This is an interesting and informative assessment of post-Emancipation Jamaica, by an involved contemporary; some of it rings strangely in 21st century ears, but we have to listen to those who actually lived through past eras to understand a little better what those days were like in their own terms, which may well be different from ours.
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At Sea, May 24, 1858
Sir, During my passage from Kingston, Jamaica, to Philadelphia, the Rev. Loring Thompson, of the Richmond Industrial Institution, parish of Metcalfe, Jamaica, under the auspices of the American Missionary Society, who was a fellow passenger, placed in my hands the following nine questions, which you had submitted to him during your sojourn in Jamaica, with a request that I would furnish him with answers thereto.
Accordingly, I penned the following, as well as the rolling and pitching of the vessel, during the heavy gales of wind, would allow me. And as I am doubtful whether I will be able to meet Mr. Thompson, I take the liberty of communicating directly with you.
In furnishing you with answers to your nine important questions, I deem it necessary to inform you that I am a native of Jamaica, where I have lived for thirty years; that I am the son of a sugar-planter, late of the of the Parish of Trelawny, the principal sugar-growing district of the island; that I am alike well acquainted with planters and the laboring and other classes; and that for the last ten years I have been connected with the press of Jamaica, literary and political, both in the town of Falmouth, the capital of Trelawny, and in the city of Kingston; my last appointment in the latter place being manager of the literary department of a daily newspaper called The Morning Journal, which appointment I held for exactly four years. I mention these facts in order to show you that I am perfectly acquainted with the subject matter which has occasioned the present communication.
Before proceeding to answer your questions, I consider it due to myself to explain that, in doing so, I desire not to interfere with the institutions of this country, in which I am a stranger, and where I have experienced nought but kind and courteous treatment. The people of the States are those who ought to regulate their own internal affairs without foreign intervention. And while I claim as my undoubted right the exercise of the same privilege in the land of my birth, I would guard against any construction that may be placed on any of my statements, as an officious intermeddling with the question of Slavery as it exists in certain parts of the United States. In short, I wish It to be distinctly understood that these statements are intended simply as answers to certain questions which have been put to me in reference alone to the result of Emancipation in Jamaica. Thus premising, I proceed to answer the questions, seriatim.
QUESTION I. - What are the advantages of Freedom over Slavery?
Answer. - Were it not an undoubted fact that there are persons who contend that the negro is better adapted to a state of bondage than of freedom, I should answer that the advantages of Freedom over Slavery are so self-evident as to render this question unnecessary. But as there are people who persist in talking and writing of the "blessings" of Slavery to the negro, and in endeavoring to prove that Freedom to him is a curse, it is, perhaps, requisite to offer a few remarks in refutation of so monstrous a proposition.
Those who endeavor to resolve Negro Slavery into a blessing to those subjected to its control, generally point to the care which, it is alleged, taken of him in that condition in providing for his animal wants, as contradistinguished from the squalid poverty and misery that are observable among the starving myriads in England and Ireland, and Jamaica, even, is sometimes pointed at, as evincing what is said to be the superiority of the black man as a slave over his position as a free man.
Passing over the obvious evils that would result to the human race, were it to be established as a doctrine that nations and individuals possessed, or fancying themselves possessed, of a higher degree of civilization than other nations or individuals, are justified in using force in civilizing and enhancing the happiness of the less enlightened, I pass to the consideration of the question.
As far as the emancipated classes of Jamaica are concerned, I emphatically deny that their condition is worse than that of slaves in any part of the world, or than their own condition, or that of their progenitors, while they were held as slaves. On the contrary, maintain that the advantages of Freedom over Slavery have been most strikingly exhibited by them in a variety of ways, morally and religiously, politically, socially, and even physically.
Of the moral and religious phase of the proposition, I prefer speaking when I come to consider the second question, to which it more properly belongs.
