CHAPTERS ON SLAVERY
Characters, Habits and Manners of the Maroons, from Dallas History of that people.
The Annual Register or a view of the History, Politics, and literature for the year 1803.
IT is not to be doubted that the climate of the mountains of Jamaica, which is seldom less than ten degrees cooler than the low land of the islands, the mode of life of the inhabitants, the constant exercise of their limbs in ascending and descending, and their custom of exploring the vast mountains and precipices of the interior of the country, in pursuit of the wild boar, contribute to produce the strength and symmetry in which the Maroons of Trelawny-Town, and Accompong Town, far excelled the other negroes of every description in the island. In character, language, and manners, they nearly resembled those Negroes on the estates of the planters that were descended from the same race of African. But displayed a striking distinction in their personal appearance, being blacker, taller, and in every respect handsomer; for such of them as had remained in slavery, had intermixed with Eboe negroes and others, imported from countries to the southward of the coast of Africa, people of yellow complexions, with compressed features, and thick lips, who were in every respect inferior to themselves.
In their person and carriage, the Maroons were erect and lofty, indicating a consciousness of superiority; vigour appeared upon their muscles and their motions displayed agility. Their eyes were quick, wild and fiery, the white of them appearing a little reddened; owing, perhaps, to the greenness of the wood they burned in they houses, with the smoke of which they must have been affected. They possessed most, if not all the senses in superior degree. They were accustomed, from habit, to discover, in the woods, object, which white people, of the best sight, could not distinguish; and their haring was so wonderfully quick, that it enabled them to elude the most active pursuers; they were seldom surprised. They communicated with one another by means of horns; and when these could scarcely be heard by other people, they distinguished the orders that the sounds conveyed. It is very remarkable, that the Maroons had a particular call upon the horn for each individual, by which he was summoned from a distance as easily as he would have been spoken to by name, had he been near. It appears wonderful, at first, that a single horn should be able to express such a number of names; but, on reflection, it is not more wonderful than the variety of changes of which a dozen bells are susceptible, or the multiplicity of words that are formed by the combination of twenty-six letters. Allowing that the horn admits a less variation of tones than the chimes of twelve bells, it has a greater advantage in one respect for conveying particular ideas, from being capable of varying the duration of sound, which bells are not; so that, besides numerical combination of monotonous notes, it can adopt all the modulation of concatenated measure, and the poetical feet might be so associated as to transmit a great variety of ideas. But to turn to the Maroons:---It has been said that their sense of smelling is obtuse, and their taste depraved. With respect to the former, I have heard, on the contrary, that their scent is extremely prompt and that they have been known to trace parties of runaway negroes to a great distance, by the smell of their fire wood; and as to the latter, they are, like other negroes, fond of savoury dishes, jirked hog, and ringtail pigeons delicacies unknown to an European table, but which a Quin himself would mot hesitate to name among the first dainties of the epicurean list. I know not whence the word jirk is derived, but it signifies cutting or scoring internally the flesh of the wild hog, which is then smoked and otherwise prepared in a manner that gives it a very fine flavour. The taste is a sense more peculiarly dependent upon social habits than any of the rest; we soon learn to relish the viands agreeable to those about us in the earliest part of life and to eat and drink as our parents and friends do. The want of a refined palate would not be surprising among a set of uncivilised Africans, but it would be surprising to find them preferring wine to rum, when we recollect that they are accustomed to the latter from their infancy and that they know nothing of the former; that fermented liquors are insipid to the palate used to distilled ones and that one might as well expect a London drayman to prefer pale small beer to brown stout. I remember once offering a white man, in Jamaica, his choice of wine or rum, having, at the time, no brandy drawn; he chose the latter, with this answer: “Oh! Sir, any thing that bite the throat.”
