HumanitiesWeb HumanitiesWeb
WelcomeHistoryLiteratureArtMusicPhilosophyResourcesHelp
Sort By Author Sort By Title
pixel

Resources
Sort By Author
Sort By Title

Search

Get Your Degree!

Find schools and get information on the program that’s right for you.

Powered by Campus Explorer

& etc
FEEDBACK

(C)1998-2013
All Rights Reserved.

Site last updated
26 June, 2013
American Negro Slavery
Chapter III The Sugar Islands
by Phillips, Ulrich Bonnell


As regards negro slavery the history of the West Indies is inseparable from that of North America. In them the plantation system originated and reached its greatest scale, and from them the institution of slavery was extended to the continent. The industrial system on the islands, and particularly on those occupied by the British, is accordingly instructive as an introduction and a parallel to the continental régime.

The early career of the island of Barbados gives a striking instance of a farming colony captured by the plantation system. Founded in 1624 by a group of unprosperous English emigrants, it pursued an even and commonplace tenor until the Civil War in England sent a crowd of royalist refugees thither, together with some thousands of Scottish and Irish prisoners converted into indentured servants. Negro slaves were also imported to work alongside the redemptioners in the tobacco, cotton, ginger, and indigo crops, and soon proved their superiority in that climate, especially when yellow fever, to which the Africans are largely immune, decimated the white population. In 1643, as compared with some five thousand negroes of all sorts, there were about eighteen thousand white men capable of bearing arms; and in the little island's area of 166 square miles there were nearly ten thousand separate landholdings. Then came the introduction of sugar culture, which brought the beginning of the end of the island's transformation. A fairly typical plantation in the transition period was described by a contemporary. Of its five hundred acres about two hundred were planted in sugar-cane, twenty in tobacco, five in cotton, five in ginger and seventy in provision crops; several acres were devoted to pineapples, bananas, oranges and the like; eighty acres were in pasturage, and one hundred and twenty in woodland. There were a sugar mill, a boiling house, a curing house, a distillery, the master's residence, laborers' cabins, and barns and stables. The livestock numbered forty-five oxen, eight cows, twelve horses and sixteen asses; and the labor force comprised ninety-eight "Christians," ninety-six negroes and three Indian women with their children. In general, this writer said, "The slaves and their posterity, being subject to their masters forever, are kept and preserved with greater care than the (Christian) servants, who are theirs for but five years according to the laws of the island.[1] So that for the time being the servants have the worser lives, for they are put to very hard labor, ill lodging and their dyet very light."
[Footnote 1: Richard Ligon, History of Barbados (London, 1657).]
As early as 1645 George Downing, then a young Puritan preacher recently graduated from Harvard College but later a distinguished English diplomat, wrote to his cousin John Winthrop, Jr., after a voyage in the West Indies: "If you go to Barbados, you shal see a flourishing Iland, many able men. I beleive they have bought this year no lesse than a thousand Negroes, and the more they buie the better they are able to buye, for in a yeare and halfe they will earne (with God's blessing) as much as they cost."[2] Ten years later, with bonanza prices prevailing in the sugar market, the Barbadian planters declared their colony to be "the most envyed of the world" and estimated the value of its annual crops at a million pounds sterling.[3] But in the early sixties a severe fall in sugar prices put an end to the boom period and brought the realization that while sugar was the rich man's opportunity it was the poor man's ruin. By 1666 emigration to other colonies had halved the white population; but the slave trade had increased the negroes to forty thousand, most of whom were employed on the eight hundred sugar estates.[4] For the rest of the century Barbados held her place as the leading producer of British sugar and the most esteemed of the British colonies; but as the decades passed the fertility of her limited fields became depleted, and her importance gradually fell secondary to that of the growing Jamaica.
[Footnote 2: Massachusetts Historical Society Collections, series 4, vol. 6, p. 536.]

[Footnote 3: G.L. Beer, Origins of the British Colonial System (New York, 1908), P. 413.]