Politically, the enfranchised negro possesses immense advantages over his former condition of a slave or chattel. As a slave, so far from possessing any rights of citizenship, it was from his very abasement that his owner derived his civil and political privileges, for the original patents of land in Jamaica were granted on the condition of the patentees stocking their holdings with a certain number of slaves to a given number of acres. One of the principal qualifications for the exercise of the elective franchise was payment of a certain amount of taxes. A like qualification was required to entitle a citizen to sit in the House of Assembly, as well as to hold the elective offices of Mayor, Alderman, Common Councilman, Coroner, Churchwarden and Vestryman. Now, as slaves were taxable property, it followed that their possession gave a civil and political status to their owners which was denied to themselves.
All this is now changed. The chattel has become a man, invested with all the rights of citizenship; and he who in former days, by a money value placed on his body, conferred a right on his owner to exercise the right of suffrage, and to have that right exercised on his behalf, may now, if he possess any one or more of the property qualifications required by law, enjoy the like privilege without let or hindrance. These qualifications are, at present as follows:
The rectorship of a parish, irrespective of any other qualification the incumbent may possess.
Ownership, with actual possession, of a freehold of not less annual value than £6 sterling.
Payment of taxes to the amount of £3 and upward per annum.
Payment of rent to the amount of £30 per annum.
All taxes must be paid by a particular day, to entitle the elector to vote during that year. Claims to vote must be registered for a certain period before such claims become valid.
In consequence of the emancipated peasantry having become possessed of considerable freehold property, a great deal of political power has been thrown into their hands, as electors under the £6 freehold qualification - more, indeed, than some of their best friends even think expedient; as it is urged that their intelligence has not kept pace with their political privileges, and that, consequently, they are too often made the dupes of designing men who use the influence which they possess over the minds of so simple a people, to acquire power for the attainment of their own selfish ends, without any thought of the general weal - an assertion in which I can say, from personal experience, there is but too much truth.
Consequent on certain fiscal changes, by which the whole system of taxation has been remodeled, the tax-paying qualification for the exercise of electoral privileges will have to be abolished and other qualifications substituted in lieu thereof. A bill was presented to the House of Assembly during the last session for that purpose; but it was withdrawn until the ensuing session, when it will be reintroduced and disposed of, provision having been made to continue the electoral lists of last year till the 31st of December next. This measure is one of sweeping reform; but, while it will extend the franchise in a manner unprecedented in the Island's history, ii will, by leaving the present £6 freehold qualification untouched, still continue to the negro electors their electoral privileges, as their qualification is almost solely that of the freehold.
Under existing laws, a member of Assembly must be a freeholder, and pay direct taxes to the amount of £10 annually. The qualification of a member of the Legislative Council is payment of £30 taxes on real property annually, or a freehold property, in actual possession, of the net annual value of £300. The Governor is empowered to appoint whoever he chooses as member of the Privy Council, irrespective of property qualification, and without reference to complexion or former condition of life. There are now in the House of Assembly two pure negroes. Mr. Edward Vickars, and Mr. Charles Price, and Mr. Christopher Walters, who is nearly black, is a member of the same House. In fact, a large number of the members of both Houses of the Legislature, and of the Privy Council, are allied, more or less nearly, to the African race, among whom I may name the Hon. Edward Jordon, who is the principal member of Gov. Darling's Cabinet, and who patriotically resigned his seat in the Upper House, during the administration of Gov. Sir Henry Barkley, for the purpose of assuming the leadership of the Assembly, and inaugurating the new form of government, as one of the Governor's constitutional advisors. Through this sagacious stroke of policy, Sir Henry Barkley was enabled to carry on his Government in the very teeth of a fierce opposition, and unpopular measures were actually passed out of the personal respect which members of all shades of complexion, and of political opinion, entertain for Mr. Jordon.
This gentleman also holds the distinguished offices of President of the Privy Council, Custos Rotuloram and Mayor of Kingston, as member for which city he holds his seat in the Assembly. Beside these offices, he is a commissioner of several important trusts. All these appointments are honorary, save that of Cabinet Minister, for which alone he receives a salary of £800 per annum. I may add that he is principal proprietor and reputed editor of The Morning Journal newspaper published daily in Kingston, and warmly devoted to the cause of freedom.
I am not aware, however, whether any members of the Legislature, or of the Privy Council, were born in Slavery, but this circumstance would be no bar to their admittance to these bodies. It is, however, a well-known fact that the corporation of Kingston and the several parochial vestries abound in members who are descendants of Africans; and not a few were born in Slavery. So much for the political advantages of the free colored people of Jamaica over their former condition of slaves.
