Jamaican Family Search Genealogy Research Library
Extract from book by J. Stewart
"A view of the past and present state of the island of Jamaica..."
THE PEOPLE OF COLOUR-THEIR CHARACTER, MANNERS,
AND AMUSEMENTS-THEIR POLITICAL SITUATION.
BETWEEN the whites and the blacks, in the West Indies, a numerous race has sprung up, which goes by the general appellation of people of colour. These are subdivided into mulattoes, the offspring of a white and a black; samboes, the offspring of a black and a mulatto; quadroons, the offspring of a white and a mulatto; and mestees, the offspring of a white and a quadroon. Below this last-mentioned grade the distinction of colour is hardly perceptible; and those who are thus far removed from the original negro stock are considered in law as whites, on obtaining their manumission if born slaves, and competent of course to enjoy every privilege as such. Between these particular castes an endless variety of non-descript shades exist, descending from the deep jet to the faintest tinge of the olive, by gradations which it would be difficult to trace and designate.
The people of colour may be supposed to possess the mingled natures of the two original stocks from whence they spring; and the more or less they are removed from one or the other, they seem to be imbued in proportion with their particular qualities. The sambo differs little in manners, habits, &c. from the negro; while the mestee and his descendants approximate as near in these particulars to the white as it is possible for a mingled race to do; and when polished by a genteel education, that little distinction ceases to exist.
It is remarked of the people of colour, that they are peculiarly hardy, and far less subject to disease than either the whites or the negroes; of course a considerably less proportion of them are swept off by the general mortality of the country than of the two other classes. They feel a kind of pride in being removed some degrees from the negro race, and affect as much as possible the manners and customs of the whites. Few marriages take place among them. Most of the females of colour think it more genteel and reputable to be the kept mistress of a white man, if he is in opulent circumstances, and can afford to indulge their taste for finery and parade, than to be united in wedlock with the most respectable individual of their own class. They view marriage, indeed, as an unnecessary and unnatural restraint. On one occasion, a female of colour consented to be united to a person of her own class, a decent industrious man, but of limited means. For a few years she bore her fate without repining or regret; after which, however, she became uneasy and discontented, and often lamented the evil hour in which she had sacrificed at the altar of Hymen. Her husband, who gained an honest livelihood by the trade he professed, wished her to stay at home and attend to her children and household affairs; but the lady was of a pleasurable turn, and had, like most of her colour, a longing to enjoy a life of freedom and voluptuousness. She had been accustomed, prior to her marriage, to balls, parties, and jaunts, and she could therefore but ill brook this life of restraint and drudgery. She beheld with envy the gay, showy, and dissipated life which many of the companions of her youth led; who, being the housekeepers of men of fortune, were enabled to dress finely, and dash about in style in their carriages, attended by servants in livery; while she, poor woman, was obliged to toil from morning to night in dirty drudging occupations, without one faint ray of hope that she would ever be liberated from this sad state of thraldom, and enjoy again the dear delights of freedom and variety.
These are the sentiments of nine-tenths of the females of colour in this island, and accordingly at least that proportion are in the situation of housekeepers, as they are here styled, to white men; while the males console themselves in the same way either with one of their own colour, or with a sable companion. Though some of the females of colour are possessed of considerable property, given them by their white parents, or amassed by their own industry, they never aspire to a conjugal union with a white man; nor, if such a union were sanctioned by the custom of the country, is it probable they would desire to enter into it. A white man, indeed, according to the ideas of distinction which here prevail, would be considered as degrading himself by a matrimonial alliance with a woman of colour, however favoured by fortune or accomplished by education. But the latter gives herself little concern about this, while the most distinguished and opulent of the whites pay an illicit homage to her charms, and even the man of family shall openly and unblushingly forsake his wife and abandon his children to hold dalliance in her company.
