Emancipation in the West Indies:
A Six months’ Tour in Antigua, Barbadoes, and Jamaica in the Year 1837
James A. Thome and J. Horace Kimball
Citation Information: James A. Thome and J. Horace Kimball. Emancipation in the West Indies: A Six months’ Tour in Antigua, Barbadoes, and Jamaica in the Year 1837 (New York: Pub. by the American Anti-Slavery Society, 1838), p. 227-230.
Prejudice has much diminished since emancipation. The discussions in England prior to that period had done much to soften it down, but the abolition of slavery has given it its death blow. The colored people are rapidly advancing to wealth and education, and are obtaining more and more respectability and power every day.
Such is a rapid sketch of the various topics touched upon during our interview with Mr. C. and his family.
Before we left the hospitable mansion of Lear’s, we had the pleasure of meeting a company of gentlemen at dinner. With the exception of one, who was provost-marshal, they were merchants of Bridgetown. These gentlemen expressed their full concurrence in the statements of Mr. C., and gave additional testimony equally valuable.
Mr. W., the provost-marshal, stated that he had the supervision of the public jail, and enjoyed the best opportunity of knowing the state of crime, and he was confident that there was a less amount of crime since emancipation than before. He also spoke of the increasing attention which the negroes paid to neatness of dress and personal appearance.
The company broke up about nine o’clock, but not until we had seen ample evidence of the friendly feelings of all the gentlemen toward our object. There was not a single dissenting voice to any of the statements made, or any of the sentiments expressed. This fact shows that the prevailing feeling is in favor of freedom, and that too on the score of policy and self-interest.
Dinner parties are in one sense a very safe pulse in all matters of general interest. They rarely beat faster than the heart of the community. No subject is likely to be introduced amid the festivities of a fashionable circle, until it is fully endorsed by public sentiment.
Through the urgency of Mr. C., whose hospitality and deep interest in the objects of our inquiry can never be forgotten by us, we were induced to remain all night. Early the next morning, he proposed a ride before breakfast to Scotland. Scotland is the name given to an abrupt, hilly section in the north of the island. It is about five miles from Mr. Co.’s, and nine from Bridgetown. In approaching the prospect bursts suddenly upon the eye, extorting an involuntary exclamation of surprise. After riding for miles, through a country which gradually swells into slight elevations, or sweeps away in rolling plains, covered with cane, yams, potatoes, eddoes, corn and grass, alternately, and laid out with the regularity of a garden; after admiring the cultivation, beauty, and skill exhibited on every hand, until almost wearied with viewing the creations of art; the eye at once falls upon a scene in which is crowded all the wildness and abruptness of nature in one of her most freakish moods — a scene which seems to defy the hand of cultivation and the graces of art. We ascended a hill on the border of this section, which afforded us a complete view. To describe it in one sentence, it is an immense basin, from two to three miles in diameter at the top, the edges of which are composed of ragged hills, and the sides and bottom of which are diversified with myriads of little hillocks and corresponding indentations. Here and there is a small sugar estate in the bottom, and cultivation extends some distance up the sides, though this is at considerable risk, for not unfrequently, large tracts of soil, covered with cane or provisions, slide down, overspreading the crops below, and destroying those which they carry with them.
Mr. C. pointed to the opposite side of the basin to a small group of stunted trees, which he said were the last remains of the Barbados forests. In the midst of them there is a boiling spring of considerable notoriety.
In another direction, amid the rugged precipices, Mr. C. pointed out the residences of a number of poor white families, whom he described as the most degraded, vicious, and abandoned people in the island — “very far below the negroes.” They live promiscuously, are drunken, licentious, and poverty-stricken, — a body of most squalid and miserable human beings.
From the height on which we stood, we could see the ocean nearly around the island, and on our right and left, overlooking the basin below us, rose the two highest points of land of which Barbadoes can boast. The white marl about their naked tops gives them a bleak and desolate appearance, which contrasts gloomily with the venture of the surrounding cultivation.
After we had fully gratified ourselves with viewing the miniature representation of old Scotia, we descended again into the road, and returned to Lear’s. we passed numbers of men and women going towards town with loads of various kinds of provisions on their heads. Some were black, and others were white — of the same class whose huts had just been shown us amid the hills and ravines of Scotland. We observed that the latter were barefoot, and carried their loads on their heads precisely like the former. As we passed these busy pedestrians, the blacks almost uniformly courtesied or spoke; but the whites did not appear to notice us. Mr. C. inquired whether we were not struck with this difference in the conduct of the two people, remarking that he had always observed it. It is very seldom, said he that I meet a negro who does not speak to me politely; but this class of whites either pass along without looking up, or cast a half vacant, rude stare into one’s face, without opening their mouths. Yet this people, he added, veriest ragamuffins as they are, despise the negroes, and consider it quite degrading to put themselves on terms of equality with them. They will beg of blacks more provident and industrious than themselves, or they will steal their poultry and rob their provision grounds at night; but they would disdain to associate with them. Doubtless these sans culottes swell in their dangling rags with the haughty consciousness that they possess white skins. What proud reflections they must have, as they pursue their barefoot way, thinking on their high lineage, and running back through the long line of their illustrious ancestry, whose notable badge was a white skin! No wonder they cannot stop to bow to the passing stranger. These sprouts of the Caucasian race are known among the Barbadians by the rather ungracious name of Red Shanks. They are considered the pest of the island, and are far more troublesome to the police, in proportion to their numbers, than the apprentices. They are estimated at about eight thousand.
The origin of this population we learned was the following: it has long been a law in Barbadoes, that each proprietor should provide a white man for every sixty slaves in his possession, and give him an acre of land, a house, arms requisite for defence of the island in case of insurrection. This caused an importation of poor whites from Ireland and England, and their number has been gradually increasing until the present time.
During our stay of nearly two days with Mr. C., there was nothing to which he so often alluded as to the security from danger which was now enjoyed by the planters. This was manifestly prized as an invaluable blessing. As he set in his parlor, surrounded by his affectionate family, the sense of personal and domestic security appeared to be a luxury to him. He repeatedly expressed himself substantially thus: “During the existence of slavery, how often have I retired to bed fearing that I should have my throat cut before morning, but now the danger is all over — I don’t fear any violence now.”
We took leave of Lear’s, after a protracted visit, not without having a pressing invitation from Mr. C. to call again.