Books with the title of The Newgate Calendar were published as early as the mid-eighteenth century. Mostly they were collections of “Last Dying Speeches” of criminals and short biographies of felons such as Jack Sheppard, Dick Turpin, and Robin Hood. But in the 1820s two lawyers named Andrew Knapp and William Baldwin produced a definitive edition of the Newgate Calendar. New content was added and biographies were enlarged.
Little is known about Knapp and Baldwin. They have left us no letters, diaries, or other manuscript material beyond their Newgate Calendars. However, they were most certainly against the slave trade, as the following entry on a case from 1811 proves, in which their anti-slavery moralism comes out in full against the despicable individuals who traded in human lives. Of course, just because one injustice in this particular instance from 1811 was punished, as likewise, a case from colonial Australia illustrates, countless others went unpunished.
The extract below is from the fourth volume of The Newgate Calendar.
As the circumstances attending this case happened in one of our West-India colonies, we feel no apology necessary for introducing it into our pages; particularly as it affords me an opportunity for making a few remarks on that abominable traffic, the SLAVE TRADE, which, to the disgrace of Europe, has not yet ceased to exist, although the efforts of England have been so long directed to its abolition.
We think there is no human being — we know there is no real Englishman — who does not sympathize with the suffering African, when dragged from his parent soil, and all the associates he had formed there. A friend, a parent, a wife, or a child, may each and all combine in embittering the hour of separation when the chains and whips of the tyrants who buy and sell him are less galling than the uncontrollable anguish of his soul. This is a picture that gains ready admission to the human breast and needs no evidence to make it appalling. There can be no fear of exaggeration, for description must fall short of reality, as the painter and the poet are alike unable to depict the revolting horrors of such a scene.
Let us turn from the cries, the tears, the lamentations et Africa, where rum is bartered for blood, and the inhume contract made between two of the greatest ruffians that curse the earth—a slave-captain and a barbarian prince;—let us turn from these to our West-India islands, and see how the untutored negro, who differs from ourselves only in education and color, is treated by men descended from Englishmen, and some of whom were born in England. We shall not trust our feelings ea the subject, a bet gives plain facts, such as we find them in official papers transmitted to Lord Liverpool by Governor Elliot, and which were afterward laid before a committee the House of Commons. We select the deposition of the deputy secretary of the island of Nevis, because it was subsequently supported by others, and because it embraced the revolting particulars of the conduct of the cruel Huggins. The examination took place before the Assembly of the Island of Nevis.
John Burke, junior, deputy secretary of the said island, upon oath saith, that on Tuesday, the 23rd of January 1810, he was standing in the street opposite the house of the Rev. William Green, when he saw Edward Huggins, sen. Esq. and his two sons, Edward and Peter Thomas Huggins, ride by, with a gang of Negroes, to the public marketplace; from whence the deponent heard the noise of the cart-whip; that deponent walked up the street, and saw Mr. Huggins, senior, standing by, with two drivers flogging a negro-man, whose name deponent understood to be Yellow Quashy. That deponent went into Dr. Crosse’s gallery and sat down; that two drivers continued flogging the said negro-man for about fifteen minutes, that, as he appeared to be severely whipped, deponent was induced to count the lashes given the other negroes, being under an impression that the country would take up the business.
That deponent heard Mr. George Abbot declare, at Dr. Crosse’s steps, near-tie marketplace, that the first negro had received three hundred and sixty-five lashes: deponent saith that Mr. Huggins, senior, gave another negro-man one hundred and fifteen lashes; to another negro-man sixty-five lashes; to another negro-man forty-seven lashes; to another negro-man one hundred and sixty-five lashes; to another negro-man two hundred and twelve lashes; to another negro-man one hundred and eighty-one lashes; to another negro-man fifty-nine lashes; to another negro-man one hundred and eighty-seven lashes; to a woman one hundred and ten lashes; to another woman fifty-eight lashes; to another woman ninety-seven lashes; to another woman two hundred and twelve lashes; to another woman two hundred and ninety-one lashes; to another woman eighty-three lashes; to another woman forty-nine lashes; to another woman sixty-eight lashes; to another woman eighty-nine lashes; and to another woman fifty-six lashes; and that the woman who received two hundred and ninety-one lashes appeared young, and was most cruelly flogged.
