Imágenes de páginas

a most flagrant violation of the laws of nations to employ His
Britannic Majesty's forces in an hostile manner against any de-
scription of the subjects of France.
“ I am, Sir, with great respect,
“ Your obedient and humble servant,

« To M. Billard,
- President of the Colonial Assembly.”

At a public dinner which was given by the assembly to Captain Russell," he represented to them that there was á Lieutenant Perkins, of the royal navy, confined in a dungeon at Jeremie under the pretext of his having supplied the people of colour with arms. Captain Russell said he had satisfied himself of his innocence - that he had undergone nothing like a legal process, a thing impossible from the suspension of their ordinary courts of justice, owing to the divided and distracted state of the colony; and yet he lay under sentence of death. “ Grant me his life,” said Captain Russell — “ do not suffer these people to be guilty of the murder of an innocent man, by which they will drag down British vengeance upon the whole island.”

The assembly promised that he should be released. Captain Russell sent Mr. Pipon for the order, which was refused — “ as it was a promise made after dinner, they did not think it binding.” At this time his Majesty's sloop Ferret, Captain Nowell, hove in sight. She had been at Jeremie with dispatches, containing requests from Lord Effingham and Admiral Affleck, that Lieutenant Perkins might be delivered up, which the assembly there, by the following communication, refused; adding verbally, that the imperative voice of the law called for his execution :

The Council of Commons of Jeremie to Captain Nowell, Commander

of His Britannic Majesty's brig the Ferret. “ SIR - However agreeable it has been for us to have you amongst us, our desire would have been not to retard your voyage to the Cayes : our occupations alone have been the cause of your staying here twenty-four hours longer than you intended.

• The law imperiously commands us to retain Mr. Perkins, and to send him to the colonial assembly.


66 We are,

66 Your obedient and most humble servant,

6 PLIQUE, " Jeremie, 16th Feb. 1792."

“ President du Conseil.”

Naval Chronicle, vol. xvii. p. 457.

Captain Russell immediately proceeded to Jeremie, and sent Captain Nowell on shore with the following letter :

“ His Majesty's ship Diana, off Jeremie, 6 SIR,

Feb. 24, 1792. I applied to the provisional assembly at Aux Cayes for the liberation of Lieutenant John Perkins, of His Britannic Majesty's royal navy, and my application was immediately and of course complied with. M. Billard, the president, promised me an order to your assembly to deliver him up to me. That order had not. arrived at L'Isle de Vache, where I lay, before I sailed, which must be no impediment to your sending him off to me in safety immediately. If, however, it should unfortunately be otherwise, let it be remembered that I do hereby, in the most formal and, solemn manner, demand him. Captain Nowell knows my resolulution in case of the least hesitation. “ I have the honour to be, Sir, “ Your obedient humble servant,

« T. M. RUSSELL, • To M. Plique,

“ Captain of the Diana. “ President of the Council at Jeremie.”

Captain Nowell, on landing, was surrounded by a mob. The president read the letter, and said, “ Sir, suppose I do not?” « In that case," replied Captain Nowell, “ you draw down a destruction you are little aware of. Captain Russell has allowed sixty minutes for you to decide - you see, sir, thirty of them are elapsed.” Some one present said, “ You shall have him, but it shall be in quarters.” Captain Nowell drew his sabre, and said to the president, “ Sir, order that fellow out of my sight, or he dies.” The president did so, and after some further conversation Perkins was led from his dungeon and released. At the door of the prison the rack was placed, on which the next morning he was to have been tortured.,

On the 2d of March, the council and assembly of Jamaica reenacted their consolidation act, or slave code, which they always do in an original form, as if there were no preceding law existing on the subject; and on every successive call by the House of Commons this ponderous often-seen act is transmitted at full length, so that any amendments can only be ascertained by a laborious collation with the former ones. If the new enactments alone were returned, large sums of the public money would be saved, and how far they had attended to the wishes of parliament be more easily known. Mr. Bryan Edwards boasted that this act had secured as great a latitude of enjoyment and comfort to the slaves as could be done with safety; and the assembly afterwards, in a report of 1799, say, that every thing possible has been done to render the condition of the slaves as favourable as is consistent with their reasonable ser

vices and the safety of the Whites; but by the tenth section of this ultimate and perfect work, in no other case but that of “ very atrocious mutilations” is a power given to any court to deliver a slave cruelly treated from the convicted master. Various other cruel practices are prohibited by special descriptions under small penalties; but on every other conviction than that for“ very * atrocious cases of mutilation," the slave must, and even in those cases might go back to his brutal master : and if the cruel treatment was inflicted by any other person than the owner of the slave, the remedy would not apply. Now, as comparatively few owners reside in the colonies, if the manager, overseer, lessee, or mortgagee in possession did it, the poor slave must return to his oppressor, to expiate, by numberless inflictions of which the laws do not even affect to take cognizance, the offence of having complained to a magistrate, or been the cause of his master's conviction.

But if it should appear to the magistrates that the complaint was groundless, they may punish the complainant (by the Jamaica act of 1816) in such manner as to them may seem proper.

A West India slave, strictly speaking, has no civil rights whatever, for he has no civil character or personality. By the black act of this country, the malicious killing, maiming, or wounding of cattle is a capital felony, but the cattle have not therefore civil rights; the crime consists in the injury done to the master's property, or to public morals, or to the police and good order of the state, not in the violation of any right of the sufferer.

