Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

94

NEGRO IDEAS OF FREEDOM.

will not these white people again cultivate their grounds ? Shall we not be driven from our squatting patches? Shall we not starve; or, almost worse than that, shall we not again fall under Adam's curse? Shall we not again be slaves, in reality, if not in name ? . Shall we not have to work ?"

The negro's idea of emancipation was and is emancipation not from slavery but from work. To lie in the sun and eat breadfruit and yams is his idea of being free. Such freedom as that has not been intended for man in this world; and I say that Jamaica, as it now exists, is still under a devil's ordinance,

One cannot wonder that the white man here should be vituperative in his wrath. First came emancipation. He bore that with manful courage ; for it must be remembered that even in that he had much to bear. The price he got for his slave was nothing as compared with that slave's actual value. And slavery to him was not repugnant as it is to you and me. One's trade is never repugnant to one's feelings. But so much he did bear with manly courage. He could no longer make slave-grown sugar, but he would not at any rate be compelled, to compete with those who could. The protective duties would save him there.

Then free trade became the fashion, and protective duties on sugar were abolished. I beg it may not be thought that I am an advocate for such protection. The West Indians were, I think, thrown over in a scurvy manner, because they were thrown over by their professed friends. But that was, we all know, the way with Sir Robert Peel. Well, free trade in sugar became the law of the land, and then the Jamaica planter found the burden too heavy for his back. The money which had flown in so freely came in such small driblets that he could

OPINION OF THE PLANTERS.

95

make no improvement. Portions of his estate went out of cultivation, and then the negro who should have tilled the remainder squatted on it, and said, “ No, massa, me no workee to-day."

And now, to complete the business, now that Jamaica is at length looking in earnest for immigration—for it has long been looking for immigration with listless dis-earnest -the planter is told that the labor of the black man must be protected. If he be vituperative, who can wonder at it? To speak the truth, he is somewhat vituperative..

The white planter of Jamaica is sore and vituperative and unconvinced. He feels that he has been ill used, and forced to go to the wall; and that now he is there, he is meanly spoken of, as though he were a bore and a nuisance—as one of whom the Colonial Office would gladly rid itself if it knew how. In his heart of hearts there dwells a feeling that after all slavery was not so vile an institution—that that devil as well as some others has been painted too black. In those old days the work was done, the sugar was made, the workmen were comfortably housed and fed, and perhaps on his father's estate were kindly treated. At any rate, such is his present memory. The money came in, things went on pleasantly, and he cannot remember that anybody was unhappy. But now-! Can it be wondered at that in his heart of hearts he should still have a sort of yearning after slavery?

In one sense, at any rate, he has been ill used. The turn in the wheel of Fortune has gone against him, as it went against the hand-loom weavers when machinery became the fashion. Circumstances rather than his own fault have brought him low. Well-disciplined energy in all the periods of his adversity might perhaps have saved him, as it has saved others; but there has been more against him than against others. As regards him himself,

96

THE JAMAICA PLANTER.

the old-fashioned Jamaica planter, the pure blooded white owner of the soil, I think that his day in Jamaica is done. The glory, I fear, has departed from his house. The hand-loom weavers have been swept into infinite space, and their children now poke the engine fires, or piece threads standing in a factory. The children of the old Jamaica planter must also push their fortunes elsewhere.

It is a thousand pities, for he was, I may still say is, the prince of planters—the true aristocrat of the West Indies. He is essentially different as a man from the somewhat purse-proud Barbadian, whose estate of two hundred acres has perhaps changed hands half a dozen times in the last fifty years, or the thoroughly mercantile sugar manufacturer of Guiana. He has so many of the characteristics of an English country gentleman that he does not strike an Englishman as a strange being. He has his pedigree, and his family house, and his domain around him. He shoots and fishes, and some few years since, in the good days, he even kept a pack of hounds He is in the commission of the peace, and as such has much to do. A planter in Demerara may also be a magistrate,-probably is so; but the fact does not come forward as a prominent part of his life's history.

In Jamaica too there is scope for a country gentleman. They have their counties and their parishes; in Barbados they have nothing but their sugar estates. . They have county society, local balls, and local racemeetings. They have local politics, local quarrels, and strong old-fashioned local friendships. In all these things one feels oneself to be much nearer to England in Jamaica than in any other of the West Indian Islands.

All this is beyond measure pleasant, and it is a thousand pities that it should not last. I fear, however, that it will not last—that indeed, it is not now lasting. That

HIS PRESENT CONDITION.

97

dear lady's unwillingness to obey her lord's behests, when he asked her to call on her brown neighbor, nay, the very fact of that lord's request, both go to prove that this is so. The lady felt that her neighbor was cutting the

very ground from under her feet. The lord knew “ that old times were changed, old manners gone.” The game was almost up when he found himself compelled to make such a request.

At present, when the old painter sits on the magisterial bench, a colored man sits beside him ; one probably on each side of him. At road sessions he cannot carry out his little project because the colored men out-vote him. There is a vacancy for his parish in the House of the Assembly. The old planter scorns the House of Assembly, and will have nothing to do with it. A colored man is therefore chosen, and votes away the white man's taxes ; and then things worse and worse arise. Not only colored men get into office, but black men also. What is our old aristocratic planter to do with a negro churchwarden on one side, and a negro coroner on another ? Fancy what our state is,” a young planter said to me; “ I dare not die, for I fear I should be sat upon by a black man!"

I know that it will be thought by many, and probably said by some, that these are distinctions to which we ought not to allude. But without alluding to them in one's own mind it is impossible to understand the state of the country; and without alluding to them in speech it is impossible to explain the state of the country. The fact is, that in Jamaica, at the present day, the colored people do stand on strong ground, and that they do not so stand with the goodwill of the old aristocracy of the country. They have forced their way up, and now loudly protest that they intend to keep it. I think that they will keep it, and that on the whole it will be well for us An

E

[blocks in formation]

glo-Saxons to have created a race capable of living and working in the climate without inconvenience.

It is singular, however, how little all this is understood in England. There it is conceived that white men and colored men, white ladies and colored ladies, meet together and amalgamate without any difference. The Duchess of This and Lord That are very happy to have at their tables some intelligent dark gentleman, or even a well-dressed negro, though he may not perhaps be very intelligent. There is some little excitement in it, some change from the common; and perhaps also an easy opportunity of practising on a small scale those philanthropic views which they preach with so much eloquence. When one hobnobs over a glass of champagne with a dark gentleman, he is in some sort a man and a brother. But the duchess and the lord think that because the dark gentleman is to their taste, he must necessarily be as much to the taste of the neighbors among whom he has been born and bred; of those who have been accustomed to see him from his childhood. There never was a greater mistake.

A colored man may

be fine prophet in London; but he will be no prophet in Jamaica, which is his own country; no prophet at any rate among his white neighbors.

I knew a case in which a very intelligent--nay, I believe, a highly-educated young colored gentleman, was sent out by a certain excellent philanthropic big-wigs to fill an official situation in Jamaica. He was a stranger to Jamaica, never having been there before. Now, when he was so sent out, the home big-wigs alluded to, intimated to certain other big-wigs in Jamaica that their dark protégé would be a great acquisition to the society of the place. I mention this to show the ignorance of those London big-wigs, not as to the capability of the

a

« ElőzőTovább »