That all the negroes were flogged by two expert whippers; that Mr. Edward Huggins, junior, and Mr. Peter Huggins, were present at the time the negroes were punished: that Dr. Cassin was present when some of the negroes were whipped, and when a man received two hundred and forty-two lashes. That deponent understood that Dr. Cassin was sent for by Mr. Huggins, senior; that Edward Harris, Esq. Mr. Peter Butler, and Dr. Cross, were present at Dr. Crosse’s house a part of the time during the punishment; and Mr. Joseph Nicholson, Mr. Joseph Laurence, and Mr. William Keeper were present all the time.
JOHN BURKE, Jun. Sworn before me, this 31st of January, 1810, at the Secretary’s Office — WILLIAM LAURENCE.
A bill of indictment having been preferred against the said Mr. Huggins, in consequence of one of the female slaves dying, he was acquitted, on which occasion Mr. J. W. Tobin addressed an animated letter to the governor, asserting that the jury was packed and that their verdict excited the surprise and indignation of the respectable part of the community. Injustice to our government at home, we think it right to state that, in the letter of Lord Liverpool to the governor, after adverting to the heinousness of the transaction, he says,
I am commanded by his Royal Highness the Prince Regent to direct that you will remove from that honorable situation any magistrate or magistrates who actually witnessed the infliction of the punishment without interference; and that he cannot receive from the council and assembly of the Virgin Islands a more flattering assurance of their regard to the wishes of their sovereign, and of the interest they feel in supporting the honor of the British name than their anxious endeavors to ameliorate the condition of that class of beings, whose bitter and dependent lot entitles them to every protection and support.”
Let us now bring forward the evidence of an individual, whose testimony has never been impugned, on the sufferings of African slaves in the British West-India Islands. We make the following extracts from a work published by Dr. Pinckard, inspector-general of hospitals, and the physician to the Bloomsbury Dispensary, entitled ‘Notes on the West Indies.’– The facts took place at an English plantation in Demerara, where the doctor has stationed himself at the time.
“Two unhappy negroes, a man and a woman, having been driven by cruel treatment to abscond from the plantation of Lancaster, were taken a few days since, and brought back to the estate, when the manager, whose inhuman severity had caused them to fly from his tyrannic government, dealt out to them his avenging despotism with more than savage brutality.
Taking with him two of the strongest drivers, armed with the heaviest whips, he led these trembling and wretched Africans, early in the morning, to a remote part of the estate, too distant for the officers to hear their cries; and there tying down first the man, he stood by, and made the drivers flog him with many hundred lashes, until, on releasing him from the ground, it was discovered that he was nearly exhausted; and in this state, the inhuman monster struck him with the butt-end of a large whip, and felled him to the earth; when the poor negro, escaping at once from his slavery and his sufferings, expired at the murderer’s feet. But, not satisfied with blood, this savage tyrant next tied down the naked woman on the spot by the dead body of her husband, and with the whips, already deep in gore, compelled the drivers to inflict a punishment of several hundred lashes, which had nearly released her also from a life of toil and torture.
“Hearing of these acts of cruelty on my return from the hospital, and scarcely believing it possible that they could have been committed, I went immediately to the sick-house to satisfy myself by ocular testimony; when, alas! I discovered that all I had heard was too fatally true; for, shocking to relate, I found the wretched and almost murdered woman lying stark naked on her belly upon the dirty boards, without any covering to the horrid wounds which had been cut by the whips, with the still warm and bloody corpse of the man extended at her side, upon the neck of which was an iron collar, and a long heavy chain, which the now murdered negro had been made to wear from the time of his return to the estate.