A slave cannot maintain any suit or action whatever, either in his own name or by guardian. He cannot contract or be contracted with; he cannot make assignment, bequest, gift, or other disposition of property, whereby a title may be created to things incorporeal

. À promissory note or bond made to a Negro slave would have as much legal effect as if the payee or obligee were a horse or a spaniel. Before the Negroes can be efficaciously protected, the local laws relative to evidence must be altered. Their only legal protection is either by the action or suit of the master, or by indictment or other prosecution at the suit of the crown. Personal injuries received by him from strangers of free condition may be the subject of a suit by his master, precisely as the law of England allows in respect of horses or cattle. It is protection only to the property which the master has in his slave's person.

By the sixteenth section of the act of Jamaica, vestries may impose taxes on the parishioners for the support of manumitted Negroes and Múlattoes, when disabled by sickness or age. In some of the acts it is expressly recited, that manumissions were often fraudulent on the part of the master, their object being to avoid the charge of supporting infirm slaves. If a master wished

Stephen on West Indian Slavery, pp. 130. 135.61 40. 395.

u sfthhold snbsistence from his disabled slave, a fraudulent manuEssion would be perfectly needless; for he might much more privately famish him in his servile state, by confining him to the puntation, where he could neither be a prosecutor or a witness.

The ruinous nature of the sugar cultivation is proved by the reports of the insular assemblies. In the course of twenty years, snding this year, one hundred and seventy-seven estates in Jamaica were sold for the payment of debts ; fifty-five estates thrown up; ad ninety-two were then (November 23d, 1792) in the hands of creditors. During the same period, 80,021 executions, amounting to above £22,500,000 sterling, had been lodged in the provostmarshal's office.

Previous to the execution of a slave, he is appraised, and the value, not exceeding a limited sum, is allowed and paid to his owner out of the public treasury of the island. - (See sect. 56, act of Jamaica this year.) But in Barbadoes, and some other colonies, it is provided by law, that the party injured by the crime shall first be indemnified out of the sum so allowed, to the extent of the dama te sustained.

The reason given for this regulation is, that masters, if not indemnified for the loss of their property, would not give up their slares to publie justice, but rather assist them in escaping from it, when accused of capital crimes. This remuneration is injurious in two ways. Were the master's self-interest engaged, he would employ a counsel or solicitor to defend the slave, who, from his ignorance and helplessness, is unable to defend himself. The natural order of things by which men in superior private relations become in some measure pledges to society for the good conduct of their families, is also weakened thereby. The crime of the slave is often the inevitable fruit of the master's oppression, in “not allowing them,” as the act recites, “ time to plant or provide for themselves, for which cause such Negroes or other slaves are necessitated to commit crimes.” — “ And yet the safety of this island (Barbadoes) requiring that such Negroes and other slaves shall suffer as the law has appointed,” therefore such masters whose neglect of feeding causes the slaves to be guilty of such crimes are not “ to be countenanced therein at the charge of the public,” and the treasurer of the island is only to pay the damage to the party injured, and nothing to the master. Here we have men starving, not from idleness, but because their master works them too closely to allow them time to provide for themselves; so that the only alternatives left the slave, is to starve, or be hanged. There is no punishment awarded for the master ; but she is not to be countenanced therein at the charge of the public,” and that is all.

This law of Barbadoes was passed in 1688, re-enacted without

[ocr errors]

any amendment as to these objectionable clauses in 1739, and is, Mr. Stephen says in 1824, “probably still unrepealed.”

In this pitiable case of involuntary crime, the legislature, by directing the execution immediately to follow the sentence, shuts out the possibility of pardon : the prosecutor having a private interest in the execution of the criminal, the granting a pardon without his consent might be a matter of some embarrassment, and by the act he had a legal right to insist on the execution of the sentence. In every case, however deserving of mercy, he was to receive part of the price of blood, and therefore might demand its effusion.

Dr. Coke returned again to Jamaica. 6 But the persecution (he says) which we have experienced in this place, far, very far, exceeds all the persecutions that we have met with in the other islands, unitedly considered. Mr. Hammett's life was frequently endangered. Mr. Bull several times narrowly escaped being stoned to death, particularly one night, when he eluded the vigilance of the rioters by being disguised in a suit of regimentals.

“ We forbear to record specific instances of brutality and wickedness, or to mention the names of those whose sons shall blush their fathers were our foes.

“ To depart from persecution, was to flee from duty; and to apply for justice, was but another name for sustaining wrong. To abandon the chapel altogether, was to expose it to ruin and demolition; and to persevere in the usual course, was to endanger life. To quit the scene of action was to give up the contest, and to arm those by whom we were oppressed with that victory for which they had been contending, and which would become a formidable weapon on a future day.” Mr. Hammett was obliged to refrain from preaching by candle-light.

Dr. Coke, however, on the first evening of his arrival, ventured to open the chapel again for preaching by candle-light, and had a numerous audience; but some of them, he says, were very rude. The following is his report of his proceedings in Spanish Town:

“ In the evening I appeared in the long-room of the tavern, according to permission, having previously sent notice round the town. When I entered, I found it nearly filled by the young bucks and bloods (as we used to term the debauchees at Oxford), and not a single lady was present: soon afterwards, many of the coloured people, of both sexes, came and filled the vacant places. During my sermon the bucks behaved so rudely, that I observed, before I concluded, that if any house-keeper would lend me a hall, I would preach again the next evening; otherwise, I should probably be obliged to leave the place. • Farewell, sir !' said one; • Good luck to you, sir !' said another: and thus they went on, till

Coke's West Indies, vol. i. p. 421.

« AnteriorContinuar »