must confirm the hopes of the Cdf^^ittee beyond the possibility of doubting, without stoppings to Insist on what was universally acknowledged, that tnejrjc£ro«s were a very prolific people iri their own Country, he'rmist point the Committee's attention to the Continent of America: there it would be found, that th« slaves had increased at a rate which was truely astonishing, in one instance, from 200 to 500 in the space of about 50 years. From one end of the Continent to the other, this increase was undeniably establislied; though was far more unfavourable than that of the West Indies to the constitutions of the negroes, who not only had to contend with the severity of cold in the winter, but in some parts, with noxious exhalations in the summer, from which the white inhabitants fled to the towns as from a pestilence. The only observable distinction was, that they were much better fed, and, in some places, more domesticated; yet these circumstances produced the difference he had mentioned, though lo powerfully counteracted by an unfavourable climate.

He Ihould next direct their eye to another part of the world, where, as if to show that there coujd be no situation in which these people would not keep up their niJtnl ers, they would be found to have done so at a place the most unhealthy, he believed, in the habitable world. He spokf of the settlement of Bencoolen, where it appeared, from the evidence of Mr. Botham, that a number of negroes, who had been imported in the fame disproportion of sexes that is in the West India cargoes, and under the fame disadvantages, as in the islands, of promiscuous intercourse and general prostitution, after they had been settled a stiort time, began annually to increase.

But the West Indies themselves would furnish a still more remarkable instance: about the beginning of this century an African ship was wrecked upon the island of St. Vincent. The number of negroes that escaped is not known. It was to he supposed the disproportion of the sexes was at least as great as in the cargoes at this day. They had every difficulty to contend against, were wholly unprovided with necessaries and obliged to maintain a constant war with the native Caribbs; •yet they had soon multiplied to an astonisliing number, and TVlr. Ottley declares that he believes them still to be on the increase, precluding, at the same time, a way of accounting for it, which had been somewhere suggested, by adding, a» he has heard and believe*, they never permit the run-away slaves to incorporate with them, and that they have a peculiar mark, produced by flattening the forehead in infancy, by ^hich they arc readily distinguished, from all other negroes.

This is not all: it appeared, from Sir John Dalling's evik dence, that the domestic staves in Jamaica increased, and, from the writings of Mr. Long, that there was an increase among the free blacks and mulattoes. But Mr. Wilberforce was aware that one instance of a contrary' nature would be brought forward, contained in the evidence of Sir Archibald Campbell, whole name he could not mention, without expressing regret for his recent loss, in common with many other Members of that House. That gentleman had informed the Committee, he had heard that the maroons in Jamaica, had in 1739, amounted to 30CO men fit to carry arms, which Mr. Wilberforce need not inform the Committee, supposes the whole number about i2,OCO; but that, in the year 178?, after every possible exertion, to get all their fighting men to turn out to defend the island against the French and Spaniards, he found, to his great astonishment, that the fighting men did not then amount to 300. Sir Archibald added, that he understood they were decreasing daily: nor was this surprising, considering they had a free access to spirits, of which they are remarkably fond, and that they often cohabited with the women of the neighbouring plantations, and consequently were not recruited, in these instances, by the addition of their own progeny. It is true, some of the witnesses, in savour of the abolition, had said they believed these maroons increased; but their opinion would hardly be received in contradiction to Sir Archibald Campbell's, and the reasons by which it is supported.

But what, added Mr. Wilberforce, would the Committee %, whin he should prove decisively, that these very people, from the actual enumerations of two different periods, had doubled their number in two and thjrty years? about the year t733» it was declared, in an act of the J amaica Assembly, that, notwithstanding every effort made against them, they still increased upon their hands. Along and bloody war succeeded, and they were so greatly reduced that, whatever their numbers might have been in 1739, which Sir Archibald Campbell seems to state only from popular rumour, they •ere, according to Mr. Long, actually numbered in 1749, when they amounted to about 660 in all, having 150 men fit to carry arms. These, we find, from Sir Archibald Campbell's actual muster in 1782, had increased to near 300 of the same description, which gives 1200 in the whole; and the account is confirmed by an intermediate return of 1770, contained in the Privy Council's Report, when they were just so far in their way to the last-mentioned number as you wouldexpect to find them, being 216 men fit to carry arms, md in the whole 885. Nor ought it to be forgotten that, •* i"49» the proportion of men to women was nearly four to Vol. XXIX. E • three,

« PreviousContinue »