Jamaican Family Search Genealogy Research Library
[The Atlantic Monthly. Volume 17, Issue 102, April 1866]
If Cuba be the Queen of the Antilles, then fairest of the sisterhood which adorn her regal state is Jamaica. A land of streams and mountains, from the one it derives almost inexhaustible fertility of valleys and plains; from the other, enchanting prospects, which challenge comparison with the scenery even of Tyrol and Switzerland. Tropical along its shores, temperate up its steep hills, the sun of Africa on its plains, the frosts of New England in its mountains, there is scarcely a luxury of the South or a comfort of the North which may not be cultivated to advantage somewhere within its borders. Here is the natural home of the sugar-cane; and it is scarcely a figure of speech to say that the sugar supply of the world might come from the teeming bosom of this little island. Here too are slopes of hills, and broad savannas, where the grass may almost be seen growing, and where may be bred cattle fit to compete with the far-famed herds of England. The forests are full of mahogany and logwood. The surrounding waters swarm with fish of every variety, and of the finest flavor. Nominally, at. least, the people are free and self- governed; and if, under propitious skies, the burdens either of the private home or of the state are heavy and crushing, it is because of mismanagement and not of necessity. To a casual observer, therefore, it would seem as if nowhere in the same space were gathered more elements of wealth, prosperity, and happiness than in Jamaica.
Yet Jamaica is poor and discontented, and from year to year is growing more miserable and more full of complaints. While on the little island of Barbadoes, which is flat and comparatively destitute of natural beauty, the inhabitant is proud to the verge of the ludicrous of his home, the Jamaican, dwelling amid scenes of perpetual loveliness, despises his native soil. And not without reason. For Jamaica presents that saddest and least flattering sight, a land sinking into hopeless ruin. Her plantations are left uncultivated. Her cities look time-worn and crumbling. Her fields, which once blossomed like the rose, are relapsing into the wilderness. She does not feed her people. She does not clothe them. She does not furnish them shelter. With three hundred and fifty thousand negroes she has not sufficient labor. With twenty thousand whites she has not employers enough who are capable of managing wisely and paying honestly what labor she has. With a soil which Nature has made one broad pasture, she does not raise the half of her own beef and pork. With plains which ought to be waving with luxuriant harvests of wheat and corn, her children are fed from our overflowing granaries. With woods filled with trees fit for building, she sends all the way to the Provinces for shingles, joist, and boards. On her two hundred swift, sparkling rivers there was not, in 1850, a single saw-mill. In an age of invention and labor-saving machines, the plough is to her a modern innovation; and her laborers still scratch the soil which they seek to till with tools of the Middle Ages. Even the production of sugar, to which she has sacrificed every other industrial interest, has sunk from the boasted hundred and fifty thousand hogsheads of the last century, to a meagre yearly crop of thirty thousand. Nine tenths of her proprietors are absentees. More than that proportion of her great estates are ruinously mortgaged. A tourist gives as the final evidence of exhaustion, that Jamaica has no amusements, no circus, no theatre, no opera, none of the pleasant trifles which surplus wealth creates.
Nor are the moral aspects any more encouraging. Slavery, dying, cursed the soil with its fatal bequest, contempt for labor ; and the years which have elapsed since emancipation have done little or nothing to give to the toiler conscious dignity and worth. The bondsman, scarcely yet freed from all his chains, naturally enough thinks that, if Massa will not work, it is the highest gentility in him not to work either, and sighs for a few acres whereon he may live in sluggish content. And his quondam master, left to his own resources, will not any more than before put his shoulder to the work; and, though sunk himself in sloth, ceases not to complain of another's indolence. The spirit of caste is still relentless. The white man despises the black man, and, if he can, cheats him and tramples upon him. The black man, in return, suspects and fears his old oppressor, and sometimes, goaded to desperation, turns upon him. A perpetual discontent has always brooded over Jamaica; and it is recorded that no less than thirty bloody rebellions have left their crimson stains on her ignoble annals.