The Maroons, in general, speak, like most of the other Negroes in the island, a peculiar dialect of English, corrupted with African words; and certainly understand our language sufficiently well to have received instruction in it. I cannot be of opinion, that a sincere and fervent endeavour to introduce Christianity among them would have failed. It is true, that a prejudice in favour of the magic of Obeah prevailed among them. As among other Negroes; but it is no less true, that the influence of this prejudice operated differently, according to the strength of they’re understanding and experience. The greatest dupes to it were the most ignorant; and it was a generally received opinion that the charm of Obeah could have no power over any Negro who had been baptized: not but that the weaker ones, whether Maroons or others dreaded the arts of Obeah, even after baptism. Minds forming this estimate of christianity, could not but be prepared to embrace it soothing doctrines; and it must always be lamented, that no attempts were ever made to introduce our religion among the black people in the colonies. I mean to resume this subject when I speak of the present state of Jamaica and shall here only observe that the superstition of Obeah would have vanished before the power of Christianity and that no other power is likely to eradicate it. The Maroons continued to believe, like their fore-fathers, that Accompong was the god of the heavens, the creator of all things and a deity of infinite goodness: but they neither offered sacrifices to him. Nor had any mode of worship.
It is not to be supposed that an illiterate body of people, among whom ambition was unknown and who spent their lives chiefly in hunting, raising provisions and traversing the roads in pursuits of runaway, would attend to nice regulations for their internal government. There was no public revenue to manage no army to maintain, though the whole formed a military body, under appointed officers: right and wrong were supposed to be understood, without being defined. The town consisted of a certain number of families collected together under a chief; and among them, resided a superintendent and four other white men, as appointed by the colonial legislature. Subject to the laws made for them in their relative situation, as dependent on the government of the island, they were, in other respects, at liberty to pursue the dictates of their own minds and they consequently followed the customs of their fathers. All their disputes were subject to the determination of their chiefs, to whom they looked up with implicit confidence and whom they usually obeyed without argument. The superintendent, likewise, took an active part in adjusting their altercations, which chiefly arose from their propensity to gaming, as they would play for considerable sums of money; and from drunkenness, of which they were frequently guilty. We have seen, in the treaty with Cudjoe, the succession of chiefs that were then named, after whom, the power of appointment return to the governor. The commission accordingly continued to be filled up as vacancies occurred and the successors of Cudjoe maintained a degree of influence and authority equal to his own. Till the death of Furry, who built the new town and went to reside in it with a certain number of the Maroons, they were governed in a very despotic manner by their chiefs and some if their older captains. The last of these chief Maroons was named Montague, whom I shall have occasioned to mention again, in treating of the cause of the rebellion of 1795.
The duties of the superintendant consisted in maintaining a friendly correspondence between the maroons and the inhabitants of the island, preserving peace in their settlement, preventing the concourse of slaves in the towns, and sending parties out on duty. By his office, he was empowered to hold a court with four Maroons, to try those who disobeyed orders, excited or joined in tumults, departed from the towns without leave, or staid out longer than permitted; and to award punishment, not extending to life, limb, or transportation. He was bound to reside in his town, from which he was never to be absent longer than a fortnight, without the governor’s leave and, every three months, he was to make a return, on oath, to the governor, of the number residing in his town, how many unfit for duty, the number of women and children, their increase or decrease, the condition of the superindentant’s house and the state of the of the roads. On failure of his duty, the superintendant was subject to a court martial and liable to be broke. There was a superintendant in each town, having a salary of L2000. And he had under him four white men, L601. A year each.
After the treaty with Cudjoe, the Maroons became the subject of successive laws, consisting of regulations respecting runaways, trials, and punishments, making roads, and a variety of minute affairs. Being careless whether they brought in a runaway alive, or only his head, a law was passed, with great policy, allowing, besides the usual reward, mile money, for every runaway produced alive. Inveigling slaves and harbouring runaways were punishable by transportation: that is, the offender was sold to foreigners on other islands, or on the continent of America. Though a concourse of slaves in their towns was forbidden, the Maroons might have dances among themselves whenever they pleased, and, provided the dance were in the day time, with a small number of slaves. They were not to quit their town without leave; and, if they staid seven days beyond the time allowed them, they were liable to be taken up and sent home for trial. They were not permitted to purchase or possess slaves. No party, in pursuit of runaways, was to consist of more than twelve men, including officers, except on particular occasions; or to go without written orders from the superintendant, nor were the party to remain out more than twenty days. No Maroons were to be employed by any white person without a written agreement; and debts due to or from them, were to be determined by two magistrates in a summary way. Their persons were protected from whipping, or other ill-treatment.