In a social point of view, freedom, as it exists in Jamaica, presents many advantages over the former state of bandage. Possessed of the privilege of locomotion, in which he was formerly restricted, the freed man can now choose his own associates, and pass his leisure hours as he pleases, and although I do not pretend to say that his choice is, in all cases, correct, yet, in the main, by widening the circle of his acquaintances, he adds to his stock of knowledge, and becomes gradually divested of those narrow prejudices which are the vices of small communities and a circumscribed sphere of action. Granted that, in the acquisition of knowledge, he learns evil as well as good, this cannot be charged against him as a peculiarity of his race, but as a propensity inherent in human nature. It is to be regretted, however, that through the rivalry of contending factions, theological and political, no comprehensive scheme of education has been provided for the rising generation; for it is by education alone that man, whether white or black, can progress in civilization.
It now remains for me to speak of the physical improvement of the blacks of Jamaica, as one of the most striking evidences of the advantages of Freedom over Slavery, as far at least as these people are concerned. It is a fact no less remarkable than true, that for the last quarter of a century--I restrict myself to a period within my own observation--a great improvement has taken place in the features of the negro descendants of Africans. The thick lips, flat nose and receding forehead are fast disappearing, and the physiognomy of the Jamaica negro is slowly assimilating to the European type. this may be owing to the dying off of native Africans, whose places are not being supplied from Africa in the absence of the slave-trade, and of the absence of emigration from that continent, by which the African feature, lacking the element by which alone it could be perpetuated, is gradually yielding to other influences.
Diseases which were very destructive in the time of Slavery, have become almost, if not quite, extinct. Among these I may mention the yaws, various other forms of scrofula, and elephantiasis. The yaws affected the mouth principally; other cutaneous affections attacked the whole body. It is said--and I believe with truth--that these diseases arose from two causes: First, the incessant labor in the cane-fields, causing an irritation in the skin, occasioned by a sort of down with which the canes are covered, and which, insinuating itself into the pores of the skin, soon brought on an eruption that the patient, bound to labor day by day at the same work, had no power to check; on the contrary, the irritation would increase each day, and at length resolve itself into some form of scrofula. Secondly, this tendency to scrofula was greatly aggravated by the universal and continual use of pickled herrings, shad, and other fish, which was the only description of animal food allowed to slaves on sugar estates. As to elephantiasis, I do not feel myself so well qualified to speak as to its cause. It most frequently attacked aged Africans in the days of Slavery. Now it is barely ever seen.
I attribute this remarkable disappearance of cutaneous disease to the fact that the laboring classes can now choose their own employment. If a laborer in a cane field feel inconvenience from the irritation caused by the down of the cane, he need not return; he can stay at home till the irritation ceases, or he can choose some other occupation. As a slave, however, he was compelled to work in the cane-field, though he thereby incurred an incurable disease. Besides, he need no longer live on pickled fish, and thus increase the tendency to disease.
Thus far I have endeavored to answer the first question, but it embraces some points which necessarily belong to, and can be better answered, subsequent questions
QUESTION II,--What is the present religious state of the Island, compared with it under slavery?
Answer.--The religious improvement has been very great. in the time of Slavery, there was almost a complete abnegation of religion, not only among the slaves, but also on the part of the white population. The most frightful immorality prevailed. Concubinage was the rule, and marriage the exception; and the example set by the whites was naturally followed by the blacks, and persons of mixed races. Sabbath desecration was all but universal. In fact, in the principal towns, Sunday was the principal market day--that being the only entire day the slaves had to sell their surplus provisions, the produce of the grounds assigned them for the cultivation of vegetable food for their own consumption, and to purchase their scanty stock of necessaries. Sunday, too, was the day especially set apart by the planters for feasting and jollity. Drunkenness and debauchery were the order of the day; and at night the sound of the fiddle added zest to the boisterous mirth. But over some of the still grosser scenes which were usually enacted, I must, in decency, throw the veil of secrecy.