It is in vain to inquire for the causes of this physical and moral decay. For every class has its special complaint, every traveler his favorite theory, and every political economist his sufficient explanation. But let the cause be what it may, the fact stands out black and repulsive. Jamaica, which came from the hand of the Creator a fair and well-watered garden, has presented for more than half a century that melancholy spectacle, too common in Equatorial America, of a land rich in every natural advantage, and yet through the misfortune or folly of its people plunged in poverty and misery.
The world at large had become tired of the griefs of Jamaica, and reconciled itself to her wretchedness as a foregone conclusion, when the events of last October lent a fresh and terrible interest to her history. An insurrection, including in its purpose the murder of every white man on the island, has been quenched in the blood of its leaders, say the Governor of Jamaica and his defenders. An insignificant riot has been followed by a wholesale and indiscriminate massacre, sparing not even the women and children, reply their opponents.
Admitting for a moment the whole planter theory of a general insurrection, the question inevitably arises, What are the causes which would prompt such a rebellion, and which, while they do not justify violence, furnish reasons why every humane mind should desire to treat with leniency the errors, and even the crimes, of an ignorant and oppressed race? The ordinary burden of the Jamaica negro is far from a light one. The yearly expense of his government is not less than a million dollars, or about three dollars for every man, woman, and child on the island. The executive and judicial departments are on a scale of expense which would befit a continent. The Governor receives a salary of forty thousand dollars, the Chief Justice fifteen thousand dollars, the Associate Justices ten thousand dollars. The ecclesiastical establishment, which ministers little or nothing to the religious wants of the colored race, absorbs another huge portion of the public revenue. And all this magnificence of expenditure in a population of twenty thousand bankrupt whites and three hundred and fifty thousand half-naked blacks. If now, the Negro believed that this burden was distributed evenly, he might hear it with patience. But he does not believe so. He is sure, on the contrary, that the white man, who controls legislation, so assesses the revenue that it shall relieve the rich and burden the poor. He tells you that the luxuries of the planter are admitted at a nominal duty, while the coarse fabrics with which he must clothe himself and family pay forty per cent; that while the planters huge hogshead of seventeen hundred pounds weight pays only an excise of three shillings, the hard-raised barrel of his home produce of two hundred pounds must pay two shillings; that every miserable mule-cart of the petty land-owner is subjected to eighteen shillings license, while the great ox-carts of the thousand-acre plantation go untaxed, a law under which the number of little carts in one district sunk from five hundred to less than two hundred, and with it sunk who shall tell how much growing enterprise. These complaints may be unjust, but the Negro believes in them, and they chafe and exasperate him.
Another important question is, What is the ability of the negro to bear these burdens? A defender of the planters gravely asserts that the negro demands a price for his labor which would be exorbitant in any part of the world. What is that exorbitant price? An able bodied agricultural laborer in Jamaica receives from eighteen to thirty cents a day; and, if he is both fortunate and industrious, may net for a years work the fabulous sum of from fifty to eighty dollars. And this in a country which is one of the dearest in the world; where the necessaries of life are always at war prices; where flour is now twenty dollars a barrel, and eggs are fifty cents a dozen, and butter is forty cents a pound, and ham twenty-five, and beef and mutton still higher.