If the females of colour are asked, why they do not more generally intermarry with men of their own class, their reply is, that the greater number of the brown men are either too poor or too indolent to support a wife and family, and that, moreover, as husbands they are very prone to be jealous and tyrannical. But the truth is, it is not the custom of the country for these females to marry, and their own inclination and convenience are, as has been said, in unison with the prevailing usage.
Among the more favourable traits in the character of the women of colour are, their great attachment and devotedness to the white men who choose them as companions, their general fidelity in the discharge of any trust reposed in them, their extreme attention to cleanliness and neatness in their persons and houses, and their unwearied solicitude and usefulness in nursing the sick-an office in which they are frequently employed.
The brown children of the more opulent of the whites are either educated in the island, or sent to Great Britain for that purpose. Such as have received a liberal education, and do not follow the immoral examples around them, are for the most part well-behaved, respectable people. Notwithstanding which, they are excluded the society of the whites, and exposed to many other mortifications, in consequence of the line of distinction which custom and the laws draw between the whites and the browns. A white man, though he lives on a footing of the most perfect familiarity with his brown housekeeper, never sets her down at his table, nor introduces either her or his children to his respectable acquaintance. If a white and a brown child should be sent to Europe at the same time, and educated together at the same school, though they may be in habits of the greatest intimacy while there, they discontinue that intimacy on their return to the West Indies, however much on a footing on the score of accomplishments and mental culture. The white Miss no longer recognises her quondam companion and schoolfellow as an equal, because born with a darker tinge of skin, and the customs and distinctions of the country forbid her cultivating such acquaintance. Some such distinctions are doubtless necessary, constituted as society is in the West Indies. It is, therefore, a pity that a parent, after having bestowed on his offspring a genteel and liberal education, in a country where at least they experience a respect and attention equivalent to their merits, should suffer them to be brought back to one where their feelings-of which it must be supposed they have acquired a suitable portion along with their mental culture -are perpetually liable to be wounded by contumely and neglect.
The more independent people of colour, shut out from the general society of the whites, form a separate society of themselves. They have their own amusements, their parties, their visitings, and their balls. The latter are fully as gay and as expensive as those of the whites; and as the brown females are the chief planners and supporters of these, the young and dissipated of the white men, their admirers, form a distinguished part of those meetings of pleasure. On these occasions the men of colour-the brothers, uncles, cousins, and other relations of the women, are excluded; though sometimes the brown ladies condescend to attend a ball given by the men of their own colour. The practice of white men giving dances to the women of colour is thought a matter of little consequence, except by the brown men, who, being contemptuously excluded from these entertainments, must feel the indignity; in fact, it is calculated to excite feelings not the most amicable between the two classes. The white gentleman, who to-night leads out the fair creole as a partner in the dance, may tomorrow give his hand, on a similar occasion, to the beauty of a darker shade, who dresses as well, and thinks herself as lovely and attractive as the other. The white ladies sometimes resent this behaviour in their male acquaintance with a becoming spirit; but in general it is not thought of much consequence.
The females of colour emulate, and even strive to excel, the white ladies in splendour, taste, and expensiveness of dress, equipage, and entertainment. At races, and on other public occasions, they spare no pains or expense to make an imposing display, as if anxious to outstrip the whites in the race of fashion, gayety, and pleasure. The latter are often outdone in gaudy exhibition by these extravagant females ; but the truth is, they do not aim at a competition with them ; to be surpassed in costly finery by a woman of colour excites no uneasiness in a white female, though she would not wish to be eclipsed by one of her own class.
Many of the quadroon and mestee females are comely, if not beautiful, as they partake chiefly of the European features; but the mulattoes and samboes, being less removed from the negro stock, retain more or less of their thick lips and flat noses. Many of them, however, as well as of the negroes, have agreeable features. As for the Africans, their ideas of beauty in the human countenance are almost the reverse of those of an European. They have no idea that the finest Grecian contour is more beautiful than their large and gross features, and the jet-black Venus from the banks of the Bonni or of the Rio Grande prefers her sooty Adonis to the handsomest European.