[Footnote 4: G.L. Beer, The Old Colonial System, part I, vol. 2, pp. 9, 10.]
The Barbadian estates were generally much smaller than those of Jamaica came to be. The planters nevertheless not only controlled their community wholly in their interest but long maintained a unique "planters' committee" at London to make representations to the English government on behalf of their class. They pleaded for the colony's freedom of trade, for example, with no more vigor than they insisted that England should not interfere with the Barbadian law to prohibit Quakers from admitting negroes to their meetings. An item significant of their attitude upon race relations is the following from the journal of the Crown's committee of trade and plantations, Oct. 8, 1680: "The gentlemen of Barbados attend, ... who declare that the conversion of their slaves to Christianity would not only destroy their property but endanger the island, inasmuch as converted negroes grow more perverse and intractable than others, and hence of less value for labour or sale. The disproportion of blacks to white being great, the whites have no greater security than the diversity of the negroes' languages, which would be destroyed by conversion in that it would be necessary to teach them all English. The negroes are a sort of people so averse to learning that they will rather hang themselves or run away than submit to it." The Lords of Trade were enough impressed by this argument to resolve that the question be left to the Barbadian government.[5]
[Footnote 5: Calendar of State Papers, Colonial Series, America and West Indies, 1677-1680, p. 611.]
As illustrating the plantation régime in the island in the period of its full industrial development, elaborate instructions are extant which were issued about 1690 to Richard Harwood, manager or overseer of the Drax Hall and Hope plantations belonging to the Codrington family. These included directions for planting, fertilizing and cultivating the cane, for the operation of the wind-driven sugar mill, the boiling and curing houses and the distillery, and for the care of the live stock; but the main concern was with the slaves. The number in the gangs was not stated, but the expectation was expressed that in ordinary years from ten to twenty new negroes would have to be bought to keep the ranks full, and it was advised that Coromantees be preferred, since they had been found best for the work on these estates. Plenty was urged in provision crops with emphasis upon plantains and cassava,--the latter because of the certainty of its harvest, the former because of the abundance of their yield in years of no hurricanes and because the negroes especially delighted in them and found them particularly wholesome as a dysentery diet. The services of a physician had been arranged for, but the manager was directed to take great care of the negroes' health and pay special attention to the sick. The clothing was not definitely stated as to periods. For food each was to receive weekly a pound of fish and two quarts of molasses, tobacco occasionally, salt as needed, palm oil once a year, and home-grown provisions in abundance. Offenses committed by the slaves were to be punished immediately, "many of them being of the houmer of avoiding punishment when threatened: to hang themselves." For drunkenness the stocks were recommended. As to theft, recognized as especially hard to repress, the manager was directed to let hunger give no occasion for it.[6]
[Footnote 6: Original MS. in the Bodleian Library, A. 248, 3. Copy used through the courtesy of Dr. F.W. Pitman of Yale University.]
Jamaica, which lies a thousand miles west of Barbados and has twenty-five times her area, was captured by the English in 1655 when its few hundreds of Spaniards had developed nothing but cacao and cattle raising. English settlement began after the Restoration, with Roundhead exiles supplemented by immigrants from the Lesser Antilles and by buccaneers turned farmers. Lands were granted on a lavish scale on the south side of the island where an abundance of savannahs facilitated tillage; but the development of sugar culture proved slow by reason of the paucity of slaves and the unfamiliarity of the settlers with the peculiarities of the soil and climate. With the increase of prosperity, and by the aid of managers brought from Barbados, sugar plantations gradually came to prevail all round the coast and in favorable mountain valleys, while smaller establishments here and there throve more moderately in the production of cotton, pimento, ginger, provisions and live stock. For many years the legislature, prodded by occasional slave revolts, tried to stimulate the increase of whites by requiring the planters to keep a fixed proportion of indentured servants; but in the early eighteenth century this policy proved futile, and thereafter the whites numbered barely one-tenth as many as the negroes. The slaves were reported at 86,546 in 1734; 112,428 in 1744; 166,914 in 1768; and 210,894 in 1787. In addition there were at the last date some 10,000 negroes legally free, and 1400 maroons or escaped slaves dwelling permanently in the mountain fastnesses. The number of sugar plantations was 651 in 1768, and 767 in 1791; and they contained about three-fifths of all the slaves on the island. Throughout this latter part of the century the average holding on the sugar estates was about 180 slaves of all ages.[7]
[Footnote 7: Edward Long, History of Jamaica, I, 494, Bryan Edwards, History of the British Colonies in the West Indies, book II, appendix.]
When the final enumeration of slaves in the British possessions was made in the eighteen-thirties there were no single Jamaica holdings reported as large as that of 1598 slaves held by James Blair in Guiana; but occasional items were of a scale ranging from five to eight hundred each, and hundreds numbered above one hundred each. In many of these instances the same persons are listed as possessing several holdings, with Sir Edward Hyde East particularly notable for the large number of his great squads. The degree of absenteeism is indicated by the frequency of English nobles, knights and gentlemen among the large proprietors. Thus the Earl of Balcarres had 474 slaves; the Earl of Harwood 232; the Earl and Countess of Airlie 59; Earl Talbot and Lord Shelborne jointly 79; Lord Seaford 70; Lord Hatherton jointly with Francis Downing, John Benbow and the Right Reverend H. Philpots, Lord Bishop of Exeter, two holdings of 304 and 236 slaves each; and the three Gladstones, Thomas, William and Robert 468 slaves jointly.[8]
[Footnote 8: "Accounts of Slave Compensation Claims," in the British official Account: and Papers, 1837-1838, vol. XLVIII.]
Such an average scale and such a prevalence of absenteeism never prevailed in any other Anglo-American plantation community, largely because none of the other staples required so much manufacturing as sugar did in preparing the crops for market. As Bryan Edwards wrote in 1793: "the business of sugar planting is a sort of adventure in which the man that engages must engage deeply.... It requires a capital of no less than thirty thousand pounds sterling to embark in this employment with a fair prospect of success." Such an investment, he particularized, would procure and establish as a going concern a plantation of 300 acres in cane and 100 acres each in provision crops, forage and woodland, together with the appropriate buildings and apparatus, and a working force of 80 steers, 60 mules and 250 slaves, at the current price for these last of £50 sterling a head.[9] So distinctly were the plantations regarded as capitalistic ventures that they came to be among the chief speculations of their time for absentee investors.
[Footnote 9: Bryan Edwards, History of the West Indies, book 5, chap. 3.]
When Lord Chesterfield tried in 1767 to buy his son a seat in Parliament he learned "that there was no such thing as a borough to be had now, for that the rich East and West Indians had secured them all at the rate of three thousand pounds at the least."[10] And an Englishman after traveling in the French and British Antilles in 1825 wrote: "The French colonists, whether Creoles or Europeans, consider the West Indies as their country; they cast no wistful looks toward France.... In our colonies it is quite different; ... every one regards the colony as a temporary lodging place where they must sojourn in sugar and molasses till their mortgages will let them live elsewhere. They call England their home though many of them have never been there.... The French colonist deliberately expatriates himself; the Englishman never."[11] Absenteeism was throughout a serious detriment. Many and perhaps most of the Jamaica proprietors were living luxuriously in England instead of industriously on their estates. One of them, the talented author "Monk" Lewis, when he visited his own plantation in 1815-1817, near the end of his life, found as much novelty in the doings of his slaves as if he had been drawing his income from shares in the Banc of England; but even he, while noting their clamorous good nature was chiefly impressed by their indolence and perversity.[12] It was left for an invalid traveling for his health to remark most vividly the human equation: "The negroes cannot be silent; they talk in spite of themselves. Every passion acts upon them with strange intensity, their anger is sudden and furious, their mirth clamorous and excessive, their curiosity audacious, and their love the sheer demand for gratification of an ardent animal desire. Yet by their nature they are good-humored in the highest degree, and I know nothing more delightful than to be met by a group of negro girls and to be saluted with their kind 'How d'ye massa? how d'ye massa?'"[13]
[Footnote 10: Lord Chesterfield, Letters to his Son (London, 1774), II, 525.]