With very rare exceptions, education among the slaves was strictly prohibited by the planters, and attendance on divine worship was discouraged. In fact, thinly scattered as were the parish churches over extensive tracts of country, it would have been difficult for many of the slaves to attend on the means of grace, even if they had been encouraged by their owners, and had time to do so. It was not until the arrival of missionaries of the Moravian, Wesleyan, Baptist and Presbyterian Churches that any well-conceived plan of spiritual instruction was adopted. The arrival of Bishop Lipscombe in 1824, too, had the effect of arousing the long-dormant energies of the Established clergy to the task of teaching the negro population in the face of every discouragement. Churches became multiplied; but, generally speaking, the slaves preferred the teaching of the Dissenters to that of the authorized clergy, while the slaveholders had very little objection to their slaves attending the ministrations of the latter, though attendance on the former was frequently punished with great severity. In many instances, Dissenting clergymen were heavily fined and imprisoned, for preaching to the slaves without a license--the obtaining of which could alone legalize their ministrations--while, very frequently, the magistracy would refuse to grant a license, or they would revoke it at their pleasure. I well remember the year 1832, shortly after the insurrection among the slaves, when, in the town of Falmouth, constables were set to exercise surveillance over the dwellings of free persons suspected of a leaning toward the Baptists, who were particularly objectionable, on the false and scandalous ground that they had incited the slaves to rebellion; and i have known slaves of excellent character to be severely flogged and imprisoned, with hard labor, for merely assembling together for the purpose of prayer and praise.
But, though these religious disabilities principally affected the Dissenters, zealous and pious clergymen of the Established Church, who dared to leave the beaten track, and, substituting spiritual life in their ministrations for a cold formalism, spoke in plain and affectionate language to the sable members of their respective flocks--these devoted servants of God were sure to be stigmatized as "worse than Baptists" and to be subject to all sorts of insults. Under such circumstances, is it to be wondered at that even the form of religion should be almost unknown in Jamaica?
At the period of emancipation, a reaction took place; and, from the extreme of apathy in religious matters, the fervor of religious zeal reached almost to fever heat. Regarding their religious teachers as the instruments by which their freedom had been wrought, the quondam slaves manifested their gratitude by the munificence of their contributions to the various mission funds, and by their regular attendance on the worship of God. Accordingly, spacious and elegant chapels were erected, and were filled to overflowing by crowds of anxious worshipers, who thus showed, apparently, that a great spiritual changed been effected in them. Marriages increased, and concubinage was looked upon as disgraceful. By degrees, however, this religious zeal began to abate, contributions to missions became fewer and smaller in amount, ministers of the Gospel ceased to be regarded with the excessive veneration of former days, and the places of worship to be less frequented. Marriages, too, began to be, perhaps, less frequently celebrated.
These signs of the times were, and still are, eagerly laid hold of by certain persons, and cited as evidence of the falling off of religion among the emancipated classes, and of their regression towards the sins and immoralities of the olden time. To this proposition I can by no means assent. I regard the religious enthusiasm which prevailed at the era of emancipation as nothing more than a feverish effervescence, which, no one, with the slightest knowledge of human nature, ought to have expected to last. Money wages were then a novelty to the emancipated, stimulating liberality in the erection of places of worship; and their numerous attendance at these places was the result of an acquisition long desired, but long forbidden, as well as a testimony of gratitude to their pastors. But all this does not prove that vital religion was as extensively diffused as it appeared to be. It is no wonder, therefore, that after a time, when the excitement consequent on such a novel and unlooked-for state of things had passed away, things should have assumed a more sober appearance. Such is the fact, but it is no evidence of the declension of real, vital, effective, operative religion among the black population of Jamaica. On the contrary, I have no hesitation in saying that, with less outward show, there is far more of heart religion among them than during the first few years of emancipation. And, if marriages among them are not quite so frequent now as they were then, it is only because of the then almost universal practice of marriages taking place between couples who had formerly lived together in a state of concubinage, but which sinful sort of connection is not now so common under the beneficent influence of a purer morality. Still there is no denying that there is much room for improvement in both morals and religion. It is to be hoped, however, that with the spread of intelligence, both will be better understood and more extensively practiced.
QUESTION III. - Is there less theft and other crime now than formerly?