The people of colour in general are not so mild towards their slaves as the white people; indeed, too many of them are exceedingly harsh and tyrannical ; and the negroes, aware of this, are wont to say, " If me, for have massa or misses,give me Buckra one-no give me mulatto, dem no use neega well." Such of the brown people as receive European educations are however more humane and considerate.
The free people of colour are excluded from many of the privileges of the whites; they are not competent to serve as jurors, and they are excluded from all offices, civil, military, and ecclesiastical. These disqualifications are thought necessary for political purposes. About ten years ago they were in a much worse state than they are at present ; their testimony, on oath, was not then admissible in the courts of law, and they were not permitted to inherit property beyond a limited amount. Awakened at length to a sense of these unjust grievances, they petitioned the legislature for redress, and accordingly the right of giving evidence, and of inheriting property, was acceded to them.* A few years afterwards they again petitioned the legislature for a removal of the remaining disqualifications under which they lay ; but their petition was rejected, with an admonition as to the unreasonableness of their demand.
But it is in vain that such laws and provisions are thrown in the way of this people's acquiring an ascendency in the country, while other productive causes exist for bringing this about. While the number of the whites remain stationary or nearly so, the people of colour are rapidly increasing. In 1788 it was computed that there were 10,000 free people of colour in the island; there are now upwards of three times that number.** That a population should be trebled in thirty-four years, by natural increase within itself, were physically impossible; but this vast increase arises out of the whole mass of the population, white, black, and brown. It is probable that nineteen-twentieths of the white males have their brown or black mistresses, either free or otherwise, by whom they generally have children, who, if born slaves, are often manumitted. This will account for the vast increase above stated. A respectable clergyman in the island assured the author, some years ago, that he usually had occasion to baptize about fifteen brown children for one white child. The male part of this population may be divided into three classes-namely, the offspring of men of fortune and station (some of the most distinguished in the island have families of this class), who are sent to Great Britain to be liberally educated, and are destined to inherit independent fortunes- the offspring of men in moderate circumstances, who generally give them a plain education, and leave the bulk of their property among them at their death-and, lastly, the offspring of men who either have not the means or the inclination to provide for them. This last is probably the most numerous class: many of them live in idleness and vice, a burden to themselves and to the community. Into the hands of the first and second class much of the property of the country is fast falling.-So that there can be little doubt that the time is not far distant when the free people of colour, feeling their own weight in numbers, property, and information, will not rest content with any qualifications short of what the whites enjoy; nor will the latter be in a condition to refuse this boon. Though this equalization, and blending as it were, of the two classes, be regarded by the whites as a great political evil, it will nevertheless unquestionably be brought about, at no distant period, through their own agency. A change in the morals and manners of the latter-not feeble and partial laws and regulations-can alone secure the respect and obedience of this growing class to their dominion.
The free men of colour are enrolled with the militia of the country; they are embodied in separate companies, and commanded by white officers. The free blacks are also formed into separate companies, under white officers.
Many of the free men of colour are decent and respectable characters, and some are men of education and talents ; but the bulk of the uneducated portion are indolent, dishonest, and vicious, leading a wretched and precarious sort of life, unless possessed of some property for their support, or brought up to some trade, to which necessity alone can induce them to apply.
A few men of colour have been so far elevated above their caste by the advantages of fortune and a liberal education, as to be received into white society; but it very rarely happens that a brown female is so admitted, whatever her merit or acquired advantages. If she has one drop of African blood in her veins, however remotely derived, it operates as effectually to shut her out front the society of the white ladies, as a moral stain in her character would do in European society.
* All free persons of colour, serving in the militia, are also competent to save deficiency.
**Though this estimate of the number of the free people of colour is not taken from any specific data, no regular census having been lately taken of them, it may, at a moderate computation, be set down at 35,000.
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