“The flesh of the woman was so torn as to exhibit one extensive sore from the loins almost down to her hams; nor had humanity administered even a drop of oil to soften her wounds. The only relief she knew was that of extending her feeble arm in order to beat off the tormenting flies with a small green bough, which had been put into her hand for that purpose by the sympathizing kindness of a fellow slave. A more shocking or distressing spectacle can scarcely be conceived. The dead man, and the almost expiring woman, had been brought home from the place of punishment, and thrown into the negro hospital, amidst the crowd of sick, with cruel unconcern. Lying on the opposite side of the corpse was a fellow sufferer in a similar condition to the poor woman.
His buttocks, thighs, and part of his back, had been flogged into one large sore, which was still raw, although he had been punished a fortnight before. “A few days after the funeral, the attorney of the estate happened to call at Lancaster, to visit the officers; and the conversation naturally turning upon the cruelty of the manager, and the consequent injury derived to the proprietors, we asked him what punishment the laws of the colony had provided for such horrid and barbarous crimes; expressing our hope that the manager would suffer the disgrace he so justly merited; when, to our great surprise, the attorney smiled, and treated our remarks only as of the dreams of men unpractised in the ways of slavery.
He spoke of the murder with as little feeling as the manager who had perpetrated it and seemed to be amused at our visionary ideas of punishing a white man for his cruel treatment of slaves. “To the question, whether the manager would not be dismissed from the estate? he replied, “Certainly not;” adding, “that if the negro had been treated as he deserved, he would have been flogged to death long before.” Such was the amount of his sympathy and concern! “The laws of the country,” he said, “were intended to punish any person for punishing a slave with more than thirty-nine lashes for the same offense; but by incurring only a small fine he could at any time punish a negro with as many hundred lashes as he might wish, although the governor and the fiscal were standing at his elbow.”
That the slaves universally believe in transmigration to Africa after their decease, and that this renders them often desirous to terminate their miseries by suicide, which masters have the greatest difficulty in preventing, are statements pointedly made by Dr. Pinckard. But his account of two negro funerals, which he witnessed himself, is still more striking, as evidence of the humanity of planters, and the happiness of their slaves. At both these solemnities the most unbounded marks of joy, and, as it were, congratulation, formed the rude ceremonial. The corpse of the happy negro, now rescued from his chains by a Power against which not even white men could contend, was followed by his surviving comrades, singing and capering for joy; not asking him, like the barbarians of the polar circles, why he died, or lamenting that he had left them, but addressing him in exclamations of envy; of hope that they should speedily follow him, and of confidence that the moment of their death would prove also the signal of relief from their miserable state.
Great wretchedness is occasioned at slave sales, by the separation of their friends and relatives. This dreadful and inherent feature of the traffic has not, perhaps, been sufficiently attended to. The following description of a mother who was exhibited at a sale, with her son and three daughters, furnishes an instance:—
“The fears of the parent, lest she should be separated from her children, or these from each other, were anxious and watchful, beyond all that imagination could paint, or the most vivid fancy portray. When anyone approached their little group or advanced to look towards them with the attentive eye of a purchaser, the children, in broken sobs, crouched nearer together, and the fearful mother, in agonizing impulse, instantly fell down before the spectator, bowed herself to the earth, and kissed his feet; then alternately clinging to his legs, and pressing her children to her bosom, she fixed herself upon her knees, clasped her hands together, and in anguish cast up a look of the humble petition, which might have found its way even to the heart of a Caligula;– and thus, in Nature’s truest language, did the afflicted parent urge the strongest appeal to his compassion, while she implored the purchaser, in dealing out to her the hard lot of slavery, to spare her the additional pang of being torn from her children.”
Though Dr. Pinckard was always well received by the planters — lived in their society on a footing of the closest intimacy — was a witness of all the good, as well as the evil, of their manners — and was, in every respect, most naturally and properly inclined to vindicate them, where the truth will permit; yet his whole volumes, abounding in every species of information, containing all the results of his attentive unwearied observations on the state of the slaves, as well as of the colonies in general, do not offer to the most attentive perusal one single fact or circumstance approaching a defense of the evil so often imputed to the slave trade. Their whole compass offers not a line to contradict, nor even in any degree to weaken, the mass of evidence upon which former writers on colonial affairs have long denounced that detestable enormity. On the contrary, he furnishes, almost on every page, new examples of its evils, and new grounds for its abolition.
