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ON THE SLAVE-TRADE.
To the Editor of the British Press.
April 3, 1805. It is a very important and striking truth, worthy the serious confideration of all those who doubt the enormous wickedness of West-Indian Slavery, that its most re. spe&able champions, and even those among them who, by an affectation of candour, have made the most powerful impression on the publick mind, have been obliged to refort to gross misrepresentations of the facts upon which they reason. Sometimes, in order to deprive of our sympathy the wretched vi&tims of colonial despotism, fallacious representations have been wilfully given of their conduct and character ; at other times, in order to draw a veil over their sufferings and wrongs, advantage has been taken of the ignorance of the European Publick respecting West-Indian affairs, by diclofing just so much of a particular fact, as would furnish a bafis for an inference opposite to the truth, and invidiously suppreffing the rest.
Of this practice, Mr. Brougham, in his able work, entitled, An Inquiry into the Colonial Policy of the European Powers, has given some examples in writers of the first reputation among the Apologists of the West-Indian system.
The cart-whip is the planter's ordinary instrument, both of coercion and punishment. When used for the former purpose by the driver in the field, it is generally applied to the poor labourers in their working posture, without stopping to strip them of the clothes by which their backs may
happen happen to be defended. The effect is sufficiently severe yet not so much so as commonly to leave permanent marks on the body. But when a punishment is to be deliberately inflicted, the patient is stretched upon the ground, with his limbs extended, and the cart-whip, (which, in the hands of an expert driver, is a most merciless instrument of torture,) is vertically applied, with all his force, and with an iteration sometimes extending to an hundred lashes, upon that fleshy part of the naked frame, which alone can receive such extreme discipline, without great danger to life. Not only is the scarf-skin peeled-off by every contact of the lash, but deep incisions are made, which often leave lasting scars of shocking appearance: from these scars very few fieldnegroes are wholly exempt.
This general and notorious fact having been noticed by the Abolitionists, in the first discussion on the Slave-trade, but without a distinct specification, as it would seem, of the part of the body which bore these badges of cruelty, a tour to the Windward Illands was written by one WestIndian planter of great eminence (Sir William Young), and published in a well-known work of another, (History of the West-Indies, by Mr. Bryan Edwards), in which the following passage appears: “I particularly noticed every negro whom I met, or overtook, on the road; of those, I counted' eleven who were dressed as field-negroes, with only trowsers on, and, adverting to the evidence on the. Slave-trade, I particularly remarked that not one of the eleven had a single mark, or scar, of the whip, &c.-Never paffing a flave, without observing his back, either in the field, or on the road, or wenches washing in the river, I have not seen one back marked, besides that of the woman observed on Mr. Gi's estate, &c."
Sir William Young's object in bringing-forward this statement is obviously to discredit the accounts which have
been given of the feverity of West-Indian bondage. He is himself owner of several plantations, and therefore must have had ample means of ascertaining the real state of the case. But such is the unfairness of the impression which his account is calculated to produce,-an unfairness which could not escape the notice of any man having the flightest acquaintance with West-Indian affairs,—that Mr. Edwards thought himself bound, (from regard, it is to be presumed, to his own character for veracity,) to subjoin to the passage the following note: “ In the West-Indies the punishment of whipping is commonly inflicted, not on the backs of the negroes, as pra&tised in the discipline of the British foldiers, but, more humanely and with much less danger, on the partes posteriores. It is therefore no proof that the negroes whom Sir William Young inspected had escaped flagellation, because their shoulders bore no impression of the whip. This acknowledgment I owe to truth and candour."
The candid annotator well knew that, if the just and necessary sentence of a court.martial were to be executed by the fame instrument, and to the fame extent, as the arbitrary and, often, capricious mandate of a Weft-Indian overseer, the back could not be the seat of punishment without certain death to the fufferer.
But of the candour of Mr. Edwards, as an historian, in what regards this hapless race, Mr. Brougham has furnished ample illustration ; and one instance of it well deserves to be noticed. A Mr. Gallifer, a planter of St. Domingo, was celebrated for his mild treatment of his flaves; and the consequence of his lenity was, that they increased in numbers very rapidly ; but, about the year 1773, this gentleman died, and the negroes found a new master of an oppofite character, who treated them so badly, that their numbers, instead of increasing as before, continually declined. These facts were published by Mr. Clarkson, in 1788, in his Esay on the Impolicy of the Slave-trade; and as that period was three years anterior to the Revolution in St. Domingo, of course there could be no room for suspicion, that, with a view to the events of that Revolution, Mr. Clarkson could have devised or misrepresented the fact of the reverse of treatment upon Gallifer's estate, which had taken place fifteen years before he wrote; yet Mr. Edwards, in his History of St. Domingo, for the purpose of supporting an absurd and mischievous calumny on the oppressed African race (the charge of their being wholly destitute of the natural sentiment of gratitude), has inserted the former part of Mr. Clarkson's anecdote, but wholly suppressed the death of Mr. Gallifer, and the change of treatment by the new master, and has then given a shocking account of the exceffes committed in the insurrection by the negroes of this estate; as if the peculiar indulgence and kind treatment of their owner had produced the effect of making them more ferocious than the rest of the insurgents.
Of such misrepresentation, if wilful, for such a purpose, it would be difficult to speak with the reprehension it deserves; and yet, as Mr. Brougham observes, the mutilation of the case could not be accidental. It would be difficult, indeed, to believe, that so industrious an advocate as Mr. Edwards had not read the work of so distinguished an opponent as Mr. Clarkson, whose very words too he in part uses upon this occafion. Besides, Mr. Edwards had been at Cape François, in the near neighbourhood of this estate, during the insurrection; and he tells us, with Mr. Clarkfon, that the name of Mr. Gallifer had been proverbial for his humanity—“ As happy as Gallifer's negroes :" it could hardly have escaped his notice, that so remarkable a character, who had been dead near twenty years, was not live · ing at that interesting period. And even were it pollible to acquit this writer of wilful misrepresentation in this
case, his rashness, in confidently afferting so extraordinary an instance of depravity in direct oppofition to the truth of the case, muft be fatal to his credit as an historian.
It is painful to make such obiervations on a writer now no more; but Mr. Edwards, under the mask of an affected candour and moderation, has done more to mislead the publick mind, at the expence of truth, and of the oppressed African race, than all the other advocates of the SlaveSystem united : and we must not suffer the cause of millions now living, and myriads yet unborn, to be prejudiced by false tenderness to the memory of the dead.