Did the laborer actually receive his pittance, his lot might be more tolerable. But it is the almost universal complaint, that, either from inability or disinclination, the planter does not keep his agreements. Sometimes the overseer, when the work has been done, and well done, arbitrarily retains a quarter, or even a half, of the stipulated wages. The negro says he has no chance for redress; that even a written agreement is worth no more than a blank paper, for the magistrates are either all planters, or their dependents, and have no ears to hear the cry of the lowly. Add now to all this the fact, that the last few seasons have been unfavorable to agriculture; that planters and peasants alike are even more than usually poor; that in whole districts the blacks are destitute, their children up to the age of ten or twelve years from absolute necessity going about stark naked, and their men and women wearing only rags and streamers, which do not preserve even the show of decency; and is there not sufficient reason, not indeed to justify murder and arson, but why a whole race of suffering and excitable people should not be stamped as fiends in human shape for the outrages of a few of their number? Turn now to the actual scene of conflict. In a little triangular tract of country on the east shore of Jamaica, hemmed in between the sea and the Blue Mountains, twenty-five miles long and two thirds as wide, occurred in October last what Governor Eyre has seen fit to dignify with the name of an insurrection. The first act of violence was committed at Morant Bay, a town where it is said that no missionary to the blacks has been permitted to live for thirty-five years, in the parish of St. Thomas in the East, that very St. Thomas, possibly, whose court-house was called forty years ago the hell of Jamaica, and where is preserved as a pleasant relic of the past a record book wherein the curious traveller reads the prices paid in the palmy days of slavery for cutting off the ears and legs, and slitting the noses, of runaway negroes. Had these negroes of Morant Bay any special causes of exasperation? They had. Their complaint was threefold. First, that the only magistrate who protected their interests had been arbitrarily removed. Second, that a plantation claimed by them to be deserted was as arbitrarily adjudged to be the rightful property of a white man. Third, that the plucking of fruit by the wayside, which had been a custom from time immemorial, and which resembled the plucking of ears of corn under the Jewish law, was by new regulations made a crime. Thus matters stood on the day of the outbreak; a general condition of poverty and discontent throughout the island; a special condition of exasperation in the parish of St. Thomas in the East, and particularly at Morant Bay.
On the 7th of last October, a Negro was arrested for picking two cocoanuts, value threepence. This arrest had every exasperating condition. The fruit was taken from a plantation whose title was disputed, and upon which the negroes had squatted. The law which made the plucking of fruit a crime was itself peculiarly obnoxious. The magistrate before whom the offence was to be tried, rightly or wrongly, was accused by the blacks of gross partiality and injustice. The accused man was followed to the court by a crowd of his friends, armed, it is said, with clubs, though this latter statement seems to be doubtful. When a sentence of four shillings fine, or, in default of payment, thirty days imprisonment, was imposed, the award was received in silence. But when the costs were adjudged to be twelve shillings and sixpence, there were murmurs. Some tumultuously advised the man not to pay. Some, believing the case involved the title to the land, told him to appeal to a higher court. The magistrate ordered the arrest of all noisy persons. But these fled to the street, and, shielded by the citizens, escaped. The next day but one, six constables armed with a warrant proceeded to Stony Gut, the scene of the original arrest, to take into custody twenty-eight persons accused of riot. But they were forcibly resisted, handcuffed with their own irons, and forced ignominiously to take their way back. Some of the arrests, however, were made quietly a little time after.
On the 11th of October dawned an eventful day. The magistrates were assembled in the court-house at Morant Bay for the purpose of examining the prisoners. The court-house was guarded by twenty armed volunteers, a body apparently of local militia. Some four or five hundred excited blacks surrounded the court-house, armed with bludgeons, grasping stones. What led to a collision can never be known. Very probably missiles were thrown at the guard. At any rate the officer in command ordered them to fire upon the crowd, and fifteen of the rioters fell dead or wounded. Then all restraint was at an end. The negroes threw themselves with incredible fury upon the guard, drove them into the court-house, summoned them to surrender at discretion, then set fire to the building, and murdered, with many circumstances of atrocity, the unhappy inmates, as they sought to flee. Sixteen were killed, and eighteen wounded, while a few escaped unharmed, by the help of the negroes themselves. This was the beginning and the end of the famous armed insurrection, so far as it ever was armed insurrection. The rioters dispersed. The spirit of insubordination spread to the plantations. There was general confusion, some destruction of property, some robbery. The whites were filled with alarm. Many left all and fled. The most exaggerated reports obtained credence. But if we except a Mr. Hine, who had rendered himself especially unpopular, and who was murdered on his plantation, not one white man appears to have been killed in cold blood, and not one white woman or child suffered from violence of any sort. Facts to the contrary may yet come to light. Official reports may reveal some secret chapter of bloodshed. But the chances of such a revelation are small enough. Three months have elapsed since the first tidings of the outbreak reached the mother country. There has been a great excitement; investigation has been demanded; facts have been called for; the defenders of the planters have been defied to produce facts. Meanwhile the Governor of Jamaica has written home repeated dispatches; the commander of the military forces which crushed the rebellion has visited England; the planters journals have come laden with vulgar abuse of the negro, and with all sorts of evil surmises as to his motives and purposes; letters have been received from Jamaica from persons in every position in life; and still no new facts, not so much as one clear accusation of any further fatal violence. The conclusion is irresistible, that this was a riot, and not an insurrection; and that it began and ended, so far as armed force was concerned, at Morant Bay, on that unhappy day, the 11th of last October.