It is a humiliating and melancholy fact, that the more despotic the government the happier the slave. We never hear of the magistrates of Rome interfering to protect the defenseless children of sorrow until the times of the emperors, when one of them ordered an imperious master to be punished, and his slaves to be liberated. In free states, the limited authority of magistrates prevents them from interfering in individual concerns, and it frequently happens that the slave owners are also magistrates. Under despotisms, this is not always the case. Human feelings are not there controlled by laws, and the cruel master cannot escape the laudable indignation that his conduct excites when the executive punishes in accordance with the feelings of the moment, and not by the directions of legislative statutes, previously enacted.
For these reasons, we find the slaves in the French and Spanish colonies much better treated than in our own. There are one or two exceptions; but, generally speaking, this is the case; and we blush for our country while we acknowledge the fact. As further proof of our remarks, we shall exhibit the state of slavery in Republican America, and see whether tyranny ever inflicted greater tortures than take place in that land of freedom.
Mr John Parrish, an American-born citizen, and an enlightened Quaker, in a pamphlet published in Philadelphia, 1800, by Kimber, Conrad, and Co. says:—
“There is a species of slave trade carried on in the United States, which is cruelty equal to that in the West Indies. A class of men, whose minds seem to have become almost callous to every tender feeling, have agents in various places suited to their purpose, who travel through different states, and by purchase, or otherwise, procure considerable numbers of these people, which consequently occasions a separation of the nearest connexions in life. Husbands from wives, and parents from children — the poignant sensations marked on their mournful countenances disregarded — are taken in droves through the country like herds of cattle, but with less commiseration; for, being chained, or otherwise fettered, the weight and friction of their shackles naturally producing much soreness and pain, they are greatly incommoded in their travel.
Jails, designed for the security of such as have forfeited their liberty by a breach of the laws, are, through the countenance of some of the magistracy, made receptacles for this kind of merchandise; and, when the opportunity presents for moving them further, it is generally in the dead of night, that their cries might not be heard, nor legal methods pursued the liberation of such as have been kidnapped.
Others are chained in the garrets or cellars of private houses, till the numbers become nearly equal to the success which may have been expected, they are then conveyed on board, and crowded under the hatches of vessels secretly stationed for that purpose, and thus transported to Petersburg, in Virginia, or such other parts as will insure the best market; and many are marched by land to unknown destined places. “Is it not a melancholy circumstance that such an abominable trade should be suffered in a land boasting of liberty?– While I was waiting with others on the legislature of Maryland, at their session in 1803, it was well known that a vessel lay in the river below Baltimore, to take in slaves — a practice frequent on the waters of Maryland, Delaware, and many other places.
“The evidence of a free African will not be taken against a white man; and, therefore, he may go unpunished. Many of the people of color, who had fled to prevent they’re being sold to southern traders, have, by the authority of the fugitive law, been pursued, brought back, and sold to men of this description; and, as the government has refused to afford them any redress, to God only could they look for support. Thus this law is put in force against an unoffending helpless people, while of the fugitive for murder or theft little or no notice is taken; so that the true spirit of judgment is turned backward. “In some places, cognizance is taken of murder, long after the perpetration.
In Great Britain, the Governor of Goree, in Africa, for ordering a soldier to be illegally whipped, which occasioned his death, was tried and executed fifteen or twenty years afterward. How have colored people’s lives been sported within some parts of the United States? Numbers have been whipped to death, and otherwise murdered, and little or no notice taken, in a judicial capacity. It was reported, from good authority, that a black man who was sold from near Snow Hill, in Maryland, to a distant part of the Continent, returned back, and layout of doors.
Being accused of stealing from his neighbors, he was pursued, taken, and brought into the village one morning. and there hung without judge or jury; of which no more notice was taken than if they hung a dog! “It was a just observation of Thomas Jefferson (late President of the United States), “that the whole commerce between master and slave is one perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions on the one part, and degrading submission on the other.” Many instances have occurred, and some a recent date, where the slaves have rather chosen death than remain in a state of bondage, liable to be separated from all that is dear to them.
