Imatges de pÓgina
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ing it to the perfection mentioned by Lacroix. 'In the year 1801, he was called upon by Toussaint to repair to Paris, to lay before the Directory the new constitution, which had been agreed upon in St Domingo. He obeyed the summons. It happened that he arrived in France just at the moment of the peace of Amics : here he found, to his inexpressible surprise and grief, that Buonaparte was preparing an immense armament, to be commanded by Le Clerc, for the purpose of restoring slavery in St Domingo.'_' He remonstrated against the expedition; he told him to his face, that, though the army destined for this purpose was composed of the brilliant conquerors of Europe, it could do nothing in the Antilles. He stated, as, another argument against the expedition, that it was totally unnecessary, and therefore criminal; for that every thing was going on well in St Domingo. The proprietors were in peaceable possession of their estates ; cultivation was making a rapid progress ; the Blacks were industrious, and beyond example happy.

' I must now leave a blank of nearly two years, or till the year 1804. It cannot be expected during a war, in which every man was called to arms to defend his own personal liberty and that of his family, that we should see plantations cultivated as quietly as before, or even cultivated at all. But this was not the fault of the emancipated Negroes, but of their former masters.'-' The expedition at last arrived upon the shores of St Domingo :-a scene of blood and torture followed, such as history had seldom, if ever before disclosed, and compared with which, though planned and executed by Whites, all the barbarities said to have been perpetrated by the insurgent Blacks of the North, amount comparatively to nothing: The French troops

. were not the authors of tearing to pieces the Negroes alive by bloodhounds, or of suffocating them by hundreds at a time in the holds of ships, or of drowning them (whole cargoes) by scuttling and sinking the vessels—but the Planters. At length, however, the French were driven from the island. Till that time the Planters had retained their property, and then it was, but not till then, that they lost their all. It cannot be expected that I should have any thing to say of the industry or good order of the emancipated Negroes during such a convulsive period.' pp. 24–26.

In the year 1804, Dessalines was proclaimed Emperor of this fine territory. In process of time a great part of the Black troops were disbanded, and returned to cultivation. As they were free when they became soldiers, so they continued to be free when they became labourers again. From that time to this, there has been no want of subordination or industry among them. They or their descendants are the persons by whom the plains and valleys of St Domingo are still cultivated, and they are reported to follow their occupations still, and with as fair a character as other free labourers in any other quarter of the globe.' p. 26.

After some most interesting and satisfactory details concerning the administration of the Island under Toussaint, and its effects upon the manners and condition of the inhabitants, our author justly marks the diversity' between this grand experi

6 ment and any which can ever be dreamt of elsewhere. The St Domingo slaves, half a million in number, were liberated in a day, without preparation, or even warning; while ferocious bands, profaning the name of freedom, were occupied in massacring one another to gratify their mutual hatred, or obtain the ascendant for purposes of a nature still more sordid. To intestine discord, foreign war, and even invasion was added. In short, whether we regard the circumstances in which the experiment was made, or the nature of the thing tried, it would be difficult to picture any measure more unlike the course now recommended to our Government and planters, or any more unfavourable to the securing of a successful result; and yet no one can deny, that, under every imaginable disadvantage, if we except the horrors attending the earlier part of the struggle, for which Negro emancipation is undoubtedly nowise accountable, the transition of the people in St Domingo from bondage to freedom, has been accomplished with safety and ease.

The sixth experiment need not detain us long; because, although it is extremely interesting in itself, yet the circumstances in which it was tried may be considered as peculiar; and the greater part of it falls rather within the class of gradual, than of sudden emancipations. We allude to the noble example set by General Bolivar in freeing his slaves, to the number of between seven and eight hundred, and the decree of the Congress made at his suggestion in July 1821, by which all those who had served as soldiers in the war of independence were emancipated, and all children born after that time were declared free, on condition of serving the master of the parents until they should attain their eighteenth year. A letter to Mr Stephen, that most zealous, tried, and powerful enemy of Negro slavery, written seven months after the decree was in force, states, that potwithstanding these prospective provisions, and these acts of immediate liberation, all the slaves were peaceably at work • through the Republick (of Columbia), as well the newly en• franchised, as those originally free.' And a gentleman of high consideration, who lately arrived in London from the Republick, states, that the liberated slaves were steady and in

dustrious, and had conducted themselves well, without a single exception.'

We come now to the last case, and it is, in many respects, the most important of the whole. Hitherto we have been surveying instances of sudden emancipation attended with no mischief; but it must be allowed, that such a change is not advisa

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able, if attempted upon a great scale. The experiment which we are now to contemplate demonstrates the facility with which a more gradual change may be effected upon any scale, and shows how the condition of the slaves may be mended, and their entire liberation granted all over the colonies, without any risk to the negroes, and with great gain, even in money, to the planters.

The individual whom we are now to mention, perhaps we should say, introduce to the reader, was evidently one of the most remarkable men of his age and nation; yet, to our shame we speak it, until Mr Clarkson's work turned our attention towards him, we had hardly been aware of his existence. To the shame of the world, and its wickedness and its vanities, let us rather say—for hence it is that the name of great is, by the common consent of men, given exclusively to the worst enemies of man, the destroyers and tormentors and oppressors of their kind-that the imagination loves to be dazzled with feats of power, rather than soothed with labours of love; and an unthinking generation is ever prone to venerate the selfish and violent men who have shed its blood profusely, to forge chains for the survivors, while it neglects, or despises, or, if that be impossible, abhors those who would, by peaceful courses, compass the sacred purpose, of unchaining the mind and unbinding the limbs. But for this habitual prostitution of the noisy trumpet of fame, the good works of Joshua Steele would, long ere now, have been too well known to require our humble efforts for his panegyrick.

