« AnteriorContinuar »
ried on, under the very muzzles of the guns of our forts, by French, Spanish, Portugueze, and above all, by Americans; and were it So,
the difference in the march of a coffila from the interior to any part of the western coast, whether north or south of the line, will throw but little impediment in the way of the native slavedealers. The loss of a few days or weeks in point of time, or of a few lives from fatigue or sickness, is not of much consequence to these dealers, who will soon accommodate themselves to the new channels into which the trade is turned ; and it is well known
1 that every negro chief is perfectly ready to second their efforts, in smoothing the difficulties which the interference of this country may have occasioned.
It is in vain therefore to hope for any progress in the civilization of Africa, so long as the slave-trade shall be permitted to any nation, either to the north or the south of the line. It may even admit of a doubt whether the complete abolition of that trade would produce the happy effect of bettering the condition of the negro poplation. It is much to be feared that, as soon as the slave shall cease to be an object of traffic, he will again become the object of superstition; and that the brutal and inhuman rites of the country will require as great a number of victims for the sacrifice of life, as the trade has demanded for that of liberty. To civilize the Africans, therefore, it will be necessary to redeem them from their superstitions as well as from slavery; and this, we conceive, can only be effectually done by means of their emancipated brethren of St. Domingo, and by the introduction of the Christian religion (without which there can be no hope) through missionaries of their own caste sent, as they unquestionably will be sent, from that island. Though not yet ripe for this purpose, the present condition of the negro and mulatio population of this beautiful spot, compared with what it recently was, affords one of the most interesting and instructive lessons ever offered to the contemplation of mankind.
By a fortuitous concurrence of circumstances, a negro population of half a million of souls has received the blessings of liberty and independence; and their conduct in this new condition has, after a fair experiment, completely set at rest that long disputed problem of negro inferiority, by evincing the fallacy of those theories, which would place him in the lowest link of the chain of human being, or in the highest of the family of monkeys. Such idle dreams ought long since to have vanished. It is now indeed well known to comparative anatomists that there is nothing in the structure of the negro to constitute a specific difference, and that all mankind exhibit but one primitive type; that the colouring matter of the epidermis, which is but skin-deep, is owing chiefly to climate and habits of life; and that a change of that climate and those habits,
with three or four crossings, will, in the course of a century, untwist the negro's hair, and lengthen his nose, avd pare down his lips, and
, blanch his skin ; just as the Portugueze of Congo and Loango, in
1 about the same lapse of time, is converted into a negro. The exbishop Gregoire in his treatise · De la Littérature des Nègres,' has brought forward a multitude of examples to shew that the intellectual faculties of the negro race are by no means inferior to those of the whites; but these being individual cases will perhaps be considered as exceptions only. We have now, however, incontrovertible proof, that the negro is not, in general, wanting in the higher qualifications of the mind; and that, with the same advantages of liberty, independence and education as their white brethren of Europe or America, the race would not be found deficient in hearts pregnant with heroic energies, and hands capable of wielding the sword of war, or swaying the rod of empire. These are truths which the history of the last thirty years of St. Domingo has fully established; and blind indeed must those be who foresee not the important consequences that must result from them to the West India islands, in the first instance, and, in due succession of time, to the world at large.
It would seem, however, that we are exceedingly disposed to shut our eyes to what is passing on that island, which has resumed its original name of Hayti. We hear of a negro king, who calls himself Henry I.; of a negro nobility, with titles (not, perhaps, in the very best taste, though taken from the names of districts) such as Limonade, Marmalade, and Terrierrouge, at which we are apt to smile; of negro generals and a negro clergy, appearing to our distant view like the dramatis personæ of a mock tragedy. A closer inspection, however, will convince us that in all these things they are but imitating us; and a dispassionate survey of what has passed, and is now actually passing in St. Domingo, will probably change our feelings of contempt into those of respect. The works, whose titles are placed at the head of this article, will enable us to take such a survey. We have no intention, however, to enter into a detail of the murderous transactions which, in the struggle for liberty on the one hand, and the efforts for rivetting the chains of slavery on the other, were too frequently indulged in, to the disgrace of both parties, but merely to offer such a concise narrative of events, as may serve to elucidate the characters of those negroes who have acted the most distinguished parts on the great theatre of this extraordinary revolution; to bring down, to the present time, the history of their progress in literature, and the arts, and to exhibit the state of society as it exists at this moment in St. Domingo.
When the French revolution broke out, the colony of St. Domingo had attained the summit of prosperity : all ranks and condiE E 2
tions and colours were living in luxury, except the labouring negroes, whose state underwent no change; but from the moment that the madness of the National Assembly of Paris reached the city of the Cape, a correspondent frenzy seized on the minds of the more wealthy part of the colonists. In the midst of a population of slaves, which outnumbered the rest of the inhabitants in the proportion of seven to one, they planted the Tree of Liberty, pulled down the legitimate authorities, and set up the pernicious doctrines of equality and the Rights of Man. They mounted the national cockade, and constituted themselves into a sort of military government in imitation of the national guard of France: ‘it was no longer enough, says the Baron de Lacroix, 'to be simply an officer, a colonel, a general; every commandant of the national guard in the towns expected to have, and actually took, the title of captain-general. In the midst of this military mania, a ridiculous report of three thousand blacks being assembled on the hills which command the city, with a view to pillage it, called forth a detachment of the national guard, which, after a fatiguing march, returned with a volunteer mortally wounded, not indeed by the revolted negroes (whom they never saw, because they did not exist) but by his own comradės. The extreme folly of this expedition was fully experienced when, at the moment of the actual insurrection of these people, it was discovered that those who had served as guides on the occasion, were the chief instigators and leaders of the revolt.