Some have plunged into the water, and drowned themselves; others have cut their throats–one in particular, lately in Delaware county jail, and another on the pavement in Philadelphia, finding they were about to be sent from their relatives to the West Indies. Others, in attempting to make their escape, have resorted to desperate means for accomplishing it. A number of these unhappy people were taken from the eastern shore of Maryland, by two of the southern slave traders, called Georgiamen — by name Henry Spiers and Joshua Butts, who is concerned with the treasurer of the state of Georgia, were furnished by him with eight or ten thousand dollars out of the treasury, to speculate on; but as they were returning with their purchases through Virginia, they were exterminated by their prisoners; who were afterward apprehended, and several of them executed.
“When I was traveling through North Carolina, a black man, who was outlawed, was shot by one of his pursuers, and left wounded in the woods, they came to the ordinary where I had stopped to bait my horse, in order to procure a cart to bring the poor wretched object in. Another, I was credibly informed, was shot, his head cut off, and carried in a bag by the perpetrators of the murder, who received the reward, which was said to have been two hundred dollars, and that the head was stuck on a coal-house at an iron-works in Virginia. His crime was going, without leave, to visit his wife, who was in slavery at some distance.
One Crawford gives an account of a black man being gibbetted alive in South Carolina, and the buzzards came and picked out his eyes. Another was burnt at the stake in Charlestown, in the same state, surrounded by a multitude of spectators, some of whom were people of the first rank. The poor object was heard to cry “Not guilty! not guilty!” “A judge on the eastern shore of Maryland sold thirteen of his slaves to a southern trader, among whom was a man who was sent to gather oysters, while his wife was taken away: when he returned and found his wife was gone, he expostulated with his learned master, asking “Whether he had not been a faithful slave for more than twenty years, and requesting he might go after his wife:” but this boon of mercy was refused.
A man by the name of Black, in Cedar Creek Neck, the latter end of April 1805, in the state of Delaware and county of Sussex, suspended a black lad; and, tying three fence rails to his feet, beat him to death, and then buried the body in the night. On discovery of the fact, the corpse was taken up, and, by the coroner’s inquest, he was found guilty of wilful murder. It further appeared that Black had been the death of two unhappy victims before, which was kept secret. What made the former murder more lamentable was, the lad was innocent of the crime he was charged with, viz. taking leather for a pair of shoe soles, which Black’s son afterward acknowledged he had taken.
The murderer escaped justice. “From an account, published in the “American Daily Advertiser,” by a person who had taken a tour along the eastern shore of Maryland, it appears that from that side of the bay only there were not less than six hundred blacks carried off in six months by the Georgia men, or southern traders! Some of the agents of those southern traders are so hardy as to publish advertisements of their readiness to purchase these kinds of cargo, which they affect in various ways; frequently by purchases made so secretly, that the poor blacks, when engaged at their meals, or occupied in some domestic concerns, not having the least intimation of the design, are suddenly seized, bound, and carried off, either to someplace provided for the purpose of immediately onboard the vessel.
Many are obtained by kidnapping until the whole supply is completed. “I have heard some men in eminent stations say, “the country must be thinned of these people (the blacks)– they must be got rid of at any rate.” Some from embarrassed circumstances have made the sale of these wretched objects, who, being fallen upon unawares, were handcuffed, and sent afar off, which has struck such a terror to other slaves, who would otherwise have remained with their masters, that they have run away. A man and his wife on the same shore of Maryland, being thus circumstanced, fled under such alarm, that the woman left behind her sucking child.
After they were taken, I met them, coupled together in irons, and drove along the road like brute beasts, by two rough unfeeling white men. About sixty in-one drove of these poor men, women, and children, were later driven through Pennsylvania; and not only the males but the women, were so iron-bound, that it was with great difficulty the latter suckled their children. “It has been asked, what can be said in favor of emancipation, when so many that are free are crowded into gaol for dishonesty? I am not disposed to countenance wrong things, but they may plead the example of the whites.