[Footnote 11: H.N. Coleridge, Six Months in the West Indies, 4th ed. (London, 1832), pp. 131, 132.]

[Footnote 12: Matthew G. Lewis, Journal of a West Indian Proprietor, kept during a Residence in the Island of Jamaica (London, 1834).]

[Footnote 13: H.N. Coleridge, p. 76.]
On the generality of the plantations the tone of the management was too much like that in most modern factories. The laborers were considered more as work-units than as men, women and children. Kindliness and comfort, cruelty and hardship, were rated at balance-sheet value; births and deaths were reckoned in profit and loss, and the expense of rearing children was balanced against the cost of new Africans. These things were true in some degree in the North American slaveholding communities, but in the West Indies they excelled.

In buying new negroes a practical planter having a preference for those of some particular tribal stock might make sure of getting them only by taking with him to the slave ships or the "Guinea yards" in the island ports a slave of the stock wanted and having him interrogate those for sale in his native language to learn whether they were in fact what the dealers declared them to be. Shrewdness was even more necessary to circumvent other tricks of the trade, especially that of fattening up, shaving and oiling the skins of adult slaves to pass them off as youthful. The ages most desired in purchasing were between fifteen and twenty-five years. If these were not to be had well grown children were preferable to the middle-aged, since they were much less apt to die in the "seasoning," they would learn English readily, and their service would increase instead of decreasing after the lapse of the first few years.