They were bound to repair roads leading to their town once a year, on being ordered by the superintendant, for which they were to be paid. Lastly, there was a law which, in consideration of their increasing population, gave them liberty of relinquishing they rights as maroons and residing in any other part of the island, except the Maroon towns, no longer subject to the privileges of free people. In which case, they were bound to enlist in militia.
To some of these laws very little attention was paid. The maroons bought slaves without any notice being taken of it. Parties of them were suffered to wander about the island and many of them formed temporary connexions with the female slaves on the plantations in the country. Whose families of themselves planters, without complying with the forms required by the law respecting such removals, from which consequences resulted, which we shall hereafter have to observe. From the neglect of this law, it is evident that it was not passed with a view of encouraging the Maroons to disperse and lose the existence of a distinct community, which it has been imagined would have been beneficial to the island, but merely to give them room, their limits becoming unequal to their increase. Whether their extermination, as a distinct body, would have been beneficial, is highly problematical. The war of 1795 would not have taken place; but who can say what other communities of the slaves might have been formed in the woods and mountains, and what other wars might have been the consequence? It is very probable, that the assemblages of fugitives would have been formed in the woody and almost inaccessible retreats of the country, had it not been for the frequent scouring of the woods by the Maroons, in search of runaway negroes. These assemblages would, in time, have formed new Maroon bodies, as difficult to be subdued as the former; and so far more dangerous than the original Maroons were in their outset, that their connexion with the slaves would have been more general. It is very well known, that notwithstanding the vigilance and activity with which fugitives were pursued by the Maroons, a small body of them did actually establish themselves in the mountains, where they had raised hut, and made provision grounds, on which some had lived for upwards of twenty years. This body, called the Congo Settlement, was discovered in the late war by a party of Maroons crossing the country, and was dispersed, some of the negroes returning to the estates to which they formerly belonged, and others surrendering with the maroons at the termination of the war.
That the maroons had proved themselves a useful body cannot be denied. Besides their utility in preventing assemblages of the fugitives, they had been active in the suppression of rebellion; in which it was affirmed, by one of their superintendents, (Major James.) of whose character you will presently hear more, that they stood forth with a determined spirit against the insurgents; and, in the conflicts of the year 1760, lost several of their people. In the year 1766, they were no less active, as I have been assured by a gentleman who was an eye-witness of their service (Mr. Quarrell, the gentlemen alluded to in the preface and to whom these letters are dedicated.) having been one of a party that went against a body of Coromantees, who had taken arms in the parish of Westmoreland, massacring all the white people they met with. A short engagement took place in the mountains and the rebels, imagining the party, some of whom were covered by the trees, much larger than it was, retreated farther into the woods. Their assailants having endured excessive fatigue were unable to pursue them, but happened to fall in with a body of Maroons, who, being hog-hunting in the vicinity, had not heard of the insurrection. They were soon collected, and being apprised of the danger that threatened the country, hastened towards the spot were the engagement had taken place, fell in with the party who had come out against the rebels, and found them so exhausted and crippled, by their forced marches through the woods that all they could do, was to show the maroons the track the rebels had taken in their retreat. They went forward with the greatest alacrity, and before sun-set, killed and took two thirds of their number of the negroes and dispersed the rest, whom, in the course of a few days more, they brought in. the conduct of the Maroons was highly applauded by the commander (Mr. Goodin.) of the little party and he and his followers received the thanks of the house of assembly. On slighter occasions likewise, when small bodies of slaves have committed outrages, the Maroons exerted themselves successfully; and it is but common justice to say that they were ever ready to support the government whenever it was necessary. They assembled for the purpose of assisting to repel the invasion of the island, which in the year 1779, and 1780, was threatened by the count D’Estaing, who was prevented by admiral Rodney from forming a junction of the French with the Spanish forces collected at St. Domingo, for a descent on Jamaica. Prejudice frequently warps truth without intention and even without knowing that it does so; I therefore, the more readily record these facts, as they show that the Maroons, however culpable in their rebellion, or however true the stories respecting the ferocity and backwardness of some tribes of them. Were, in general, of use to the inhabitants of the island and prompt in their services on public occasion.