That disposition for theft which they have been branded with must be ascribed to their situation, and not to any depravity in a moral sense. The man in whose favor no laws of property exist probably feels himself less bound to respect those made in favor of others. When arguing for ourselves, we say, “that laws, to be just, must give a reciprocation of right;” that, without this, they are mere arbitrary rules of conduct founded in force, and not in conscience; and it is a problem, which I give the master to solve, whether religions precepts against the violation of property were not framed for him as well as his slave; and whether the slave may not as justifiably take a little from one who has taken all from him, as he may slay one who may slay him; that a change in relation, in which a man is placed, should change his ideas of moral right or wrong, is neither new nor peculiar to the color of blacks.
Homer tells us it was so upwards of two thousand six hundred years ago:— “Jove fixed it certain that whatever day Makes man a slave takes half his worth away.” ‘JEFFERSON’S NOTES ON VIRGINIA.’ This wretched race of men, both in the West India Islands and the United States of America. are bought and sold, exactly as we sell our horses, oxen, sheep, and swine. Planters, who are to a man gamblers, will stake a negro on the turn of a card, or the cast of the dice; or barter them for a horse, cattle, or a piece of land.
They are put up in lots at auction, as we sell horses, and carried hundreds of miles from the place where they were born. On the death of their master, they are sold, along with the quadruped stock of the estate, to the highest bidder, as the following advertisement, taken from a paper printed in the very town where General Washington was born, willfully proves:– “To be sold at auction, pursuant to the last will and testament of Mann Page, deceased, all the personal property belonging to his estate; consisting of about one hundred and sixty negroes, together with all the stock of horses, three mules, cattle, sheep, plantation utensils, and about one thousand barrels of corn.
Amongst the negroes are seven very valuable carpenters, three excellent blacksmiths, two millers, and some other tradesmen. The greater part, if not the whole, of this valuable property, will be sold on a credit of twelve months; the purchaser giving bond with approved security, to bear interest from the date, if not punctually paid. All sums under twenty dollars must be paid in money.”
Were we to extract, from more recent publications, the many cases of cruelty lately exercised upon the unhappy children of Africa, we should fill a volume; but we trust that we have said enough to make the reader exclaim, with Cowper,
I would not have a slave to till my ground, To fan me when I sleep, And tremble when I wake, for all that human sinews, bought and sold, Have ever earned.
Strange that men professing to be followers of the mild and merciful Jesus should inflict such tortures as we have already described, and stranger still that interest should not predominate in their cruel and selfish minds; recent experiments have clearly demonstrated that it would be much more advantageous for the planter to have his ground cultivated by freemen than slaves; for one manumitted negro will do more work than three bondsmen; so much better a stimulant to the industry wages than the whip. But the planters cannot be brought to believe in a fact which Nature herself, providing against slavery, has established throughout the world; for her laws have ordained that nine men out of every ten must endure the penalty of Adam — live by labor; and labor, in all climes, is only adequate to the support of life.
The negroes in the West Indies, if free tomorrow, would labor to support themselves; and would certainly work harder than they do now, even to do that. Consequently, the planter would have his ground tilled for less than what the support of his slaves costs him, and thereby save the money he must pay to keep up his livestock. This should be an inducement, even overlooking the other circumstances which would attend a consummation so devoutly to be wished as the abolition of slavery.
But the curse of commerce is on the whole West India proprietors. They bought the blacks as slaves, and slaves they will retain them, unless they get not only their money but the interest of it, back. Traders like what is tangible, and despise the promise of advantages so remote as those depending on the abolition of slavery, and we fear the whip and the driver will still continue to be in request. Yet, with all our abhorrence of this cruel system, a moment’s reflection will show us that it is supported and perpetuated by our own idle and pernicious habits. The tap room might justly be called the tomb of the poor negro’s liberty; for it is the vicious and thoughtless consumers of poisonous rum and unwholesome tobacco which enable their taskmaster to keep them in degradation.