Answer. - Opinions are divided on this branch of the subject. By some of the residents in Jamaica this question would be answered in the negative, by others in the affirmative. In the days of bondage, the slaves, being bound to the soil and circumscribed in their movements, had not such frequent opportunities of appropriating to their own use their neighbors' goods. They, however, had not the least compunction in stealing from their owners; and this propensity they attempted to justify, if with questionable morality, at all events with a sort of logical acuteness. For instance, a slave on a sugar estate, who happened to steal a quantity of sugar from his master, would argue thus:
Sugar belong to Massa;
Me belong to Massa too; therefore,
If me take sugar it belong to Massa still, and me no tief it.
Accustomed in this manner to make free with their masters' produce, at which the masters generally winked, unless the theft happened to be extensive, is it to be wondered at that when set suddenly free their untaught natures should still lead them to disregard the difference between meum and teum - that the men who, as slaves, yesterday thought it no crime to appropriate a few sugar canes belonging to their common owner, should be capable to-day, though made free, of committing a similar act?
That more cases of theft are brought to the cognizance of courts of justice than during the prevalence of Slavery, cannot be denied, but it by no means follows, as some of the Jamaica journals, with hankering after Slavery, would endeavor to make it appear, that consequently thefts are of more frequent occurrence now than then. In the olden time - "the good old times," as they are ostentatiously called - a theft committed by a slave, of too glaring a nature to be passed over, was almost invariably punished in a summary manner on the spot by a sound flogging, and "nine and thirty, well laid on," in reference to this efficacious remedy against "the law's delay," is still current as a proverb of the past.
Thus, the slaveholder, while he inflicted punishment on the thief, had an eye to his own interest in availing himself of the service of his own slave, perhaps a valuab!e one, of which he would have been deprived had he brought the matter before a court of justice, involving, perhaps, a lengthy term of imprisonment.
Nor was it alone in petty cases that the slaveholder was averse to be deprived of the services of his slave by having him publicly tried for an offense. Capital felonies, amounting to murder, have been compromised in order to secure to the owner of an offending slave the services of that piece of human property. True, for every slave hanged or transported the owner was awarded compensation by the State; but it was not always that such compensation, however considerable, would remunerate the owner for the loss of a negro of more than ordinary usefulness. A case in point once occurred in the Parish of St George, which may be regarded as a myth by the incredulous; but which I have been assured by persons well informed in the matter, and not given to hoaxing and deceiving, is a bona fide fact. Besides, I solemnly aver that with my knowledge of Jamaica in the olden time, partly acquired by actual observation and partly from information derived from aged relatives and friends, the incident I am about to relate is perfectly consistent with probability. It is as follows:
On a certain estate of Saint George, the name of which I have forgotten, the head cooper, a negro of more than ordinary skill in his occupation, killed a man in cold blood. Alarmed at the prospect of losing so valuable a slave, which no compensation the island could award him could supply, the owner laid his case before the authorities, and asked permission to substitute an aged and worn-out African, whose only occupation was to watch the cane-fields, for the real culprit. The compromise was actually effected; the ancient African was executed for the cooper's crime, the owner received compensation for his loss, and the real criminal was spared for many years to make sugar hogsheads and rum puncheons for his master, who had saved him from a fate he richly deserved. Of course, if an owner could save the forfeited life of a valuable slave, by substituting one as a victim whom he could spare, he could, with as much facility, send an innocent but useless slave to the gallows, and receive his compensation, by trumping up against him some false charge; less than the stealing of of a sheep was sufficient in those days. And this practice has been known to have been resorted to by needy but unscrupu!ous slaveholders. Let us, for the honor of human nature, hope that such cases were few and far between.
Returning to the private punishment of criminal slaves, in the present day there can be no such thing. The most petty theft, if punished at all, becomes a matter of notoriety; hence certain superficial observers as well as those whose interest it is to blacken the negro character, and to raise an outcry against the enfranchisement of the race, will have it that theft is on the increase. Whether this be really the case would be hard to determine, in the absence of satisfactory information. At all events, the growing desire in the community to expose and punish those who commit crime, evinces a more wholesome state of morality than formerly prevailed. Another reason why crime is now more apparent than it was a quarter of a century ago may be the establishment of a more efficient police, rendered necessary by the abolition of arbitrary punishment by the aggrieved parties themselves.