Agriculture, among the Maroons, was a very simple science. They had few wants and the supply of them required neither great knowledge nor much labour. They placed a considerable dependence on hunting, and on their rewards for taking fugitives; but they did not, therefore, entirely neglect the cultivation of land and were by no means so averse from the toil it demands, as they have been represented. Many of them were negligent of the more certain modes of labour, for they were strangers to passions which stimulate superfluous industry: but none could be said to be indolent, for their lines were passed in unusual personal exertions, which, as I before observed, conduced to their strength and symmetry. A provident disposition was spreading itself among them: they began to feel the advantages afforded by money, and large parties of them, of their own accord frequently hired themselves to the planters and new settlers, to clear and plant large tracts of land for certain wages, (This may appear favourable to the system proposed, of cultivating Trinidad with free Negroes; but let it be recollected, that the Maroons were a small body and that power remained with the whites, which, in a general freedom, would not be the case) and several families of them, as I have already observed, settled by sufferance, on black lands, which they cultivated for themselves.
Their provision grounds consisted of a considerable tract of unequal land, from which was produced a stock not only sufficient for their own use, but so superabundant, as to enable them to supply the neighbouring settlements, Plantain, corn, or maize, yams, cocoas, tanyaus and, in short, all the nutritious roots that thrive in tropical soils, were cultivated in their grounds. In their gardens an grew most of the culinary vegetables and they were not without some fine fruits: for though to these, in general, the soil of their mountains was unfavourable, being either moist of clayey, yet they had some valuable fruit trees, among which the avocado, or alligator pear, ranked foremost. Mammees and other wild but delicious fruits, were at their hand and pineapples grew in their hedges. They bred cattle and hogs, and raised a great quality of fowls. When to this domestic provision of good and wholesome food, we add the luxuries afforded by the woods, the wild boar, ring-tail pigeons and other wild birds and land crab, which some esteem the greatest dainty in the West Indies, we may doubt whether the palate of Apicius would not have received higher gratification in Trelawny town than at Rome.
It has been said, that the Maroons let their provision grounds, both those belong to themselves and those they held on sufferance, go to ruin and trespassed on the provision grounds of the settlers in the mountains. I am informed that the fact was otherwise, that those of the settlers were insufficient, their Negroes being employed in different Labour and that they purchased the superabundance of the maroons. Their grounds after the corn was cut down, might, for a length of time, appear to the eye in a ruinous state; while, under the surface, a large stock of nutritive roots were growing to maturity. These roots were their surest support, at the period when a scarcity was most to be apprehended, after a long continued succession of dry weather. In the course of time, these patches of land were cleared and replanted, and they again gradually assumed the appearance of being neglected; it is no wonder, therefore, that the eye of a casual visitor should have been led to declare “ that he perceived no vestige of culture:” but I cannot so well account for his asserting “that the Maroons supplied themselves from the plantations of the whites, by purchase or theft, as I have the best authority for what I have affirmed, respecting the superabundance disposed of by the people of Trelawney town.
The women chiefly were employed in the cultivation of their grounds; but this they did not account an imposition upon them by the men. We are not to imagine that what would be real cruelty in a refined state of society, is cruelty, or even hardship, in a rough and unpolished people, among whom, every individual depends upon his own exertions for the globe is it, that, in the class of mankind doomed to labour, we shall not find tribes, the women of which participate the toil of the men? Is it France? Is it England? If the Maroon women were employed in burning trees and in tillage, the men, besides hunting and pursuing runaways, were employed in fencing the grounds, building and repairing houses, attending to their cattle and horses, of which they about 200 head, and carrying on their petty commerce. They were none of them mechanics, all knowledge of that kind was confined to the art of erecting a house and repairing a gun.
Their traffic consisted in the disposal of the increase of their stock of all kinds, their jirked hog and superfluous provisions, which enable them to purchase other commodities and to put money by. They made a considerable profit by manufacturing tobacco. They brought the leaf of the plant on the estates within distance of twenty or thirty miles, which their women and children assisted them in carrying home, each loaded with weight proportioned to the strength of the cattier. The purchase was put into bags, which were made by knitting the fibres of the trumpe-tree and mahoe bark, the end of which were contracted into a bandage that went round the forehead, and served as a stay to the load, which rested on the back. The leaves were dried and prepared for use by the men, who twisted them into a kind of rope, of about the third of an inch in diameter, which they rolled up in balls and carried out in the same manner to the different estates for sale.