This extraordinary person was the owner of three considerable estates in Barbadoes, but resided in London, where he was Vice-President of the Society of Arts. Possessed of great talents and erudition, he appears to have devoted a long life to study, and the promotion of philanthropic pursuits, when, at the advanced age of eighty, he, by examining the annual accounts of his West Indian estates, and particularly the loss of Negro life which they exhibited, was induced to undertake a strict investigation of the matter, and, for this purpose, at once repaired to the spot. During two years residence, he gained a practical knowledge of West Indian husbandry, and of the temper, disposition, habits, and customs of the slaves. He had also read much, and thought much. It may be inferred from his writings, that three questions especially had employed his mind. 1. Whether he could not do away all arbitrary punishments and yet keep up discipline among the slaves ? 2. Whether he could not carry on the plantation-work through the stimulus of reward? 3. Whether he could not change slavery into a condition of a milder name and character, so that the slaves should be led, by degrces, to the threshold of liberty, from whence they might step next, without hazard, into the rank of free men, if circumstances should permit and encourage such a procedure? Mr Steele conceived, after mature consideration, that he could accomplish these objects; and he resolved to make the experiment gradually upon his own estates.

Nothing can be conceived more sound than these principles, or more admirable than the sense which laid them down in theory, excepting it be the sagacity and skill, as well as firmness, tempered with moderation, which he evinced in reducing them to practice. He began by bringing the first of the three positions to the test of experience. He at once took from all the overseers and their white servants their whips, and all power of inflicting arbitrary punishments. The chief overseer resigned; and, as his deputies could, no more than himself, bear the loss of their whips, all were dismissed together ; but in their place was formed a magistracy out of the Negroes themselves, with a court or jury of the elder Negroes, for the trial of casual offences. These courts being always held in presence of Me Steele or his new superintendant, soon grew respectable in the eyes of the slave population; and rulers or magistrates were appointed over the whole gang, with a general superintendence and a power of occasionally reporting every thing that went wrong to the owner or his delegate, and, in case of any emergency, of consulting together as to the means of rectifying any disorders. Satisfied with the results of this first step, he rested for a year, and then vertured upon the second, the change of forced into voluntary labour, but without emancipation. The most laborious operation in West Indian husbandry, is that of holing cane pieces; and it is the one always pitched upon by those who are fond of maintaining the necessary connexion between Negro slavery and that great end and aim of their toilthe production of sugar, and would exemplify their humane and rational doctrine, by an irrefragable instance. Accordingly, Mr Steele began, by offering on a certain day, a reward in money, (about three halfpence each person per day) with the usual allowance of provisions, to any twenty-five Negroes who would undertake to hole a certain extent in a day. The whole gang volunteered, but only fifty were accepted ; and among them were several who had usually pretended inability to work upon much lighter occasions. The work was done cheerfully and effectually, and so expeditiously, that the labourers had an hour every evening to spare. Other kinds of work were then done in-like manner; and a comparative trial of labour being made

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without reward, it was found to be, in similar circumstances, only one-third in amount, during an equal time, by the same labour

He repeated the experiment the year after with similar success; and from that time, the cultivation of the estate was carried on by taskwork, or by Negroes, slaves no doubt, but working for hire by the piece.

It was not till 1789, nine years after he had settled in Barbadoes, and seven from the commencement of his reform, that this truly practical philosopher proceeded to effect the great improvement of changing the slave into a kind of copyholder; or at least a villein regardant, with more of privilege and less of arbitrary restraint than they used to have, who of old formed the mass of the peasantry in England. His plan was modelled upon the old law of the mother country, selecting such parts as were best suited to the purpose, and with such medifications as, change of time and place demanded. • He erected his plantations into manors. It

appears,

that the Governor of Barbadoes had the power by charter, with the consent of the majority of the council, of dividing the island into manors, lordships, and precincts, and of making freeholders s and though this had not yet been done, Mr Steele hoped, as a member of council, to have influence sufficient to get his own practice legalized in time. Presuming upon this, he registered in the manor-book all his adult male slaves as copyholders. He then gave them separate tenements of lands, which they were to occupy, and upon which they were to raise whatever they might think most advantageous. These tenements consisted of half an acre of plantable and productive land to cach adult; a quantity supposed to be sufficient, with industry, to furnish him and his family with provision and clothing. The tenements were made descendible to the heirs of the occupiers or copyholders, that is, to the children on the plantations ; for no part of the succession was to go out of the plantations to the issue of any foreign wife, and, in case of no such heirs, they were to fall in to the lord, to be re-granted according to his discretion. It was also inscribed, that any one of the copyholders, who would not perform his services to the manor (the refractory and others), was to forfeit his tenement and his privileged rank, and to go back to the state of villein in gross, and to be subject to corporal punishment as before. “ Thus," says Mr Steele,

we run no risk whatever in making the experiment, by giving such copyhold tenements to all our well-deserving Negroes, and to all in general, when they appear to be worthy of that favour."

• Matters having been adjusted so far, Mr Steele introduced the practice of rent and wages. He put an annual rent upon each tenement, which he valued at so many days' labour. He set a rent also upon personal service, as due by the copyholder to his master in his former quality of slave, seeing that his master or predecessor haq

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