The History of Barbados, from the First Discovery of the Island, in the Year 1605, till the Accession of Lord Seaforth, 1801

John Poyer

Citation Information:   John Poyer, The History of Barbados, from the First Discovery of the Island, in the Year 1605, till the Accession of Lord Seaforth, 1801 (London: Printed for J. Mawman, 1808), p. 127-132.

Mr. Stede had enjoyed the honour of his appointment nearly two years, as all his predecessors had done, without receiving any substantial reward from the country; but at length he had the address to ingratiate himself with the council and assembly, who generously made him a present of one thousand pounds sterling, which act of generosity was successively repeated in the latter years of his administration. A precedent was thus established; pregnant with much future mischief and internal dissension. The Barbadians can, with little propriety, complain that none of the patriotic purposes for which the four and a half duty was imposed, have been complied with, since they so eagerly contribute to the abuse of the grant, by providing otherwise for the service to which it ought to be applied. This seasonable donative enabled Mr. Stede to support the dignity of his station with suitable splendour; and was the more acceptable, as he soon had occasion to make a grand display of hospitality. The Duke of Albemarle, on his passage to Jamaica, of which he had been recently appointed governor, [1] having stopped at Barbadoes, was received at Fontabelle with all the honours due to his rank and quality; and was entertained by the governor several days with great pomp and magnificence.

The island was the next year alarmed by the report of a conspiracy among the slaves, to make themselves masters of the country, by murdering all the male inhabitants, or reducing them to slavery, and reserving the women for the gratification of their brutal appetites. The accomplishment of this dreadful design was happily prevented by the timely discovery of the plot; and about twenty of the most daring conspirators were sacrificed to the public safety. The calamity from which the people had been thus providentially delivered seems to have awakened the legislature to a sense of their danger, and the necessity to encouraging the population of the country. To this end they enacted a law “to encourage the importation of Christian servants, and for retaining them within the island.” Whatever might have been the advantages proposed by this plan it was far from affording an effectual counterpoise to that preponderance which the negroes must necessarily possess in the scale of numbers.

To provide a remedy suitable to the magnitude of this evil, the best policy, which could be adopted in a country where slavery prevails, is to hold out every possible encouragement to that hardy and useful, though humble, class of people, known by the colonial appellation of the tenantry. The only legitimate aim of human politics is the extension of human felicity; and this cannot be effected except by the encrease of numbers, provided with the comfortable means of subsistence. [2] To acquire and maintain an extent of population essential to the security and prosperity of the country, the rich, whose individual. interest is inseparably connected with the public welfare, should be made to yield, in some points, to the support and accommodation of the poor. The proprietors of plantations may be compelled, by the militia law, instead of billeted men, to furnish tenants, in proportion to their quantity of land, who should be legally confirmed in the unmolested enjoyment of their little tenements. [3] It was the wish of Henry IV. of France, surnamed the Father of his People, that he might live to see a fowl in the pot of every peasant in his kingdom. Let it be the aim of every Barbadian, emulous of the same glorious appellation, to erect a cottage over the head of every peasant in Barbadoes, and gratitude will invigorate the arm under which the lordly possessor will find his best security in the hour of danger. The trifling property thus bestowed on the humble husbandman, the lowly roof endeared to him by the society of a wife and children, the partners of his toils and the solace of his days, would bind him, by the most invincible ties to his native soil; and impel him, when led on by his generous landlord, to risque his life with ardour, in defence of a country to which he is attached by the most indissoluble connexions.

These are the men whose strength and courage we may rely with confidence to defend us from all attempts of our enemies, foreign or domestic. Their humility renders them more tractable and obedient, under the restraints of military discipline, than the wealthy or luxurious, whose false, mistaken pride, cannot submit to the subordination necessary in the field or the camp; and whose effeminacy renders them incapable of martial exercises. It is not enough to permit the poor to erect their temporary habitations on useless skirts of barren land. They should be encouraged to work, and punctually paid for their labour. Slaves should no longer be employed in mechanical occupations; those employments should be reserved for poor freemen, whence they might derive the means of subsistence, and the public enjoy the benefit arising from a general diffusion of the wages of industry. In Jamaica there exists a law to oblige all owners of negroes to employ one white servant for every thirty slaves; one to every hundred and fifty head of cattle; one to every tavern; and a like proportion for every boat, wherry, and canoe. [4] This law, though perverted into a mere regulation of finance, is admirably calculated to preserve the legitimate population of the country; and, under the present circumstances of Barbadoes, may, perhaps, be thought worthy of adoption, with a penalty sufficient to enforce its observance.

It was at this juncture, and upon this occasion, that the legislature of Barbadoes enacted that famous statute, Number Eighty-two, for the government of negroes, which has of late years become a popular theme of declamation in England; and subjected the peaceable, unoffending West Indians, to the most illiberal invectives and the most virulent abuse. By this law, among many provisions made for the prevention of crimes and the punishment of offences; which, to the honour of the people, are executed with a spirit as mild and lenient as the object is just and laudable, it was ordained, “That if any slave, under punishment by his master, or his order, shall suffer in life or member, no one shall be liable to any fine for it. But if any person wantonly or cruelly kill his own slave, he shall pay into the public treasury fifteen pounds. [5]

1. This nobleman affords a remarkable instance of the mutability of fortune, the vanity of human grandeur, and the fatal effects of vicious habits and profligate manners. He was the only son of General Monk, the principal agent in the restoration of Charles II. The services performed by his father were rewarded with a dukedom, the garter, and a princely fortune; but the son, reduced to indigence by extravagance and debauchery, was compelled to solicit bread from James II. who, to be freed from his importunities, bestowed on him the government of Jamaica, where, dying without issue, the title became extinct; and the honours acquired by the virtue of the father, were lost by the vices of the degenerate son.

2. Vide Paley’s Philosophy, vol.2, p.345.

3. The present militia law has made some provisions for tenants; but it seems to have been ineffectual. They are either eluded with facility, or violated with impunity. On some plantations, without regard to justice, policy, or humanity, the tenants have been wantonly and cruelly driven from their homes, and sham leases given to the white servants for the vacant tenements. In others, the poor tenant, besides his personal services, is compelled to provide himself with uniform, arms, and ammunition, at his own cost, which is more, in many instances, than the rent of the barren heath which he occupies is worth. Some men have a strange propension to evade the legal institutes of their country, merely to shew their superior cunning and dexterity. But what minds must these men possess, who can find satisfaction in such pitiful evasions; who, while they waste thousands in riot and debauchery, deny bread to the labourer, and refuse rest and shelter to the houseless wanderer?

4. This law is justly commended by a judicious historian, thoroughly acquainted with the true interests of the colonies. Vide Long’s Hist. of Jamaica, vol. 1, p 310. His remarks on this subject are too diffuse to inserted in a note. I can only, therefore, recommend his book to the perusal of my reader, as a performance, which, though less elegant than Edward’s splendid History of the West Indies, contains more useful information on colonial politics, than any other work which has come within my observations.

5. Though the punishment here prescribed, may appear disproportioned to the enormity of the crime, it should be remembered, that in a country where slaves compose the principal part of the property of the inhabitants: and where their labour, or hire, is, in many cases, the only means of their owner’s support; the loss of a slave is, of itself, a very heavy forfeiture, without an additional penalty.