Page images
PDF
EPUB

there till stifled, then taken out and suffered to recover and breathe, when they were again treated in the same manner, and so repeated. edly, until they have been seen 'to stagger and fall. On this, Mr Hodge has ordered them to be taken up and suspended to a tree by their hands tied together, and in this situation cart whipped for some time at close quarters. Among others, a mulatto child, reputed to be his own, named Bella, was repeatedly cart-whipped by his order; and he was also seen repeatedly to strike the child with a stiek'on the head, so as to break her head ; and also to kick her so violently as to send her several feet on the ground.-11. A slave, named Cud. joe, a smart active fellow, was so severely and repeatedly cart-whipped, and otherwise ill treated by Hodge, that he died. Another slave named Gift, who had also previously been in good health, after having been severely cart-whipped and chained, was again, with his wounds unhealed, subjected to a farther severe cart-whipping, and died the same night. One of the deponents saw the body carried out for burial in a dreadful state of laceration.-12. A negro woman named Violet, belonging to Mr Hodge, was confined and severely flogged and cut by him for the alleged crime of stealing candles. She died in consequence. A boy, a son of this woman, run away through his master's fogging him. When brought back, he was put in chains, and so severely flogged, that he died. One of the deponents saw the boy a week before he died, and perceived, from his swelled and lacerated state, that he could not possibly recover.. 13. A boy named Dick, whom Mr Hodge charged with having stolen his geese, was very often flogged severely and in quick succession, at close quarters and otherwise ; in consequence of which he died. He had also been put in chains, and had his mouth burnt with a hot iron.-14. One of the deponents, besides swearing to several of the above facts, stated, that for several years during which the deponent resided on Mr Hodge's estate, Mr H. had been guilty of repeated and excessive acts of cruelty towards his slaves. Ano. ther deponent, who had lived, at different periods, as a manager on the estate of Mr Hodge, called Belle Vue, and who was also a witness to many of the atrocities detailed above, swore, that at most of the numerous and severe cart-whippings inflicted by Mr Hodge on his slaves, he was not actually present, Mr Hodge generally choosing to inflict them without the presence of any competent witness; but that, in addition to the instances at which be happened to be present, and which are mentioned above, there were many others where he saw only the effects of Hodge's cruelty, in the lacerations, burnt mouths, &c. of the slaves. He was satisfied these cruelties were in. flicted by Hodge himself, as otherwise he should have heard him inquire, and complain, concerning these marks of suffering in his own negroes. It was scarcely possible to remain in the sick-house, on account of the offensive smell proceeding from the corrupted wounds of cart-whipped slaves. When this deponent first went to live on Hodge's estate, there was upon it a fine gang of upwards 100 able

negroes ;

negroes; but when the last wife of Hodge died, in 1808, that nnmber was so reduced by cruelty, and absconding in consequence of cruelty, that negroes enough were not to be found on the estate to dig her grave; and therefore, the deponent and Daniel Ross, esq. one of the magistrates who signed his deposition, assisted in digging it. He could not remember the names of all the negroes who had died in consequence of the cruelties of Hodge ; but he knew the number to be great: sometimes three and four have died in the course of a day and night. On such occasions, no doctor was ever called in. He lived in all about three years with Mr Hodge ; and in that time he was satisfied that Hodge lost 60 negroes, at least, by the severity of his punishments; and he believed that only one negro died a natural death during the same period.' p. 14–16.

Such was Mr Hodge-such was his life; and these are specimens of the scenes which his plantations exhibited. In the small island and confined society of Tortola, every particular of his conduct was well known. And yet, we are told, the prevailing idea was, that he had a comical' way with his slaves, but, on the whole, was a good man ! (Trial, p. 102.) No one shunned his society. Not a thought was ever harboured of turning him out of the council, in which he held his rank till the day of his arrest. Still less did any one entertain the romantic idea, of bringing him to trial for cruelty to black negroes. Such a thing would have been held as ridiculous in Tortola, as it would be in this country to prosecute a man for maiming his dog. Laws it is true existed, by which he was liable to punishment; but, like many obsolete penal statutes in this country, they were never thought of, and only remained on the books, to be quoted against aholitionists as proofs that the West Indian jurisprudence required no reformation, or to be made the handle for gratifying a private spite, when any one happened to conceive it, and wished to skulk behind the forms of justice in giving it vent. At length, Mr Hodge became the object of some political animosities, and a disposition to effect his ruin was entertained. Still, this would, in all probability, never have found vent; for it is an establish ed principle in the West Indies, to unite as one man against the regroes, and to bury all animosities in oblivion, rather than let the negro interests benefit by the dissensions of their

oppressors. But, unluckily for Hodge, he had been cruel to white as well as to black nien, and, being a noted duellist, was held in some dread by those against whom he conceived a spite. It happened that, in this class, there was found a person invested with a judicial character-one who had always protected Hodge, and who had even frustrated attempts to bring his conduct under review. A challenge had been given, or threats amounting to such a defiance, and Mr Hodge must either be tried, or his

antagonist

[ocr errors]

antagonist must fight him. The law was now resorted to. It. was no longer a dead letter. Depositions were taken-Mr. Hodge was arrested application was made to bring him to trial, for murders notoriously committed four or five years before, and every