The madness of the white colonists, however, seemed to create but little or no sensation among the negroes; but the people of colour, who were already free, and at least equal in numbers to the white population, soon set up their claim to an equality of rights for their whole class. A mulatto of the name of Lacombe presented a petition to the proper authorities, 'in which he demanded, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost,' all the rights and privileges of man. The patriots of the colony, composed chiefly of what were called petits-blancs, or the overseers of estates, shopkeepers, and tradesmen, who hated the people of colour, voted the petition to be the act of an incendiary, and the mulatto was condemned to the gallows. At Petit-Goave, a respectable planter was torn in pieces, without trial, for having presented a petition in favour of the persons of colour; and all who had signed it were banished froin the colony.
These violent measures against a wealthy, and in general a respectable, body of men, were followed by a declaration on the part of the self-constituted general assembly of whites,' that they would rather die than participate their political rights with a bastard and degenerate race. This race, however, had powerful advocates of their own cast in France, who through the means of Brissot,
Fayette, Fayette, and Robespierre, the leading members of the society called L'Amie des Noirs, ultimately procured the decree of the 15th of May, 1791, by which 'all people of colour resident in the French colonies, born of free parents, were entitled to, as of right, and should be allowed the enjoyment of, all the privileges of French citizens.' It was on this occasion, that Robespierre uttered that memorable exclamation, which at once seemed to put an end to all the hopes and the intrigues of the colonial planters resident in Paris
Perish the colonies rather than sacrifice one iota of our principles!' There had been in Paris the preceding year a young man of colour, of the name of Vincent Ogé, whose widowed mother held a coffee-plantation in St. Domingo. This youth determined, by force of arms, to cause the rights of citizenship for his class to be respected. He landed secretly at the Cape, reached his mother's dwelling, and was joined by about 300 of his own colour. They were, however, soon dispersed or made prisoners by a superior force; Ogé, together with his second in command, a mulatto of the name of Chavanne, and a few others, escaped with difficulty into the Spanish part of the island, but were basely given up to their enemies, by whom they were secretly tried for creating an insurrection, and condemned to suffer death. The sentence was as follows:
• The court condemns the said Vincent Ogé, a free quarteron,* of Dandon, and Jean Baptiste Chavanne, a free quarteron, of La Grande Rivière, to be brought by the public executioner before the great door of the parish church of that city (the Cape), and there uncovered, and in their shirts, with ropes about their necks, on their bare knees, and bearing each in his hand a burning torch of wax of the weight of two pounds, to confess their crime, and declare in a loud and distinct voice, that wickedly, rashly, and ill-advisedly they have been guilty of the crimes of which they are convicted, that they repented of them, and asked pardon of God, of the King and of justice. This being done, they are then to be taken to the Place d'Armes, and to the opposite side of that appropriated for the execution of white people, and have their arms, legs, thighs, and ribs broken, alive, upon a scaffold erected for that purpose, and placed by the executioner on wheels, with their faces turned towards heaven, there to remain as long as it shall please God to preserve life; after this, their heads to be severed from their bodies and exposed on stakes, and their goods confiscated, &c.'
Two days after this, Jacques, the brother of Ogé, with one of his companions, shared the same fate; twenty-one were hanged, and thirteen condemned to the galleys for life. These judicial massacres created the utmost horror among the people of
A quarteron, according to the system of Franklin, is a mulatto who may have from ninety-six parts of white and thirty-two of black blood, to seventy-one parts white and fifty-seven black.
E : 3
colour, colour, and, by changing the guilty into martyrs of liberty, separated for ever the class of mulattoes from that of the creoles; their common interests as proprietors gave way to fixed hatred and vows of vengeance, and even the ties of family connections were from that moment totally dissolved. The news of this event in Paris contributed mainly to the decree above mentioned, and the complete overthrow of the colonial committee of planters.
If, however, the legitimate authorities on the island and the creole population had not followed the example of the mothercountry, in promoting civil discord among themselves, engaging in ferocious and sanguinary contests, seducing the king's troops from their allegiance, and indulging in all manner of licentiousness, the people of colour might still have remained tranquil ; for when they perceived the popular fury acting against the constituted authorities, to whom alone they looked for protection; when they beheld the soldiers murdering their officers, and the reinforcements sent from France join the popular party, while the government wanted the power to enforce
the decrees in their favour, they gave themselves up to despair. Thus depressed, the creoles conceived that all danger had ceased with the dispersion and submission of those who had taken up arms in consequence of the barbarous punishment of Ogé—but, to use the expression of Mirabeau, 'they were sleeping on the margin of Vesuvius, and the first jets of the volcano were not sufficient to awaken them. From long habit they considered the 'negroes as unworthy of notice. The negroes, however, had not been unmindful of the late transactions in the colony, nor did they fail to inquire with anxiety into the cause of the strange commotions that were passing around them.
The first transaction in which they were concerned was about the middle of August 1791, when a fire broke out at a plantation in the north, and at the same time one of the slaves on a neighbouring plantation made an attempt on the life of bis bailiff. Without further inquiry, every negro that could be laid hold of, belonging to these plantations, was deemed a criminal, and made the victim of creole justice. Many days, however, did not elapse before it was discovered that they were acting in concert; that the whole of the northern part of the island was in flames; and that all the whites who fell into their hands had been put to death, without distinction of sex or age. Those who escaped fled into the town, where a general consternation prevailed. The domestic blacks were locked up, and a general cry of indignation was raised against the mulattoes, as the supposed instigators of the insurrection; and numbers of innocent men of this class were put to death. The population flew to arms, and all hands were employed in forti fying the town, which the negroes approached in detached parties,