But what, after all, is the nature of the thefts committed by the negroes of Jamaica? They are principally larcenies of the most petty description. Robbery on the highway, or by violence, under any circumstances, is almost unknown, and although a burglary does occasionally take place, it is never attended with the circumstances of cruelty, of which we read so often in respect to Great Britain and other European countries. In fact, the only care of a burglar in Jamaica, when caught in the fact, is to decamp with all convenient speed, even though the discovery be made by a feeble woman or child.
On the whole, though I have not sufficient data for saying that thefts are more rare now than formerly, I can safely declare that the growing abhorrence of crime, in the more frequent giving up to justice of those guilty of it, and the comparative harmlessness of offenses committed in Jamaica, seem to be indicative of a more sound morality than formerly existed.
QUESTION IV. - What wages are paid now, and are the people contented with their wages?
Answer. - This double question has been very much debated, and is perhaps legitimately debatable. In reference to the first clause, "what wages are paid now?" It has been asserted that the maximum is one shilling per diem. On the other hand, this has been denied by certain persons, who broadly assert that, in agriculture, there is no such thing as day labor in Jamaica, but that the laborers are paid by the task, at one shilling per task; and it is said that any laborer of moderate strength can easily perform two tasks per day, and thus earn two shillings; but that generally the laborers are satisfied with earning one shilling, which suffices for their wants, and that they do not care for superfluities.
It seems to me that the truth lies between both statements. Certain it is that task work is the rule, and that one shilling per task is the general price. But all descriptions of plantation labor cannot be performed by task; some must be done by day labor. In such cases I have no hesitation in saying that one shilling per day is the maximum price of labor - an amount by no means exorbitant - as the wages of an able-bodied man in Jamaica. Reasoning from analogy, then, what other conclusion can we arrive at than that in fixing the price of labor at a shilling a day it is calculated that it will take a day to perform the task. l am aware, however, that there are laborers who can, by extra exertions, perform two tasks per diem, and thus become entitled to two shillings for that day's labor, and I know, also, that many who can do this will not. And why? Because it has too frequently happened that when this has been done, and the laborer at the end of the week has applied for his wages, he has been told that the proprietor of the estate cannot afford to pay two shillings for a day's labor, but that the laborer must submit to a reduction. What wonder, then, that a laborer, under such circumstances, refuses to earn more than a shilling a day - doing just as much work as his employer chooses to allot for that shilling, and no more.
In respect to the second part of the question, whether the people are contented with their wages, I should, in the absence of strikes for higher wages, say they are. But, if their tendency to quit estates' labor and locate themselves on their freeholds, as soon as they acquire sufficient money for that purpose, is evidence to the contrary, they are not. The fact seems to be, the Jamaica negro's aspirations lead him to desire to own landed property, and he is content to work for whatever he can get, for the attainment of that end, which having accomplished, he acquires a feeling of independence, rendering him indifferent towards engaging in estates' labor, without the Inducements of punctual payment and civil treatment. This is particularly the case in parishes where vegetable provisions are extensively grown. In Trelawny, however, where the soil is not favorable to their growth, the peasantry are driven to labor on the sugar plantations, returning home at night, however to their own freeholds, and the unfortunate wight who has no freehold to retire to is held in sovereign contempt, as a sort of Pariah by his more fortunate industrious colaborers. Among these people I have never heard any grumbling about the amount of their wages, as long as it is punctually paid.
An attempt has been made, however, among certain parties to stir up dissatisfaction among the laborers in respect to the amount of their wages in view of the improved state of the sugar markets in Great Britain. It has been urged, plausibly enough, that as the laborers consented to a reduction of wages during the depression in the sugar market, there should, while an upward tendency prevailed, be a corresponding rise in wages. The reply is that such a demand is unreasonable, because as the planters incurred heavy losses for several years, they are entitled to such compensation as a favorable tendency in the markets may afford. I believe, however, that some of the planters have spontaneously raised the wages of their laborers. It does not seem, however, that the attempt at agitation of a question which ought to be left entirely to the parties concerned, have had any effect in rendering the laborers discontented.