The conversion of new negroes into plantation laborers, a process called "breaking in," required always a mingling of delicacy and firmness. Some planters distributed their new purchases among the seasoned households, thus delegating the task largely to the veteran slaves. Others housed and tended them separately under the charge of a select staff of nurses and guardians and with frequent inspection from headquarters. The mortality rate was generally high under either plan, ranging usually from twenty to thirty per cent, in the seasoning period of three or four years. The deaths came from diseases brought from Africa, such as the yaws which was similar to syphilis; from debilities and maladies acquired on the voyage; from the change of climate and food; from exposure incurred in running away; from morbid habits such as dirt-eating; and from accident, manslaughter and suicide.[14]
[Footnote 14: Long, Jamaica, II, 435; Edwards, West Indies, book 4, chap. 5; A Professional Planter, Rules, chap. 2; Thomas Roughley, Jamaica Planter's Guide (London, 1823), pp. 118-120.]
The seasoned slaves were housed by families in separate huts grouped into "quarters," and were generally assigned small tracts on the outskirts of the plantation on which to raise their own provision crops. Allowances of clothing, dried fish, molasses, rum, salt, etc., were issued them from the commissary, together with any other provisions needed to supplement their own produce. The field force of men and women, boys and girls was generally divided according to strength into three gangs, with special details for the mill, the coppers and the still when needed; and permanent corps were assigned to the handicrafts, to domestic service and to various incidental functions. The larger the plantation, of course, the greater the opportunity of differentiating tasks and assigning individual slaves to employments fitted to their special aptitudes.

The planters put such emphasis upon the regularity and vigor of the routine that they generally neglected other equally vital things. They ignored the value of labor-saving devices, most of them even shunning so obviously desirable an implement as the plough and using the hoe alone in breaking the land and cultivating the crops. But still more serious was the passive acquiescence in the depletion of their slaves by excess of deaths over births. This decrease amounted to a veritable decimation, requiring the frequent importation of recruits to keep the ranks full. Long estimated this loss at about two per cent. annually, while Edwards reckoned that in his day there were surviving in Jamaica little more than one-third as many negroes as had been imported in the preceding career of the colony.[15] The staggering mortality rate among the new negroes goes far toward accounting for this; but even the seasoned groups generally failed to keep up their numbers. The birth rate was notoriously small; but the chief secret of the situation appears to have lain in the poor care of the newborn children. A surgeon of long experience said that a third of the babies died in their first month, and that few of the imported women bore children; and another veteran resident said that commonly more than a quarter of the babies died within the first nine days, of "jaw-fall," and nearly another fourth before they passed their second year.[16] At least one public-spirited planter advocated in 1801 the heroic measure of closing the slave trade in order to raise the price of labor and coerce the planters into saving it both by improving their apparatus and by diminishing the death rate.[17] But his fellows would have none of his policy.
[Footnote 15: Long, III, 432; Edwards, book 4, chap. 2.]

[Footnote 16: Abridgement of the evidence taken before a committee of the whole House: The Slave Trade, no. 2 (London, 1790), pp. 48, 80.]

[Footnote 17: Clement Caines, Letters on the Cultivation of the Otaheite Cane (London, 1801), pp. 274-281.]
While in the other plantation staples the crop was planted and reaped in a single year, sugar cane had a cycle extending through several years. A typical field in southside Jamaica would be "holed" or laid off in furrows between March and June, planted in the height of the rainy season between July and September, cultivated for fifteen months, and harvested in the first half of the second year after its planting. Then when the rains returned new shoots, "rattoons," would sprout from the old roots to yield a second though diminished harvest in the following spring, and so on for several years more until the rattoon or "stubble" yield became too small to be worth while. The period of profitable rattooning ran in some specially favorable districts as high as fourteen years, but in general a field was replanted after the fourth crop. In such case the cycles of the several fields were so arranged on any well managed estate that one-fifth of the area in cane was replanted each year and four-fifths harvested.

This coördination of cycles brought it about that oftentimes almost every sort of work on the plantation was going on simultaneously. Thus on the Lodge and Grange plantations which were apparently operated as a single unit, the extant journal of work during the harvest month of May, 1801,[18] shows a distribution of the total of 314 slaves as follows: ninety of the "big gang" and fourteen of the "big gang feeble" together with fifty of the "little gang" were stumping a new clearing, "holing" or laying off a stubble field for replanting, weeding and filling the gaps in the field of young first-year or "plant" cane, and heaping the manure in the ox-lot; ten slaves were cutting, ten tying and ten more hauling the cane from the fields in harvest; fifteen were in a "top heap" squad whose work was conjecturally the saving of the green cane tops for forage and fertilizer; nine were tending the cane mill, seven were in the boiling house, producing a hogshead and a half of sugar daily, and two were at the two stills making a puncheon of rum every four days; six watchmen and fence menders, twelve artisans, eight stockminders, two hunters, four domestics, and two sick nurses were at their appointed tasks; and eighteen invalids and pregnant women, four disabled with sores, forty infants and one runaway were doing no work. There were listed thirty horses, forty mules and a hundred oxen and other cattle; but no item indicates that a single plow was in use.
[Footnote 18: Printed by Clement Caines in a table facing p. 246 of his Letters.]
The cane-mill in the eighteenth century consisted merely of three iron-sheathed cylinders, two of them set against the third, turned by wind, water or cattle. The canes, tied into small bundles for greater compression, were given a double squeezing while passing through the mill. The juice expressed found its way through a trough into the boiling house while the flattened stalks, called mill trash or megass in the British colonies and bagasse in Louisiana, were carried to sheds and left to dry for later use as fuel under the coppers and stills.