Little does the affected beau think, while he is extending his nostrils, by filling them with pungent grains of titillating dust, or the young miss, while she is sipping her tea, that the snuff and sugar, which they are so wantonly wasting, are not only in themselves useless, but manufactured by the labor of slaves, and not infrequently tinged with their actual blood. But the lower classes a most culpable. The consumption of rum and tobacco is not only an idle, fulsome, and vicious habit, but extremely expensive, and could be dispensed with by the poor, their greatest admirers, with advantage to their health, morals, and pockets; while their useful abstinence would be contributing to putting a stop to the sufferings of their African fellow-creatures.
But our admonition, we fear, is as vain as our lamentations. The community will continue consuming the produce of the West Indies, and the task-master to inflict his torture; while the poor negro, in the words of the poet, may justly reproach us:–
THE NEGRO’S COMPLAINT. ‘Forced from home and all its pleasures, Afric’s coast I left forlorn; To increase a stranger’s treasures, O’er the raging billows borne. Men from England bought and sold me, Paid my prim in paltry gold; But, though slave they have enrolled me, Minds are never to be sold. ‘Still in thought as free as ever, What are England’s rights, I ask, Me from my delights to sever, Me to torture, me to the task? Fleecy locks and black complexion Cannot forfeit Nature’s claim; Skins may differ, but affection Dwells in white and black the same. ‘Why did all-creating Nature Make the plant for which we toil? Sighs must fan it, tears must water, Sweat of ours must dress the soil. Think, ye masters, iron-hearted, Lolling at your jovial boards; Think how many backs have smarted For the sweets your cane affords.
‘Is there, as ye sometimes tell us, their One who reigns on high? Has He bid you buy and sell us, Speaking from his throne, the sky Ask him if your knotted scourges, Matches, blood-extorting screws, Are the means that duty urges Agents of his will to use? ‘Hark! he answers!–wild tornadoes, Strewing yonder sea with wrecks, Wasting towns, plantations, meadows, Are the voice with which he speaks.
He, foreseeing what vexations Africa’s sons should undergo, Fixed their tyrant’s habitations Where his whirlwinds answer — No! ‘By our blood in Afric wasted, Ere our necks received the chain; By the miseries that we tasted, Crossing in your barks the main; By our sufferings, since ye brought us To the man-degrading mart; All sustained by patience, taught us Only by a broken heart; ‘Deem our nation brutes no longer, Till some reason ye shall find Worthies of regard, and stronger Than the color of our kind. Slaves of gold, whose sordid dealings Tarnish all your boasted powers, Prove that you have human feelings, Ere you proudly question ours! — COWPER.
The sum of these doleful tales is the case of Hodge, who, for his wickedness to his slaves, expiated his crimes at the hands of the executioner, pitied by the whites, and execrated by the blacks. The Hon. Arthur Wm. Hodge, proprietor, and one of the members of His Majesty’s council on the island of Tortola were indicted for the murder of one of his own negroes, of the name of Prosper.
The prisoner, on his trial, being put to the bar, pleaded Not Guilty. The first witness called to prove the charge was a free woman of color, of name Pareen Georges. She stated that she was in the habit of attending at Mr. Hodges estate to wash linen; that one day Prosper came to her to borrow six shillings, being the sum that his master required of him because a mango had fallen from a tree, which he Prosper was set to watch.
He told the witness that he must either find the six shillings or be flogged; that the witness had only three shillings, which she gave him, but that it did not appease Mr. Hodge: that Prosper was flogged for upwards of an hour, receiving more than one hundred lashes, and threatened by his master that, if he did not bring the remaining three shillings on the next day, the flogging should be repeated; that the next day he was tied to a tree, and flogged for such a length of time, with the thong of the whip doubled, that his head fell back, and that he could bawl no more.— From thence he was carried to the sick-house, and chained to two other negroes: that he remained in this confinement for five days, at the end of which time his companions broke away; and thereby released him; that he was unable to abscond; that he went to the negro-houses, and shut himself up; that he was found there dead, and in a state of putrefaction, some days afterward; that crawlers were found in his wounds, and not a piece of black flesh was to be seen on the hinder part of his body where be had been flogged.