QUESTION V. - Is emancipation universally acknowledged to be a blessing by the planters?
Answer. - With very few exceptions, such is the acknowledgement of the planters. Some soreness was felt on the subject by the planting community, at the commencement of the emancipation; and it was manifested in the injudicious overt acts of ejecting the laborers from the cottages on the estates where they had lived from infancy, and the destruction of their provision grounds, leading to the purchase of their own freeholds, and the consequent independence of estates labor on the part of the peasantry. Time has, however, softened down these asperities; and when we see such men as the Hon. Edward Thompson and the Hon. Henry Westmoreland - two representatives of the conservative planting interests - bearing willing testimony, in their places in the House of Assembly, to the blessings of freedom, and eulogizing the conduct of the emancipated slaves and their descendants, it can be safely affirmed that generally, if not quite universally, the planters of Jamaica do acknowledge freedom to be a blessing.
QUESTION VI. - Is there much, if any, exhibition of revenge for past injuries?
Answer.- The best answer to this question is the fact that, since the era of emancipation, there has not been a single attempt at revolt in the island; and that, at the present moment, save a detachment of two of the 41st Regiment, and of the West India Regiment, concentrated in and around Kingston, and a few artillerymen at Port Royal, there is not a single soldier in the island - even the barracks of the large and important commercial towns of Falmouth and Montego Bay being empty. Neither, is there any militia force - all attempts to organize such a body, since its virtual disembodiment, having been laughed down. The handful of police stationed in each town has been found sufficient to put down local disturbances.
QUESTION VII. - Do laborers feel a greater interest in the soil than they did under Slavery?
Answer. - Unquestionably. This is manifest in their anxiety to acquire, and their success in acquiring, freehold property, as mentioned in my answer to the fourth question.
QUESTION VIII. - What time have laborers for their own work?
Answer. -The better description of agricultural laborers generally work on the estates from Monday morning to Friday afternoon - Saturday being devoted to labor on their own provision grounds, or to marketing. The early morning, and the evening after a estate labor is ended, are usually devoted to light labor about the homestead; and, in cases where are several children, sometimes the mother and the same children attend to the same sort of work, while the head of the family is abroad working for wages. During some periods of the year, indeed, when continuous employment cannot be obtained on the large properties, the small homesteads receive greater attention. Sometimes, it is true, the larger properties cannot procure labor, without great difficulty, when it is most required - that is during the planting season. The reason is, the same seasons which are favorable for planting on the estates are also favorable for the same purpose on the laborers' homesteads.
In the towns, laborers, having no provision grounds to attend to, work from Monday morning to Saturday night, throughout the year. In respect to domestic servants, a very bad practice prevails, of sleeping out of the house of their employers. After 9 o'clock p. m., no servants, save nurses, are to be found on the premises where they are employed. This system leads to the most glaring evils, subversive of the morals of domestic servants.
QUESTION IX. - Do the people work, or are they lazy?
Answer. - In a tropical climate, like that of Jamaica, most, if not all persons, are predisposed to laziness, but it would be unfair to charge this tendency as a characteristic peculiar to the negroes. As far as these are concerned, the question has been partially answered In the preceding: but it is, perhaps, necessary to further elucidate the matter under this head. Lately, the most extravagant accounts have appeared in The Colonial Standard - a paper bound to the planting interest - of the disinclination of the laborers to give a fair day's work for a fair day's pay. These accounts are from the pens of employers of labor, who profess to write from experience. They broadly assert, that ail the labor they can get from the peasantry in their employ, is four hours' work for four days in the week, for each of which four hours they have to pay one shilling sterling. There is exaggeration on the very face of these statements, for it is hard to induce an intelligent person, unprejudiced on either side to believe that any Jamaica planter would consent to pay any such extravagant wages. The Standard, however, has caught greedily at these statements, and advanced them as additional proofs of the laziness which has consistently and systematically charged against the negro population. It may, indeed, be true, that in certain districts the laborers will not work for a full day. But there is a sufficient reason for that, without charging it to any special propensity to lead an idle life. In some districts, the laborers live a considerable distance from the estates on which they are employed. In such cases, where there is no proper convenience for them to pass the night, they must necessarily be late in the field of a morning and set out on their return home at a comparatively early part of the day. But, as in such instances the people are paid by the task, it is difficult to perceive what pecuniary injury the proprietors sustain thereby.