It cannot be denied that the occurrences of that day were marked by some circumstances of painful ferocity. Men were literally hacked to pieces, crying for mercy. One man's tongue was cut from his mouth even while he lived. Another, escaping, was thrown back into the burning building, and roasted to death. The joints of the hand of the dead chief magistrate were dissevered by the blacks, who cried out exultingly, 'This hand will write no more lying dispatches to the Queen'. But the events of that day were marked also by instances of humanity. The clerk of the court was rescued by his negro servant, who thrust him beneath the floor, and, watching his opportunity, conveyed him to the shelter of the woods next morning. A child, who happened to be with his father in the court-house, was snatched up by a negro woman, who, at the risk of her own life, carried him to a place of safety. But admitting the worst charges, any one who remembers the New York riot of 1863 will be slow to assert that this black mob exhibited any barbarity which has not been more than emulated by white mobs. Shocking enough the details are; but human action always and with every race is ferocious, when once the restraints of self-control and the law are thrown off.
With a people so excitable as the blacks of Jamaica, and among whom there existed so many causes of disaffection, the greatest promptitude of action was a virtue. Had Governor Eyre marched with a military force into the district, had he crushed out every vestige of armed resistance, had he brought before proper tribunals and punished with severity all persons who were convicted of any complicity in these outrages he would have merited the praise of every good man. What he did was to let loose upon a little district, un-muzzled, the dogs of war. What he did was to gather from all quarters an armed force, a motley crew, regulars and militia, sailors and landsmen, black and white, and permit them to hold for fourteen long days a saturnalia of blood. What he did was to summon the savage Maroon tribes to the feast of death, that by their barbaric warfare they might add yet one more shade of gloom to the picture. The official accounts are enough to blanch the cheek with horror. In two days after the riot martial law was declared.
In four, the outbreak was hemmed into narrow quarters. In a week, it ceased to exist in any shape. Yet the work of death went on. Bands of maddened soldiers pierced the country in every direction. Men were arrested upon the slightest suspicion. Every petty officer constituted himself a judge; every private soldier became an executioner. If the black man fled, he was shot as a rebel; if he surrendered, he was hung on the same pretext, after the most summary trial. If the number of prisoners became inconveniently large, they were shot, or else whipped and let go, apparently according to the whim of the officer in command. Women were seized, stripped half naked, and thrown among the vulgar soldiery to be scourged. The estimate is that five hundred and fifty were hung by order of drum-head court-martials, five hundred destroyed by the Maroons, two thousand shot by the soldiery, and that three hundred women were catted, and how many men no-body presumes even to guess. One asks, at what expense of life to the victors was all this slaughter accomplished? And he reads, that not one soldier was killed, that not one soldier was wounded, that not one soldier received so much as a scratch, unless from the bushes through which he pursued his human prey. It was not war: it was a massacre. These poor people fled like panic-struck sheep, and the soldiery tracked them like wolves. The human heart could wish to take refuge in incredulity, but alas the worst testimony of all is found in the official reports of the actors themselves.
