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« I took the' whips and all power of arbitrary punishment from all the overseers and their white servants, which occasioned my chief overseer to resign; and I soon dismissed all his deputies, who could not bear the loss of their whips.”
“If, Sir, you will believe the planters, if you will believe the legislature of the islands, the productive labours of the colonies would in case the labourers worked as free labourers instead of slares, be literally doubled.”
The Right Honourable William Pitt.
OnE very powerful argument which is advanced
against the emancipation of the Negro slaves in our West India colonies, is the immense loss which the planters would sustain by such a measure; but the following experiment which has been made, decidedly proves that it would be a source of very considerable profit.
The honourable Joshua Steele who held large estates in the West Indies, which yielded him very littr profit, left this country at the advanced age of eighty, in the year 1780, to superintend their management. He had not been in Barbadoes long, before he was convincol there was something radically wrong in the management of the slaves, and he resolved to effect a reform. He proposed to abolish arbitrary punishments—to stimulate to labour by the promise of reward, and gradually change the slave into a freeman.
“ At the end of the year 1783,” he says, “I took the whips and all power of arbitrary punishment from all the overseers and their white servants, which occasioned my chief overseer to resign; and I soon dismissed all his deputies, who could not bear the loss of their whips ; but at the same time, that a proper subordination and obedience to lawful orders and duty should be preserved, I created a magistracy out of the Negroes themselves, and appointed a court or jury of the elder Negroes, or headmen, for trial and punishment of all casual offences, (and these courts were always to be held in my presence, or in that of my new superintendent, which court very soon grew respectable."
In the course of the next year, “he tried whether he could not obtain the labour of his Negroes by voluntary means instead of the old method by violence.' On å
Oertain day he offered a pecuniary reward "for holing canes, which is the most laborious operation in West Indian husbandry. He offered two-pence halfpenny (currency), or about three-halfpence (sterling), per day, with the usual allowance to holers, of a dram with mo. lasses, to any twenty-five of his Negroes, both men and women, who would undertake to hole for canes an acre per day, at about 96] holes for each Negro to the acre. The whole gang were ready to undertake it; but only fifty of the volunteers were accepted, and many among them were those who on much lighter occasions had usually pleaded infirmity and inability: but the ground having been moist, they holed twelve acres within six days with great ease, having had an hour, more or less, every evening to spare; and the like experiment was repeated with the like success. More experiments with such premiums on weeding and deep hoeing were made by task-work per acre, and all succeeded in like manner; their premiums being all punctually paid them in proportion to their performance. But afterwards some of the same people being put without premium to weed on a loose cultivated soil in the common manner, eighteen Negroes did not do as much in a given time as six had performed of the like sort of work a few days before with the premium of two-pence half-penny. The next year Mr. Steele made similar experiments. Success at-, tended him again; and from this time task-work, or the voluntary system, became the general practice of the estate.”
Having so far succeeded in his plan, he proceeded to alter the
condition of the slaves; and to effect this, he adopted the following expedient. “In the year 1789 he erected his plantations into
that the Governor of Barbadoes had the power by charter, with the consent of the majority of the council, of dividing the island into manors, lordships, and precincts, and of making freeholders; and though this had not yet been done, Mr. Steele hoped, as a member of council, to have influence sufficient to get his own practice legalized in time. Presuming upon this, he registered in the manor-book all his adult male slaves as copyholders. He then gave them separate tenements of lands, which they were to occupy,
they were to raise whatever they might think most advantageous. These tenements consisted of half an acre of plantable and productive land to each adult, a quantity supposed to be sufficient with industry to furnish him and his family with provision and clothing. The tenements were made descendible to the heirs of the occupiers or copyholders, that is, to their children on the plantations ; for no part of the succession was to go out of the plantations to the issue of any foreign wife, and, in case of no such heirs, they were to fall in to the lord to be re-granted according to his discretion. It was also inscribed that any one of the copyholders, who would not perform his services to the manor (the refractory, and others), was to forfeit his tenement and his privileged rank, and to go back to the state of villein in gross and to be subject to corporeal punishment as before. “Thus,' says Mr. Steele, 'we run no risk whatever in making the experiment by giving such copy-hold tenements to all our well-deserving Negroes, and to all in general, when they appear to be worthy of that favour:
“Matters having been adjusted so far, Mr. Steele introduced the practice of rent and wages. He put an annual rent upon
each tenement, which he valued at so many days' labour. He set a rent also upon personal service, as due by the copyholder to his master in his former quality of slave, seeing that his master or predecessor had purchased a property in him, and this he valued in the
He then added the two rents together, making so many days' work altogether, and estimated them in the current money of the time. Having done this, he fixed the daily wages or pay to be received by the copyholders for the work which they were to do. They were to work two hundred and sixty days in the year for him, and to have forty-eight besides Sundays for themselves. He reduced these days' work also to. current money.
he fixed at such a rate, that they should be more than equivalent to the rent of their copyholds and the rent of their personal services when put together, in order to hold out to them an evident and profitable incentive to their industry. It appears
that the rent of the tenement, half an acre, was fixed at the rate of three pounds currency, or between forty and fifty shillings sterling per acre, and the wages for
a man belonging to the first gang at sevenpence half-penny currency, or sixpence sterling per day. As to the rent for the personal services, it is not mentioned.
“With respect to labour, and things connected with it, Mr. Steele entered the following among the local laws in the court-roll of the tenants and tenements. The copyholders were not to work for other masters without the leave of the lord. They were to work ten hours per day. If they worked over and above that time, they were to be paid for every hour a tenth part of their daily wages, and they were also to forfeit a tenth for every hour they were absent, or deficient in the work of the
day. All sorts of work, however, were to be reduced, as far as it could be done, by observation, and estimation, to equitable task-work.
“Such was the plan of Mr. Steele; and I have the pleasure of being able to announce, that the result of it was highly satisfactory to himself. In the year 1788, when only the first and second part of it had been reduced to practice, he spoke of it thus.--A plantation, says he, of between seven and eight hundred acres has been governed by fixed laws and a Negro-court, for about five years, with great success. In this plantation no overseer or white servant is allowed to lift his hand against a Negro," nor can he arbitrarily order a punishment. Fixed laws and a court or jury of their peers keep all in order without the ill effect of sudden and intemperate passions. And in the year 1790, about a year after the last part of his plan had been put to trial, he says in a letter to Dr. Dickson, 'My copyholders have succeeded beyond my expectation. This was his last lotter to that gentleman, for he died in the beginning of the next year, in the ninety-first year of his age.
“It is possible that some objector may argue thus :* The case of Mr. Steele is not a complete precedent, because his slaves were never fully emancipted. He had brought them only to the threshold of liberty, but no further. They were only copyholders, but not free men.' To this I reply, first, That Mr. Steele accomplished all that he ever aimed at. I have his own words for saying, that so long as the present iniquitous slave laws, and the distinction of colour should exist, it would be imprudent to go further. I reply again, That the partizans of