In the boiling house the cane-juice flowed first into a large receptacle, the clarifier, where by treatment with lime and moderate heat it was separated from its grosser impurities. It then passed into the first or great copper, where evaporation by boiling began and some further impurities, rising in scum, were taken off. After further evaporation in smaller coppers the thickened fluid was ladled into a final copper, the teache, for a last boiling and concentration; and when the product of the teache was ready for crystallization it was carried away for the curing. In Louisiana the successive caldrons were called the grande, the propre, the flambeau and the batterie, the last of these corresponding to the Jamaican teache.

The curing house was merely a timber framework with a roof above and a great shallow sloping vat below. The sugary syrup from the teache was generally potted directly into hogsheads resting on the timbers, and allowed to cool with occasional stirrings. Most of the sugar stayed in the hogsheads, while some of it trickled with the mother liquor, molasses, through perforations in the bottoms into the vat beneath. When the hogsheads were full of the crudely cured, moist, and impure "muscovado" sugar, they were headed up and sent to port. The molasses, the scum, and the juice of the canes tainted by damage from rats and hurricanes were carried to vats in the distillery where, with yeast and water added, the mixture fermented and when distilled yielded rum.

The harvest was a time of special activity, of good feeling, and even of a certain degree of pageantry. Lafcadio Hearn, many years after the slaves were freed, described the scene in Martinique as viewed from the slopes of Mont Pélée: "We look back over the upreaching yellow fan-spread of cane-fields, and winding of tortuous valleys, and the sea expanding beyond an opening to the west.... Far down we can distinguish a line of field-hands--the whole atelier, as it is called, of a plantation--slowly descending a slope, hewing the canes as they go. There is a woman to every two men, a binder (amarreuse): she gathers the canes as they are cut down, binds them with their own tough long leaves into a sort of sheaf, and carries them away on her head;--the men wield their cutlasses so beautifully that it is a delight to watch them. One cannot often enjoy such a spectacle nowadays; for the introduction of the piece-work system has destroyed the picturesqueness of plantation labor throughout the islands, with rare exceptions. Formerly the work of cane-cutting resembled the march of an army;--first advanced the cutlassers in line, naked to the waist; then the amarreuses, the women who tied and carried; and behind these the ka, the drum,--with a paid crieur or crieuse to lead the song;--and lastly the black Commandeur, for general."[19]
[Footnote 19: Lafcadio Hearn, Two Years in the French West Indies (New York, 1890), p. 275.]
After this bit of rhapsody the steadying effect of statistics may be abundantly had from the records of the great Worthy Park plantation, elaborated expressly for posterity's information. This estate, lying in St. John's parish on the southern slope of the Jamaica mountain chain, comprised not only the plantation proper, which had some 560 acres in sugar cane and smaller fields in food and forage crops, but also Spring Garden, a nearby cattle ranch, and Mickleton which was presumably a relay station for the teams hauling the sugar and rum to Port Henderson. The records, which are available for the years from 1792 to 1796 inclusive, treat the three properties as one establishment.[20]
[Footnote 20: These records have been analyzed in U.B. Phillips, "A Jamaica Slave Plantation," in the American Historical Review, XIX, 543-558.]
The slaves of the estate at the beginning of 1792 numbered 355, apparently all seasoned negroes, of whom 150 were in the main field gang. But this force was inadequate for the full routine, and in that year "jobbing gangs" from outside were employed at rates from 2s. 6d. to 3s. per head per day and at a total cost of £1832, reckoned probably in Jamaican currency which stood at thirty per cent, discount. In order to relieve the need of this outside labor the management began that year to buy new Africans on a scale considered reckless by all the island authorities. In March five men and five women were bought; and in October 25 men, 27 women, 16 boys, 16 girls and 6 children, all new Congoes; and in the next year 51 males and 30 females, part Congoes and part Coromantees and nearly all of them eighteen to twenty years old. Thirty new huts were built; special cooks and nurses were detailed; and quantities of special foodstuffs were bought--yams, plantains, flour, fresh and salt fish, and fresh beef heads, tongues, hearts and bellies; but it is not surprising to find that the next outlay for equipment was for a large new hospital in 1794, costing £341 for building its brick walls alone. Yaws became serious, but that was a trifle as compared with dysentery; and pleurisy, pneumonia, fever and dropsy had also to be reckoned with. About fifty of the new negroes were quartered for several years in a sort of hospital camp at Spring Garden, where the routine even for the able-bodied was much lighter than on Worthy Park.