A few terrible anecdotes will give reality to the picture. George Marshall, a mulatto, was taken up with others as a straggler, and ordered to receive fifty lashes. With each lash the unfortunate man gritted his teeth and turned his head, whether from pain or anger is uncertain. The provost-marshal construed this into a threatening look, and ordered him to be hung, which was done. There was no proof whatever that Marshall had any connection with the riot. A company of Maroons discovered a body of blacks, men, women, and children, who had taken refuge up in the trees, and stood and deliberately shot them, one by one, until they had all fallen, and the ground beneath was thickly strewn with their dead bodies. On a plantation between Morant Bay and Port Antonio the people were led by evil example into some acts of riot and pillage. But even in the midst of their license they sent word to the English gentleman who had charge of the plantation, that, if he and his family remained quiet, they should be protected. So rapidly did the spirit of rioting burn itself out, that on the next Sunday, only four days after the first outbreak at Morant Bay, he rode down to the estate, conducted a religious service as usual, speaking boldly to the people of the folly and sin of their course, and counseling them to return quietly to their work. His words were so well received, that on Monday morning he started for the plantation, purposing to appoint for the workmen their tasks, as the best possible way of keeping them out of mischief. As he drew near, he heard firing, and the first sight which greeted him was a negro shot down. The village was in possession of a small company of soldiers, without even a subaltern to control them. Without pretence of a trial, they were shooting the people one by one, as they were pointed out to them by a petty constable. On their march, these very soldiers had been ordered to fire upon every one who ran away, and they fired at every bush at random, never stopping to count the slain.
Nothing can exceed the horrible frankness of the reports of the officers. Here is Lieutenant Aldcocks language: On returning to Golden Grove in the evening, sixty-seven prisoners were sent in by the Maroons. I disposed of as many as possible, but was too tired to continue after dark. On the morning of the 24th, I started for Morant Bay, having first flogged four, and hung six rebels.
Here is a gem from Captain Ford: The black troops are more successful than ours in catching horses; nearly all of them are mounted. They shot about one hundred and sixty people in their march from Port Antonio to Manchioneal, hanged seven in Manchioneal, and shot three on their way here.
This is a picture of martial law. The soldiers enjoy it. Now consider a moment this killing of one hundred and sixty people on the way from Port Antonio. The distance traversed in a direct line was about twelve miles. There are no large towns on the line of march and if you suppose that the rural population had here the average density of the island, there could not have been, in a belt of country one mile wide and the twelve miles long, over five hundred people; and we are forced to the conclusion, that these restorers of peace cleaned a strip a mile wide of every man and every well-grown boy. And the soldiers enjoy it! And the officers glory in it! Nothing was permitted to stop or clog the death mills. At Morant Bay, to save time, two court-martials were formed. No time was lost in proceeding to business. Each five minutes condemned rebels were taken down under escort awaiting their doom. Only three brought before these terrible tribunals escaped death. The court, composed exclusively of military and naval officers, spared none. Every one brought before it was hanged. How many other such courts were at work does not appear; but it is evident not less than ten or a dozen. And subalterns, who ought not to have been entrusted with the charge of a score of men, assumed the dread power of life and death over poor wretches snatched from their homes, and given neither time nor opportunity for defense. Yet all this does not satisfy the remorseless planter. When, in a parish of thirty thousand people, two or three thousand sleep in bloody graves, and at least as many more have been pitilessly scourged, he calls the clemency of the authorities extraordinary, and says, that it comes too soon. No wonder that such a record as this stirred to its depth the popular heart of England. And it is the only relieving feature, that the indignation thus aroused has over-ridden all opposition, silenced all paltry excuses, and forced the government to appoint a Commission of Inquiry, and pending that inquiry to suspend Governor Eyre from his office.
