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SONGS OF THE AMERICAN SLAVES
"A Journal of a Residence Among the Negroes in the West Indies," by Matthew Gregory Lewis:1
/The song alludes to a transaction which took place about fifty years ago on an estate called Spring Garden, the owner of which is quoted as the crudest proprietor that ever disgraced Jamaica. It was his constant practice, whenever a sick negro was pronounced incurable, to order the poor wretch to be carried to a solitary vale upon his estate, called the Gully, where he was thrown down and abandoned to his fate—which fate was generally to be half-devoured by the John crows before death had put an end to his sufferings. By this proceeding the avaricious owner avoided the expense of maintaining the slave during his last illness; and in order that he might be as little a loser as possible he always enjoined the negro bearers of the dying man to strip him naked before leaving the Gully, and not to forget to bring back his frock and the board on which he had been carried down.
One poor creature, while in the act of being removed, screamed out most piteouslv that he was not dead yet, and implored not to be left to perish in the Gully in a manner so horrible. His cries had no effect upon the master, but operated so forcibly on the less marble hearts of his fellow slaves that in the night some of them removed him back to the negro village privately and nursed him there with so much care that he recovered and left the estate unquestioned and undiscovered. Unluckily, one day the master was passing through Kingston, when, on turning the corner of a street suddenly, he found himself face to face with the negro whom he had supposed long ago to have been picked to the bones in the Gully. He immediately seized him, claimed him as his slave and ordered his attendants to convey him to his house; but the fellow's cry attracted a crowd around them before he could be dragged away. He related his melancholy story and the singular manner in which he had recovered his life and liberty, and the public indignation was so forcibly excited by the shocking tale that Mr. B------was glad to save himself from being torn to pieces by a precipitate retreat from Kingston and never ventured to advance his claim to the negro a second time.
But the story lived in the song which the narrator heard hall a century later. Imagine the dramatic pathos of the words paired with the pathos of the tune which welled up with them when the singers repeated the harsh utterances of the master and the pleadings of the wretched slave! It is out of experiences like these that folksongs are made. There were, it is true, few cases of such monstrous cruelty in any of the sections in which slavery flourished in America, though it fell to my lot fifteen years after slavery had been abolished to report the testimony in a law case of an old black woman who was seeking to recover damages from a former Sheriff of Kenton County, Ky., for having abducted her, when a free woman living in Cincinnati, and selling her into slavery. A slave she remained until freed by President Lincoln's proclamation, and in measure of damages she told on the witness stand of
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