I HAVE chiefly collected the present Anecdotes from the ingenious Compiler of L’Esprit des Usages et des Coutoumes.
It avails little to exclaim against Slavery; it is an evil so natural to man, that it is impossible totally to eradicate it. Man will be a tyrant; and, if he possessed an adequate strength, he would enslave whatever surrounded him. Dominion is so flattering to pride, and to idleness, that it is impossible to sacrifice its enjoyments. Even the Slave himself requires to be attended by another Slave: it is thus with the Negro of Labat; who, since his state permits of none, assumes a despotic authority over his wife and children.
There are slaves even with savages; and, if force cannot establish servitude, they employ other means to supply it. The Chief of the Natchès of Louisiana disposes at his will of the property of his subjects: they dare not even refuse him their head. He is a perfect despotic prince. When the presumptive heir is born, the people devote to him all the children at the breast, to serve him during his life. This petty Chief is a very Sesostris; he is treated in his cabin as the Emperor of China is in his palace. Indeed, the origin of his power is great: the Natchès adore the Sun, and this Sovereign has palmed himself on them for the Brother of the Sun!
Servitude is sometimes as pleasing to the slave as it is gratifying to the master; and can any thing more strongly convince us, that the greater part of men are unworthy of tasting the sweets of liberty? It was thus, when the Monarchs of France were desirous of despoiling the Barons of the authority they had usurped, the bondmen, accustomed to slavery, were slow in claiming their liberty. To effect this, it became necessary to compel them by laws; and Louis Hutin ordered, that those villains, or bond men, who would not be enfranchised, should pay heavy fines.
The origin of Slavery, in some countries, arises from singular circumstances. If a Tartar met in his way a man, or woman, who could not shew a passport from the King, he would seize on the person as his right and property.
Formerly, in Circassia, when the husband and wife did not agree, they went to complain to the governor of the town. If the husband was the first who arrived, the governor caused the woman to be seized and sold, and gave another to the husband, and, on the contrary, he seized and sold the husband, if the wife arrived first.
Liberality, and the desire of obliging—who could credit it?—occasion the depriving others of their liberty. An Islander of Mindanao, who redeems his son from Slavery, makes him his own slave; and children exercise the same benevolence and rigour on their parents.
In Rome, the debtor became the slave of his creditor; and, when it happened that they could take nothing from him who had lost every thing, they took his liberty. It is even believed, that the law of the Twelve Tables permitted them to cut into pieces an insolvent debtor!
It is since the establishment of the commerce and sale of Negroes, that men have committed the most enormous crimes. The mulattoes of Loanda seduce the young women wherever they pass; they return to them, some years afterwards; and, under the pretext of giving the children a better education, they carry them off to sell them.
Thus, also, the women of Benguela, in collusion with their husbands, allure other men to their arms. The husband falls suddenly on them; imprisons the unfortunate gallants, and sells them the first opportunity; and he is not punished for these violences.
Besides, the Negroes sell their children, their parents; and their neighbours! They lead to the country-house of the merchant their unsuspicious victims, and there deliver them into the hands of their purchaser. While they are loaded with chains, and separated for ever from their most endearing connections; it is in vain they raise loud and melancholy cries: the infamous vender smiles, and says it is only a cunning trick: Le Maire informs us, that an old Negro resolved to sell his son; but the son, who suspected his design, hastened to the factor; and, having taken him aside; sold him his father!
The islanders of Bissagos are passionately fond of spirituous liquors; and, on the arrival of a vessel, the weakest, without distinction of age, friendship, or relationship become the prey of the strongest, that they may sell them to purchase liquors.
It appears that, in the East, and particularly at Batavia, the life of a slave entirely depends on the caprices of his master: the slightest fault brings on him the most afflicting treatment: they bind him to a gallows; they flog him unmercifully with splitted canes; his blood flows in a stream, and his body is covered with wounds: but, fearful that he may not die in sufficient tortures, they scatter abundantly over them salt and pepper. So little care is paid to these unfortunate men amongst the Maldivians, that they lie entirely at the mercy of every one. Those who practise on them any ill treatment, receive only half the punishment that the laws exact, from any one who had ill-treated a free person. The slightest chastisement which is inflicted on them, at Java, is to carry about their necks a piece of wood, with a chain, and which they are condemned to drag all their lives.