One case, that of the judicial murder of Mr. Gordon, has properly awakened great attention. Mr. Gordon was the very magistrate whose removal from office created so much discontent in the whole parish of St. Thomas in the East. He was a colored man with a very slight infusion of black blood. His father was an Englishman, and he himself was bred in England and married an English lady. He was wealthy, and the owner of a great plantation. A bitter and fearless opponent of what he considered to be the oppression of the planters, they in turn concentrated upon him all their anger and malice, while the Negroes looked up to him as their hope and defense. The mere statement of the facts indicates that, if Mr. Gordon was to be tried at all, the investigation should have been patient, open, and thorough, granting to the accused every opportunity of defense. What did take place was this. Mr. Gordon was at Kingston, forty miles away from the scene of action. As soon as he learned that a warrant was out for his arrest, he surrendered himself, and was hurried away from the place where civil law was supreme to the scene of martial law at Morant Bay. Without a friend to defend him, with no opportunity to procure rebutting evidence, he was brought before a court of three subalterns, and, after what was called a very patient trial of four or five hours, sentenced to be hanged. Not one insult was spared. When he was marched up from the wharf, the sailors were permitted to heap upon him every opprobrious epithet. Before his execution his black coat and vest were taken from him as a prize by one soldier, his spectacles by another; so, as an officer boasts, he was treated not differently from the common herd. The accusation was, that he had plotted a widespread and diabolical rebellion. The only evidence which has been submitted proves him guilty of intemperate language, and an abounding sympathy for the poor and oppressed.* . In his last letter to his wife, written just before his execution, he uses language which has the stamp of truth upon it. 'I do not deserve my sentence, for I never advised or took part in the insurrection. All I ever did was to recommend the people who complained to seek redress in a legitimate way. It is, however, the will of God that I should thus suffer in obeying his command to relieve the poor and needy, and so far as I was able to protect the oppressed. And glory be to His name, and I thank Him that I suffer in such a cause'. But it matters not of what Mr. Gordon was guilty; the method of the proceedings, the dragging him from civil protection, the deprivation of all proper opportunity for defense, the putting him to death as it were in a corner, were all subversive of personal rights and safety. The highest authority in England has declared the whole trial an illegality. And the circumstances of the hour, when every vestige, every pretence, of armed resistance had been swept away, left no excuse for over-stepping the bounds of legal authority.
* Since the above was written, dispatches and explanations have been received from Governor Eyre, and published; also an unofficial account of the trial of Mr. Gordon, from the pen of a reporter who was present. It is to be regretted that these papers do not relieve the authorities from the charge of atrocious and illegal cruelty in the slightest degree. Neither does the evidence in any way justify the legal or illegal murder of Mr. Gordon. While in November where was an evident desire to boast of the number and severity of the punishments which had been inflicted upon the unfortunate blacks, there is as evident a desire in January to show that the number of those who perished has been greatly exaggerated. But it is difficult to see boxy the actors propose to refute statements for which they themselves furnished the materials. One agreeable fact comes out in these papers, that the British home authorities never committed themselves to a support of the conduct of the Jamaican officials. On the contrary, it now appears that Mr. Cardwell, the British Colonial Secretary, from the beginning intimated very clearly his doubt of the propriety of the proceedings, especially in the case of Mr. Gordon.
It is proper that full weight should be given to the alleged justification of these enormities. A diabolical plot existed, whose meshes included the whole island, and whose purpose was to put to death every white man and to outrage every white woman. This is what the Governor asserts. This is what the Assembly reiterates. This is the charge upon which every appeal of the Jamaican journals turns. The whole truth we probably never shall know. The men who could best reveal it are silent in the graves which lawless violence has dug for them, and will bear no testimony except at the bar of Eternal Justice. The report of the Committee of Inquiry will no doubt shed some light. Pending that inquiry there are considerations which strike every one. If for two years a bloody insurrection had been plotted, and the outbreak at Morant Bay was the first stroke toward its accomplishment, is it credible that these truculent rebels should submit themselves as sheep to the slaughter, that not one band should be found to strike a manly blow for life and liberty? If such an insurrection had its roots in every part of the island, is it credible, that, while the whole military and naval force, and no small part of the white inhabitants, were engaged in putting down the thirty thousand of their brethren in St. Thomas and Portland parishes, the three hundred thousand blacks all over the island should remain peaceable and law-abiding? And it is to be noticed that, since the reign of terror has subsided a little, those who know the negroes best, the missionaries who labor among them, express the most hearty contempt for these charges. But suppose that the negro had plotted insurrection, diabolical, satanic, would that be any excuse for wholesale slaughter, without forms of law, when all resistance was at an end? We know that the South plotted and consummated rebellion; that her people have slain three hundred thousand of our sons on the battle-field; that more than thirty thousand have wasted and died of slow torture in her prisons; that whenever the secrets of that charnel-house, Southern life, are disclosed, they will tell of thousands of Unionists who were hung, who were shot, who were burned at the stake, who were hunted by dogs, who were scourged to death with whips, and all because they were faithful to their country. And knowing all this, is there a man of the North who, when military resistance has ceased, would march our armies southward, hang every tenth man, shoot every fourth, scourge as many more, and suffer a wild soldiery to strip half naked and score with cruel whips thousands of the women? And does it alter the moral aspect of the case, that these things are transacted on a little island of the sea, and not on a continent, or that the skin of the sufferer is black instead of white?