On some properties, indeed, a building is provided for the night accommodation of the laborers, but, as no provision is made for the separation of age or sex, the grossest immorality has been known to prevail among those who have consented thus to herd together. The better disposed laborers, however, refuse to consent to such association, and, in cases where the distance is too great for their children to walk to and fro, they prefer keeping them at home to subjecting them to such contamination. Surely, this ought not to be charged against them as a proof of laziness.
As a proof of the willingness of the agricultural laborers to work, it is a well known fact that, in the parish of St. Thomas in the East, they have been known to set forth on the tramp, on Sunday nights, for a distance of twenty miles and more, in order to be early at their destination on Monday morning, in the hope of obtaining employment, and very frequently they are told there is no work for them.
If, however, the negroes are as lazy as they are represented to be, how is it that, whenever an American steamer calls into the port of Kingston for the purpose of coaling, late though it may be at night, the mere ringing of a bell is sufficient to summon as many laborers as will put on board several hundred tons of coal, carried on the head in tubs, in the course of two or three hours? How is it that, in the construction of a new road now in progress across the island, more laborers than are required can always be obtained? How comes it, too, that, whenever the Kingston and Liguanea Water Works Company requires laborers, they are sure to have competitors for employment? And how does it happen that the Jamaica Railway Company are equally well off for labor? The answer is, t:he laborers are liberally and punctually paid, and they willing to work for the reward they are sure to obtain.
I have one more instance to adduce, which I take to be conclusive, namely, the extensive emigration of Jamaica negroes to Aspinwall as laborers on the Panama Railway, when those works were in course of construction. Tempted by high wages, punctually paid, these people, forgetting their traditional attachment to the spot on which they were born, braved the pestilential climate of the Isthmus, where they were accounted as the very best laborers on the line. If all these facts do not refute the assertion that the Jamaica negro cannot be induced to labor in a state of freedom, I must answer the ninth question by saying that a more incorrigibly lazy set of people do not exist under the sun.
Having answered the questions propounded to me, a few concluding remarks, with the view of removing certain erroneous impressions from the minds of visitors to Jamaica, may not be out of place.
Persons who land in Kingston, on witnessing the filth, squalor, and scenes of immorality which meet their view on every side, are apt to suppose that these are the characteristics of the whole island. These peculiarities of Kingston are particularly observable whenever an American steamer calls into port, for the Harbor street is the grand focus of attraction for all the lewd women and blackguard boys of the city. If a stranger should chance to take a journey into some of the neighbouring parishes and see the wretched mud huts, thatched with grass, belonging to some of the peasantry, he may conclude that such are the habitations of the same class of people all over the island. Now, nothing can be more erroneous than such impressions. Separated north and south, as the island is, by a chain of lofty mountains, running from east to west throughout the entire island, the features of the two sides of the island, both moral and physical are quite dissimilar.
Toward the north, instead of lofty mountains, whose frowning summits pierce the clouds, the stranger will be greeted with gentle undulations, verdant with cane-fields and pastures of the Guinea grass, and he will remark a vast improvement in the habitations of the peasantry. Cottages of stone and mortar, between upright posts of hard wood, neatly roofed with cypress or cedar shingles, and substantially floored with pitch or white pine - sometimes with hard wood of native growth - take the place of mud built and grass-thatched hovels. Enter the peasant's cot, and he will observe an air of comfort in the well-appointed furniture and domestic utensils of Staffordshire pottery and glass ware, with the neat though simple decorations, for which he was unprepared, after what he has witnessed on the other side of the island. He will begin to perceive that, after all, Kingston is not Jamaica, and be induced to amend the opinions he had hastily formed from first impressions.
I have the honor to be, Sir,
Your most obedient servant,
S. B. SLACK
CHARLES TAPPAN, esq., Boston, Mass..
[Apologies for errors in transcription - it was done from decidedly blurred type which was not susceptible to OCR. Please let me know of any errors!]