The maroon marriages, or contracts of cohabitation, were attended with no religious or juridical ceremonies; the consent of the women to live with the man being sufficient. That being obtained, gifts of clothes and trinket were made to the bride; and frequently the bridegroom received present of hogs, fowls, and other things, from the relations of the women, to whom, in case of a separation, they were to be returned. A plurality of wives was allowed. A man might have as many as he could maintain; but very few had more than two and most of them confined themselves to one. It was very expensive to have several wives; for the husband, on making a present to one, was obliged to make an equal gift to each of the others. Each wife lived in turn with her husband two days, during which time the others cultivated their grounds, or carried their provisions to market; the property of each was distinct from that of the others, but the husband shared with all. The children of the different women were to be noticed by their father only on the days when their respective mothers sojourned with him. A breach of this decorum would have inflamed the injured mother with jealousy; a passion, however, in every respect confined to the temporary dame, for to the others all the extra-gallantry of the man was a matter of indifference. If the men sometimes behaved with brutality to their wives or children, it was generally the effect of intoxication. It has been asserted that they regarded their wives as so many beasts of burden and felt no ore concern at the loss of one of them, than a white planter would have felt at the loss of a bullock. (Says Edwards) Without saying how far this observation may be applicable to other people, I Will here introduce an anecdote, though rather out of time, which will elucidate the point. In the course of an attempt that was made to convert the Maroons to christianity, which will appear in its proper place, polygamy was considered and the Maroon told that, as a christian, he could not have more than one wife. Having been attached to two for some time and having children by both—“Top, massa governor,” said he, “top lilly bit—you say me mus forsake my wife.”—“Only one of them.”—“Which dat one Jesus Christ say so? Gar a’mighty say so? No, no Massa, Gar of mighty good, he no tell somebody he mus forsake him wife and children. Somebody no wicked for forsake his wife! No, massa, dis here talk no do for we.”— In other language thus: “stay sir,” said the maroon, “stay a little. You tell me that I must forsake my wife.”—“ Only one of them.” “And which shall that be? Does Jesus Christ say so? Does God say so? No, no, sir; God is good, and allows no one to forsake his wife and children. He who forsake his wife must be a wicked man. This is a doctrine, sir, not suited to us.” (No reader, of common understanding, will see in this any argument against the conversion of the Negroes to Christianity. It must take place gradually; and I mean, when I come to that head, to show that the work may be best attempted first among the Maroons remaining in Jamaica)
However, these people were certainly in a state far removed from civilization and I do not doubt that their passions might have, occasionally, instigated them to violence that were savage: yet that at any time they would kill their children by dashing them against rocks, (Says Edwards.) I cannot but think an assertion with out proof. The murderer would have been brought to condign punishment by the superintendant, which, so far from thinking it prudent to keep his distance, would have instantly seized the wretch. I speak particularly of Trelawney Town, the superintendant of which had been long resident there and whose character, we shall presently see, fully refutes the change of dastardly prudence.
Instances of revenge arising from jealously seldom occurred among the Maroons. Like their African progenitors, they parted with their wives for incontinence, without inflicting severer punishments. In Africa the man had the power of selling the adulteress. The younger females were not, generally, votresses of Diana. When a girl was of age to become a wife, the parents killed a hog and made a feast, to which the neighbours were invited. Plenty of good things were not provided; nor was rum spared by the elders, while the younger people danced. Each of the party put a small piece of money in the girl mouth, generally a quarter of a dollar; but the parent’s piece was frequently gold. Although this feast was intended but the family as a signal to the young men for making an offer, the girl herself usually preferred a state of celibacy for some years after it was known, that she had killed a hog.
When gentlemen, through curiosity, visited the town, which was very rarely the case, they were hospitably and respectfully entertained. The visitors could not expect to meet in the house such convenient articles of furniture, as they were accustomed to at home. Some of the principal men furnished a table with a clean damask cloth, on which they placed the various dainties I have already mentioned. Several small articles of silver plate were used. Sometimes.