The use men seek to make of events reveals often the motives which they carried into the transaction of these events. Never was this more true of any body of people than of the planters of Jamaica. The Kingston Journal, an opposition, but not radical paper, boldly asserts, that the press has been gagged because it urged upon government the necessity of reform; that it has not dared to comment upon current facts, lest it should come under grave suspicion; that now, when the greatest order prevails, and there is not the remotest probability of another outbreak, we dare not comment upon events, which, for the good of all classes, ought to be calmly and fully discussed. A significant commentary upon these statements is the fact that Mr. Levien, the editor of a Jamaica paper, was arrested, because in an editorial he boldly condemned the trial and execution of Mr. Gordon. And it is probable that he escaped paying dearly for his courage, only because the Chief Justice of Jamaica declared the whole law under which he was arrested unconstitutional, and dismissed the case. A still more significant commentary upon these statements is that other fact, that, in the midst of what they averred were the throes of a great rebellion, the members of the Assembly proceeded to destroy the very foundations of civil and religious liberty and of the freedom of the press. They proposed to give the Governor almost despotic authority, by surrendering the franchise of the Assembly, and vesting its power in a council of twenty-four, half of whom should be appointed by the Governor himself, and half elected by the people from the list only of those who had estates worth more than fifteen hundred dollars a year, or a salary of more than twenty-five hundred dollars. All social worship, all conference and prayer meetings, and even family prayers, if more than two strangers were present, were to be interdicted, unless, indeed, they were conducted by a minister of a favored sect. The denominations who had chiefly ministered to the blacks were to be placed under such disabilities as should greatly limit, or else destroy, their usefulness. And to round out and complete the circle of despotism, this proposition was introduced, that if anything is contained in any printed paper which may be considered seditious, or that may be adjudged so by any court which the Governor may appoint, the writer shall be sentenced to hard labor in the penitentiary for seven years. It is idle to suppose that these measures will be sanctioned by the Queen; but they show what feelings burn in the breasts of the planters, and admonish us to receive with caution any statements which they may make concerning other classes of the community.
This Jamaica 'insurrection', whose origin, growth, and extinguishment in blood have now been traced, has been the cause of we know not how many oracular warnings from the lips of those who have not been distinguished by any hearty attachment to the rights of the black. See now', they say, what is the peril of emancipating these blacks. Behold what comes of educating this people up to the capacity of mischief. Acknowledge now that not even the gift of universal suffrage will elevate and soften a race at once fickle and ferocious. There is no safety but in keeping them under. Stop in your perilous experiments while you can.'
So long as the accounts of this outbreak are at once so conflicting and so colored by party feeling, it may not be easy to say what are its positive lessons. But it is easy to tell some things which it does not teach.