One of the new negroes died in 1792, and another in the next year. Then in the spring of 1794 the heavy mortality began. In that year at least 31 of the newcomers died, nearly all of them from the "bloody flux" (dysentery) except two who were thought to have committed suicide. By 1795, however, the epidemic had passed. Of the five deaths of the new negroes that year, two were attributed to dirt-eating,[21] one to yaws, and two to ulcers, probably caused by yaws. The three years of the seasoning period were now ended, with about three-fourths of the number imported still alive. The loss was perhaps less than usual where such large batches were bought; but it demonstrates the strength of the shock involved in the transplantation from Africa, even after the severities of the middle passage had been survived and after the weaklings among the survivors had been culled out at the ports. The outlay for jobbing gangs on Worthy Park rapidly diminished.
[Footnote 21: The "fatal habit of eating dirt" is described by Thomas Roughley in his Planter's Guide (London. 1823) pp. 118-120.]
The list of slaves at the beginning of 1794 is the only one giving full data as to ages, colors and health as well as occupations. The ages were of course in many cases mere approximations. The "great house negroes" head the list, fourteen in number. They comprised four housekeepers, one of whom however was but eight years old, three waiting boys, a cook, two washerwomen, two gardeners and a grass carrier, and included nominally Quadroon Lizette who after having been hired out for several years to Peter Douglass, the owner of a jobbing gang, was this year manumitted.

The overseer's house had its proportionate staff of nine domestics with two seamstresses added, and it was also headquarters both for the nursing corps and a group engaged in minor industrial pursuits. The former, with a "black doctor" named Will Morris at its head, included a midwife, two nurses for the hospital, four (one of them blind) for the new negroes, two for the children in the day nursery, and one for the suckling babies of the women in the gangs. The latter comprised three cooks to the gangs, one of whom had lost a hand; a groom, three hog tenders, of whom one was ruptured, another "distempered" and the third a ten-year-old boy, and ten aged idlers including Quashy Prapra and Abba's Moll to mend pads, Yellow's Cuba and Peg's Nancy to tend the poultry house, and the rest to gather grass and hog feed.

Next were listed the watchmen, thirty-one in number, to guard against depredations of men, cattle and rats and against conflagrations which might sweep the ripening cane-fields and the buildings. All of these were black but the mulatto foreman, and only six were described as able-bodied. The disabilities noted were a bad sore leg, a broken back, lameness, partial blindness, distemper, weakness, and cocobees which was a malady of the blood.

A considerable number of the slaves already mentioned were in such condition that little work might be expected of them. Those completely laid off were nine superannuated ranging from seventy to eighty-five years old, three invalids, and three women relieved of work as by law required for having reared six children each.

Among the tradesmen, virtually all the blacks were stated to be fit for field work, but the five mulattoes and the one quadroon, though mostly youthful and healthy, were described as not fit for the field. There were eleven carpenters, eight coopers, four sawyers, three masons and twelve cattlemen, each squad with a foreman; and there were two ratcatchers whose work was highly important, for the rats swarmed in incredible numbers and spoiled the cane if left to work their will. A Jamaican author wrote, for example, that in five or six months on one plantation "not less than nine and thirty thousand were caught."[22]
[Footnote 22: William Beckford, A Discriptive Account of Jamaica (London, 1790), I. 55, 56.]
In the "weeding gang," in which most of the children from five to eight years old were kept as much for control as for achievement, there were twenty pickaninnies, all black, under Mirtilla as "driveress," who had borne and lost seven children of her own. Thirty-nine other children were too young for the weeding gang, at least six of whom were quadroons. Two of these last, the children of Joanny, a washerwoman at the overseer's house, were manumitted in 1795.

Fifty-five, all new negroes except Darby the foreman, and including Blossom the infant daughter of one of the women, comprised the Spring Garden squad. Nearly all of these were twenty or twenty-one years old. The men included Washington, Franklin, Hamilton, Burke, Fox, Milton, Spencer, Hume and Sheridan; the women Spring, Summer, July, Bashfull, Virtue, Frolic, Gamesome, Lady, Madame, Dutchess, Mirtle and Cowslip. Seventeen of this distinguished company died within the year.

The "big gang" on Worthy Park numbered 137, comprising 64 men from nineteen to sixty years old and 73 women from nineteen to fifty years, though but four of the women and nine of the men, including Quashy the "head driver" or foreman, were past forty years. The gang included a "head home wainman," a "head road wainman," who appears to have been also the sole slave plowman on the place, a head muleman, three distillers, a boiler, two sugar potters, and two "sugar guards" for the wagons carrying the crop to port. All of the gang were described as healthy, able-bodied and black. A considerable number in it were new negroes, but only seven of the whole died in this year of heaviest mortality.