The slaves of the kingdom of Angola; and many other countries of Africa, never address their masters but on their knees. They do not even allow them the honours of decent burial; they throw their bodies in the woods, where they become the food of wild beasts.
If those on the Gold Coast escape, and are retaken, they lose an ear for the first offence of this kind: a second offence is punished with the loss of the other. At the third, it is allowed their masters either to sell them to the Europeans, or to cut off their heads.
Religious fanaticism increases the inhumanity of the pirates of Africa. The Moors and the Europeans reciprocally detest each other; and, since they redeem their captives, the Mahometans have become unmerciful; that they may the more powerfully excite their friends to redeem them with heavy ransoms. We must not credit every thing Historians record; but it is certain that the police does not punish the master who kills his slaves; that religious prejudices totally stifle the feelings of humanity; and that the zealous Mussulman inflicts continual tortures on these unfortunate men, that they may abjure their religion.
The Spaniards, and the Knights of Malta for their reprisals, chain to the galley all the Mahometans they make prisoners; and, it is thus that the fate of the Christian slaves on the Northern Coast of Africa, is the natural consequence of a war which never can terminate.
When the NEGROES of the Colonies solely depend on a brutal master, who can paint the horrors of their situation? Without dwelling on the cruelties which they suffer in Africa, before they are sold, and during the voyage; the greater part believe, that, after their embarkation, the Europeans intend to massacre them in the most terrible manner imaginable; to burn, calcine, and pulverize their bones, to be employed as gunpowder; and they also imagine, that the Europeans manufacture an oil with their fat and marrow.
If they do not finish their talk, they are lashed with rods till they are covered with blood. Sometimes they pour over the raw wounds a pound of melted pitch; and sometimes they heighten their unsupportable smart by scattering over them handfuls of pepper!
The habit of suffering endows them with an admirable patience. It is thus Labat expresses himself on this head. “They are seldom heard to cry out, or to complain. It is not owing to insensibility, for their flesh is extremely delicate, and their feelings irritable. It proceeds from an uncommon magnanimity of soul, which sets at defiance pain, grief, and death itself. I have more than once seen some broken on the wheel, and others tormented by the most dreadful machines inventive cruelty could produce, without their giving vent to one murmur, or shedding one tear. I saw a Negro burnt, who was so far from being affected, that he called for a little lighted tobacco, on his way to the place of execution; and I observed him smoak with great calmness, at the moment his feet were consuming in the midst of the flames. There were two Negroes condemned; the one to the gallows, the other to be whipped by the hand of the executioner. The Priest, in a mistake, confessed him who was not to have died. They did not perceive it, till the moment the executioner was going to throw him off; they made him descend; the other was confessed; and, although he expected only to be whipped, he mounted the ladder with as much indifference as the first descended from it, and as if the choice of either fate was alike to him.”
How grievous must be the unfortunate destiny of those Negroes, when they possess a soul so great, and sentiments so sublime! Atkins, examining once some slaves, observed one of a noble stature, who appeared to him not less vigorous than imperious; he glanced on his companions, whenever they murmured or wept, looks of reproach and disdain. He never turned his eyes on the overseer; and, if commanded to rise, or to stretch his leg, he did not by any means immediately obey. His exasperated master wearied himself with lashing his naked body with his rod. He was going to dispatch him in his fury, had it not been observed to him, that if he sold him, he might get an uncommon price for a slave of his appearance. The Negro supported this persecution with heroic intrepidity: he preserved a rigid silence; a tear or two only trickled down his cheek; when, as if he blushed for his weakness, he turned aside to abide them. “I learnt,” Atkins writes, “that he was a Chief of some villages who had just come from opposing the slave traffick of the English.” Mr. Mackenzie, in one of his novels, has described this scene with the pen of a master; and certainly draws the picture after the description of Atkins.
Many European nations abandon the Negroes to the caprice of their masters, or to the despotic decision of the magistrate. The French have drawn up some regulations, which have been called the Black Code. This article trespasses so much on our usual limits, that we cannot extract any for the contemplation of the reader; let it be sufficient, however, to observe, that they are eternal records of European cupidity, and European inhumanity.
In a word, they have reduced them to the degree of brutes, and they have treated them with infinitely more inhumanity. Whatever the arbitrary decrees of a planter—continues our ingenious compiler—may perform, they cannot take from them the human figure, nor the human voice: they seem, indeed, exasperated to find that they bear an affinity to their own species!