Stephen M’Keogh, a white man, who had lived as manager on Mr. Hodge’s estate, deposed that he saw the deceased, Prosper after he had been so severely flogged; that, he could put his finger in his side; he saw him some days before his death in a cruel state; he could not go near him for the blue flies. Mr. Hodge had told the witness, while he was in his employ, that, if the work of the estate was not done, he was satisfied if he heard the whip.
This was the evidence against the prisoner. His counsel, in their attempt to impeach the veracity of the witnesses, called evidence as to his general character, which disclosed instances of still greater barbarity on the part of Mr. Hodge. Among other examples, the witness, Pareen Georges, swore that he had occasioned the death of his cook, named Margaret, by pouring boiling water down her throat.
Before the jury retired, the prisoner addressed them as follows:–
“Gentlemen, as bad as I have been represented, or as bad as you may think me, I assure you that I feel support in my affliction from entertaining a proper sense of religion. As all men are subject to wrong, I cannot but say that that principle is likewise inherent in me. I acknowledge myself guilty in regard to many of my slaves, but I call God to witness my innocence with respect to the murder of Prosper. I am sensible that the country thirsts for my blood, and I am ready to sacrifice it.”
The jury, after some deliberation, brought in a verdict of Guilty.
There were six other indictments on similar charges against the prisoner.
After, as well as previous to, his condemnation, and to the last moment of his life, Mr. Hodge persisted in his innocence of the crime for which he was about to suffer. He acknowledged that he had been a cruel master (which, as he afterward said, was all he meant, in his admission to the jury, of his guilt in regard to others of the slaves); that he had repeatedly flogged his negroes; that they had then run away, when, by their own neglect, and the consequent exposure of their wounds, the death of some of them had possibly ensued. He denied all intentions of causing the death of anyone and pleaded the unruly and insubordinate disposition of his whole gang as the motive for his severity. These were the sentiments in which he died.
Governor Elliott sent to Lord Liverpool the depositions of the witnesses who were examined on this trial. The deposition of Mr. Robertson states that he has every reason to suspect Mr. Hodge of having murdered five of his slaves! The governor then mentions the proceedings he had thought proper to adopt; gives an account of the trial and conviction of Mr. Hodge — the majority of the petit jury recommended him to mercy!! but none of the judges seconded the recommendation.
From the period of his condemnation to his execution, which took place May the 8th, 1811, Governor Elliott thought it expedient to proclaim martial law and to embody the militia; but, fortunately, no disturbance took place. However, the governor added, that ‘the state of irritation, nay, I had almost said, of anarchy, in which I have found this colony, rendered the above measures indispensable for the preservation of tranquillity, and for ensuring the due execution of the sentence against Arthur W. Hodge. Indeed, it is but too probable that without my presence, in a conjuncture so replete with party animosity, unpleasant occurrences might have ensued.
The evidence adduced during this trial shows what alarming height of cruelty is still practiced in the West Indies. The legislature of this country, or the crown, is imperiously called upon to interfere and put a final check on atrocities that inflict a deep wound upon the character of the nation. If the colonial assemblies have not hitherto evinced an inclination to stop these proceedings, they are unfit and unworthy to legislate; and the parent state should resume an authority that has been so feebly exercised for the protection of the weak.
1. Advertisement from the Edenton newspaper:–‘North Carolina, Oct. 29, 1795. Ten Dollars’ Reward will be paid for apprehending and delivering to me my negro-man, named Moses, who, after being detected in some villainy, ran away this morning about four o’clock; or I will give five times the sum to any person that will give due proof of his being killed, and never ask a question to know by whom it was done. W. SKINNER.— This Skinner was a general in the American army and a great stickler for liberty!
2. No mothers, in the most polished nations, are more tender and affectionate to their offspring than negro-women. What, then, must have been the horrors of the people, in a case like this?
3. The writer of this was present in a grocer’s shop when a negro child, apparently a year old, was taken out of a sugar hogshead, having been smothered there either by carelessness or design.– The descendant of Ishmael was consigned to the silent grave, sad the grocer served his customers with the sugar that preserved the little black.