The "second gang," employed in a somewhat lighter routine under Sharper as foreman, comprised 40 women and 27 men ranging from fifteen to sixty years, all black. While most of them were healthy, five were consumptive, four were ulcerated, one was "inclined to be bloated," one was "very weak," and Pheba was "healthy but worthless."

Finally in the third or "small gang," for yet lighter work under Baddy as driveress with Old Robin as assistant, there were 68 boys and girls, all black, mostly between twelve and fifteen years old. The draught animals comprised about 80 mules and 140 oxen.

Among the 528 slaves all told--284 males and 244 females--74, equally divided between the sexes, were fifty years old and upwards. If the new negroes, virtually all of whom were doubtless in early life, be subtracted from the gross, it appears that one-fifth of the seasoned stock had reached the half century, and one-eighth were sixty years old and over. This is a good showing of longevity.

About eighty of the seasoned women were within the age limits of childbearing. The births recorded were on an average of nine for each of the five years covered, which was hardly half as many as might have been expected under favorable conditions. Special entry was made in 1795 of the number of children each woman had borne during her life, the number of these living at the time this record was made, and the number of miscarriages each woman had had. The total of births thus recorded was 345; of children then living 159; of miscarriages 75. Old Quasheba and Betty Madge had each borne fifteen children, and sixteen other women had borne from six to eleven each. On the other hand, seventeen women of thirty years and upwards had had no children and no miscarriages. The childbearing records of the women past middle age ran higher than those of the younger ones to a surprising degree. Perhaps conditions on Worthy Park had been more favorable at an earlier period, when the owner and his family may possibly have been resident there. The fact that more than half of the children whom these women had borne were dead at the time of the record comports with the reputation of the sugar colonies for heavy infant mortality. With births so infrequent and infant deaths so many it may well appear that the notorious failure of the island-bred stock to maintain its numbers was not due to the working of the slaves to death. The poor care of the young children may be attributed largely to the absence of a white mistress, an absence characteristic of Jamaica plantations. There appears to have been no white woman resident on Worthy Park during the time of this record. In 1795 and perhaps in other years the plantation had a contract for medical service at the rate of £140 a year.

"Robert Price of Penzance in the Kingdom of Great Britain Esquire" was the absentee owner of Worthy Park. His kinsman Rose Price Esquire who was in active charge was not salaried but may have received a manager's commission of six per cent, on gross crop sales as contemplated in the laws of the colony. In addition there were an overseer at £200, later £300, a year, four bookkeepers at £50 to £60, a white carpenter at £120, and a white plowman at £56. The overseer was changed three times during the five years of the record, and the bookkeepers were generally replaced annually. The bachelor staff was most probably responsible for the mulatto and quadroon offspring and was doubtless responsible also for the occasional manumission of a woman or child.

Rewards for zeal in service were given chiefly to the "drivers" or gang foremen. Each of these had for example every year a "doubled milled cloth colored great coat" costing 11$. 6d and a "fine bound hat with girdle and buckle" costing 10$. 6d.As a more direct and frequent stimulus a quart of rum was served weekly to each of three drivers, three carpenters, four boilers, two head cattlemen, two head mulemen, the "stoke-hole boatswain," and the black doctor, and to the foremen respectively of the sawyers, coopers, blacksmiths, watchmen, and road wainmen, and a pint weekly to the head home wainman, the potter, the midwife, and the young children's field nurse. These allowances totaled about three hundred gallons yearly. But a considerably greater quantity than this was distributed, mostly at Christmas perhaps, for in 1796 for example 922 gallons were recorded of "rum used for the negroes on the estate." Upon the birth of each child the mother was given a Scotch rug and a silver dollar.

No record of whippings appears to have been kept, nor of any offenses except absconding. Of the runaways, reports were made to the parish vestry of those lying out at the end of each quarter. At the beginning of the record there were no runaways and at the end there were only four; but during 1794 and 1795 there were eight or nine listed in each report, most of whom were out for but a few months each, but several for a year or two; and several furthermore absconded a second or third time after returning. The runaways were heterogeneous in age and occupation, with more old negroes among them than might have been expected. Most of them were men; but the women Ann, Strumpet and Christian Grace made two flights each, and the old pad-mender Abba's Moll stayed out for a year and a quarter. A few of those recovered were returned through the public agency of the workhouse. Some of the rest may have come back of their own accord.