In the first place, it does not teach the danger of conferring the right to vote upon the negro, for the negro of Jamaica has never attained to that privilege. His traducers cry out, 'What a race! The best fed, the best clothed, the best sheltered, the least worked peasantry on the face of the earth! Free! Free to make their own laws, to choose their own rulers, to govern themselves! And yet they are discontented!' Turn now and inquire what are the facts about their governing themselves. True, no law says the negro shall not vote, but the qualification is made so high that it is impossible that he should vote. In a country where wages are scarcely a quarter of a dollar a day, he is required to have an estate worth thirty dollars a year, or an income of one hundred and forty dollars a year, or to pay taxes of fifteen dollars a year. Suppose now that in New England a law were passed that no man should vote who had not an estate worth two hundred dollars a year, or an income of one thousand dollars, or who did not pay one hundred dollars yearly tax, and this, considering the difference of wages, is scarcely as high a qualification as that of Jamaica, and how large a proportion of our people would obtain the privileges of a voter? In fact, in Jamaica only three thousand vote, or about one twenty-fifth of the adult males. Is it not just possible that the discontent there may grow out of aspirations for self-government, and for the dignity and privileges, as well as the name, of freemen? May not the outbreak teach the danger of not allowing the negro to vote?
In the second place, this rebellion does not teach the danger of educating the negro; for the negro of Jamaica never has been educated. While the government has wrung from his scanty wages a million dollars, it pays the Governor alone more than three times the sum it appropriates to education. It doles out for the education of seventy-five thousand children the pittance of twelve thousand five hundred dollars. Did not the negro himself eke out this bounty from his own little savings, not one in a dozen of the children would ever enter a school-room or see a book. As it is, only one sixth part of the children are, or ever were, under instruction. And the instruction they receive is too often from persons themselves illiterate and full of superstition, but who are the best teachers who can be obtained with limited means. Consider, then, the real condition of affairs, three hundred and fifty thousand blacks, a large share of them children or grandchildren of those who were brought from Africa, with the wild blood of their fathers scarcely diluted in their veins, with all the old traditions of Fetichism and Obiworship fresh in their minds, altogether uneducated, or at best half educated; consider what virgin soil is here for every vile superstition, what a field for the demagogue to cultivate, and then decide whether it might not be safer, after all, to educate the negro in Jamaica.
This 'insurrection' does not teach, in the third place, the danger of obliterating the lines of caste, for in Jamaica those lines have never been obliterated, or even made faint. It may be doubted whether there was ever a moment when the ill-dissembled contempt of the whites, and the distrust of the blacks, were more profound than now. An intelligent observer declared, in 1850, that the gap between the blacks and whites had been steadily increasing ever since emancipation. And ten years later the Secretary of the Baptist Missionary Society records, 'that, as a general statement, there is no generous feeling in the relations between employer and employed. The negro can expect nothing but barest justice, and is happy if he gets that'. Can there be any safety for the minority, when the majority, which numbers fifteen to one, has such a sense of injustice rankling in its breast? One wades through the late reprints of the Jamaica journals, column after column, page after page, filled with coarse invective, with bitter denunciation, with injurious suspicion; sees with what terrible relish the sufferings of these deluded people are recorded; marks how the heroism which goes to the scaffold without a tremor, and looks undeserved death in the face without a fear, is travestied; shudders to hear the planters, after thousands have been slain, yet cry for more blood; and then he puts the paper down and says, 'Here in this language is material enough out of which to create a dozen bloody rebellions'. How any race with the blood of the tropics boiling in their veins, with the traditions of old oppressions burning in their memory, can ever forget or forgive this language and these unbridled outrages is inconceivable. He is mad who does not see that the gulf of caste, too wide before, has widened and deepened almost unfathomably by the influence of the events of the last few months. He is mad, too, who thinks that Morant Bay, or the parish of St. Thomas in the East, with their unshrived dead, is a safer place for a white man to dwell in than it was six months ago.
It is too early to gather up all the lessons of this last of the almost innumerable outbreaks in Jamaica. They may never be gathered up. But one lesson stands out prominently, and that is, the safety of justice. We cannot bring perfect equality upon the earth. It is not desirable perhaps that we should. To the end of time, probably, there will be rich and poor, high and low, weak and strong, black and white. But we can be just. We can recognize every man as a child of God. We can grant to him all the rights, all the privileges, and all the opportunities which belong to a man. That is a lesson which Jamaica has never learned, and therefore she sits under the shadow of her mountains, by the side of the restless sea, clothed in garments of wretchedness.
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