effort was used to obtain a conviction. We have carefully perused the report of the trial, and have indeed been struck with the irregularity which seems to prevail in the administration of West Indian justice-with the vite eloquence of the bar--the hasty and crude arguments on points of evidence ---the total want of order and precision in the arrangement of the business. But ample evidence to convict was no doubt adduced, and evidence wholly unimpeached by the case for the defendant. We shall not load our pages with any specimens of the speeches; but shall confine our attention to a few things which came out accidentally in the course of the cause, and may serve as samples of the feelings and principles common among our white brethren of the islands, on matters of no higher concernment than negro life and rights. One juror is challenged, because he admits that he is prejudiced against the prosecution, thinking it " would be hurtful to the West India islands, and make the negroes saucy.' (p. 21.) When the person was brought up by a writ of habeas corpus, it was asserted in open court, that the offence whereof he stood accused (the murder of his slaves) was bailable at law; nay, it was boldly stated, • that a negro being property, it was no greater offence in law • for his owner to kill him, than it would be to kill his dog. (p. 39.). And though the counsel for the prosecution stoutly deny this doctrine, the Court not only permitted it to be used, but thought it so far deserving of notice at least, that they allowed a very full and elaborate answer to be made to it, with a variety of cases and quotations from the law books. This point, indeed, is most anxiously maintained by all the counsel for the prosecutior.; and though we may, at first sight; be inclined to set down, to the account of bad taste, their explanations of the criminality of murder, by reference to the history of Cain, David, Joab, Jezebel, Athaliah ; yet, their careful illustration of this point--their quotations of authorities, &c. from the decalogue, down to the Melioration act--their drawing the indictment with a count for statute, and another for common law-make it abundantly manifest, that they entertained no small fear of being turned round by the prejudices of the jury on this point of their case. Were they wrong in feeling such apprehensions? The case, such as we have seen-horrible beyond all ordinary crimes----proved by indisputable evidence-coming home, one should have thought, to the bosom

of

6

of every man, 'whose bosom contained a heart-was left to the jury; who, after deliberating an hour and a half, returned a verdict of guilty ; but, by a majority of their number, recommended this wretch to mercy !-No attention was indeed paid to this marvellous recommendation ; but when the time came for putting the sentence of the law in execution, Governor Elliot, who had been obliged to repair to Tortola in person, for the purpose of being ready in case of accidents, felt himself under the necessity of calling out the militia, and proclaiming martial law, in order to awe the turbalent islanders into quiet, under the novel visitation of such punishment inflicted for the murder of a slave. • The state of irritation,' (he adds, in his despatch,) and I may almost say of anarchy in which I have 6 found this colony, rendered the above measures indispensable • for the preservation of tranquillity, and for insuring the due o execution of the fatal sentence of the law against the late Arthur

Hodge. Indeed it is but too probable, that, without my presence here as commander-in-chief, in a conjuncture so re

plete with party animosity, unpleasant occurrences might have • ensued.' 'Such are the courts, the juries and the people of those islands, which jealously assert their exclusive right to legislate for themselves, on the interests of the whole negro population, without giving its members, or their protectors, any voice whatever in their deliberations; and, possessing that mockery of justice, a trial of blacks by white juries, white judges; and white witnesses, would extend the same opprobrium of British colonial policy to settlements where it is as yet happily un known.

It is always painful, and it often seems ungenerous, to make reflections injurious to the character of whole classes or commu-nities of men. In treațing, however, of the present question, no man can faithfully discharge his duty, without doing this violence to his feelings, and exposing himself to a charge of this description. The constitution of West Indian society,--the habits of the whites,-the influence of slavery on their characters and ideas,--all the effects inevitably produced upon the social relations of men in those countries, by the mixed population which inhabit them, and the unequal rights which regulate the enjoyment of property, power, and personal security,--these lye at the foundation of every discussion that can be raised, touching the internal administration of the slave colonies. In giving to these circumstances the consideration which they demand, we are very far from wishing to fling blame on our fellow-citizens of the Islands, --still less is it our inclination to cast odium on individuals. No class of men, we cheerfully admit, VOL. XIX. NO. 37.

K.

has

has shown a better spirit than they have as a body, on every question unconnected with the negro slavery, and its necessary consequences;-no class has sacrificed more largely to the interests of the empire, which, in its turn, has so lavishly protected them ;--no class has produced more estimable examples of individual virtue surmounting the influence of local prejudices and impurities. But the tendency of their situation is unquestionable ;--the habits of thinking which it engenders and roots in the mind, are proved, beyond all dispute, to be wholly incompatible with any thing like a fair consideration of any questions relating to the condition of the lower orders in the colonial society. °Nothing can eradicate from their minds (we speak of the bulk of the community), the idea that the negro is an inferior animal ;—that his sufferings should not affect the heart like those of a human being ;-that his comforts, his rights, his enjoyments, may be sported with, and yet no violence be done to nolions of honour, nor any sting reach the conscience. Even those Creoles who are the least under the influence of such

prejudices, have very different feelings upon the matter, from those which their ancestors carried out of Europe ;-and persons, repairing to the colonies for a part of their lives, too generally learn to imitate the hard-heartedness towards this unhappy race, which is indigenous to the soil. Negro-slavery brings with it this excuse, at least, for those whom it corrupts, that it begins with the head, before reaching the heart; and seldom renders the feelings callous, without first perverting the intellect. He who ill treats, or permits the oppression of his slave, under the influence of those perverse notions of his being something between a man and a beast, can scarcely be so much blamed, as he who, with his eyes open, torments à being whom he knows and feels to be his fellow.

This consideration, however, if it palliates, in some sort, the cruelties of the system with respect to their actors, should operate with a tenfold force to deter such as are happily above the delusions of West Indian habits, from entrusting those who labour under them with the uncontrolled management of the negro population. For this they are utterly unfit. They have been tried with it in every shape, and in all the stages of the discussion ;---they have promised, and broken their faith ;--they have pretended to meliorate the condition of their slaves, and the pretence has been constantly detected ;--they have passed laws for this purpose, and they have been clearly convicted of passing them, only

' to deceive the mother country. Affecting to be indignant at her interference,-asserting, most loudly, that their disposition to reform themselves was as earnest as their power of doing so

was

« PreviousContinue »