In the summer of 1795, when absconding had for some time been too common, the recaptured runaways and a few other offenders were put for disgrace and better surveillance into a special "vagabond gang." This comprised Billy Scott, who was usually a mason and sugar guard, Oxford who as head cooper had enjoyed a weekly quart of rum, Cesar a sawyer, and Moll the old pad-mender, along with three men and two women from the main gangs, and three half-grown boys. The vagabond gang was so wretchedly assorted for industrial purposes that it was probably soon disbanded and its members distributed to their customary tasks. For use in marking slaves a branding iron was inventoried, but in the way of arms there were merely two muskets, a fowling piece and twenty-four old guns without locks. Evidently no turbulence was anticipated. Worthy Park bought nearly all of its hardware, dry goods, drugs and sundries in London, and its herrings for the negroes and salt pork and beef for the white staff in Cork. Corn was cultivated between the rows in some of the cane fields on the plantation, and some guinea-corn was bought from neighbors. The negroes raised their own yams and other vegetables, and doubtless pigs and poultry as well; and plantains were likely to be plentiful.

Every October cloth was issued at the rate of seven yards of osnaburgs, three of checks, and three of baize for each adult and proportionately for children. The first was to be made into coats, trousers and frocks, the second into shirts and waists, the third into bedclothes. The cutting and sewing were done in the cabins. A hat and a cap were also issued to each negro old enough to go into the field, and a clasp-knife to each one above the age of the third gang. From the large purchases of Scotch rugs recorded it seems probable that these were issued on other occasions than those of childbirth. As to shoes, however, the record is silent.

The Irish provisions cost annually about £300, and the English supplies about £1000, not including such extra outlays as that of £1355 in 1793 for new stills, worms, and coppers. Local expenditures were probably reckoned in currency. Converted into sterling, the salary list amounted to about £500, and the local outlay for medical services, wharfage, and petty supplies came to a like amount. Taxes, manager's commissions, and the depreciation of apparatus must have amounted collectively to £800. The net death-loss of slaves, not including that from the breaking-in of new negroes, averaged about two and a quarter per cent.; that of the mules and oxen ten per cent. When reckoned upon the numbers on hand in 1796 when the plantation with 470 slaves was operating with very little outside help, these losses, which must be replaced by new purchases if the scale of output was to be maintained, amounted to about £900. Thus a total of £4000 sterling is reached as the average current expense in years when no mishaps occurred.

The crops during the years of the record averaged 311 hogsheads of sugar, sixteen hundredweight each, and 133 puncheons of rum, 110 gallons each. This was about the common average on the island, of two-thirds as many hogsheads as there were slaves of all ages on a plantation.[23] If the prices had been those current in the middle of the eighteenth century these crops would have yielded the proprietor great profits. But at £15 per hogshead and £10 per puncheon, the prices generally current in the island in the seventeen-nineties, the gross return was but about £6000 sterling, and the net earnings of the establishment accordingly not above £2000. The investment in slaves, mules and oxen was about £28,000, and that in land, buildings and equipment according to the island authorities, would reach a like sum.[24] The net earnings in good years were thus less than four per cent. on the investment; but the liability to hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, epidemics and mutinies would bring the safe expectations considerably lower. A mere pestilence which carried off about sixty mules and two hundred oxen on Worthy Park in 1793-1794 wiped out more than a year's earnings.
[Footnote 23: Long, Jamaica, II, 433, 439.]

[Footnote 24: Edwards, West Indies, book 5, chap. 3.]
In the twenty years prior to the beginning of the Worthy Park record more than one-third of all the sugar plantations in Jamaica had gone through bankruptcy. It was generally agreed that, within the limits of efficient operation, the larger an estate was, the better its prospect for net earnings. But though Worthy Park had more than twice the number of slaves that the average plantation employed, it was barely paying its way.

In the West Indies as a whole there was a remarkable repetition of developments and experiences in island after island, similar to that which occurred in the North American plantation regions, but even more pronounced. The career of Barbados was followed rapidly by the other Lesser Antilles under the English and French flags; these were all exceeded by the greater scale of Jamaica; she in turn yielded the primacy in sugar to Hayti only to have that French possession, when overwhelmed by its great negro insurrection, give the paramount place to the Spanish Porto Rico and Cuba. In each case the opening of a fresh area under imperial encouragement would promote rapid immigration and vigorous industry on every scale; the land would be taken up first in relatively small holdings; the prosperity of the pioneers would prompt a more systematic husbandry and the consolidation of estates, involving the replacement of the free small proprietors by slave gangs; but diminishing fertility and intensifying competition would in the course of years more than offset the improvement of system. Meanwhile more pioneers, including perhaps some of those whom the planters had bought out in the original colonies, would found new settlements; and as these in turn developed, the older colonies would decline and decay in spite of desperate efforts by their plantation proprietors to hold their own through the increase of investments and the improvement of routine.[25]
[Footnote 25: Herman Merivale, Colonisation and Colonies (London, 1841), PP. 92,93.]


Personae

Terms Defined

Referenced Works