A Flogging In Jamaica

At times the stories of Silas Told seems to be over romanticised, but this account is one of the most realistic seeming parts of the book. It also sheds light on the sort of people who were involved in the trade – in his instance, he had no choice in it. This is from his first trip as cabin boy:

“When we arrived at Jamaica, …[I don not] remember to have met with one man or woman who had the fear of God before their eyes in the town of Kingston, or Port-Royal, or even the form of godliness. They were much addicted to cursing, swearing, whoredom, lying and Sabbath-breaking; exercising the utmost cruelty on their unhappy negro slaves without remorse. When I went on shore a the east end of Kingston, I was a stout black man, about 36 years of age, brought down to the crane, by his master, and for the commission of some little error, delivered up to be punished.

The mode of punishment was as follows: – The boatswain tied both wrists together with a strong cord; then hooked the crane between his wrists, and hoisted his body nearly a foot from the floor. then he took a whip, composed of cow’s skin, which when died hard and twisted lengthways,… the outward edge of which is extremely sharp. a negro, in obedience to the boatswain’s commands, began the direful action, in the presence f his vile master, accompanied by 2 others of the same complexion, gazing upon the pitiable object with delight. After the executioner, with 100 lashes, had reduced his body from neck to ankles into 1 wound, and human nature was no longer able to support itself under the stroke, the poor man hung down his head, and received the remaining cuts like a stock or a stone, faintly uttering, “o me deady, me deady!” Nor did this move the accursed fiend, his master, till the poor tortured object appeared in his last gasps. He then desired the boat-swain’s mate to desist for a few moments, and approached the almost expiring slave; when taking a more particular survey of his wounds from head to foot, and perceiving 2 or 3 spaces which had not been laid open, he instantly ran to the boatswain’s mate, and compelled him to lash him there also, and make him all alike. When this was done he was loosed; and, having no strength to stand, he lay as dead, while he was washed from head to foot in a tub of salt-beef pickle, placed on the wharf for that purpose. I was astonished that the excruciating pains produced by the pickle did not put a speedy end to his existence. The heathen (his master) tarried off to behold this operation, and afterwards walked off, well satisfied.

This deed was not executed in a corner, or done privily, but upon the open wharf, and in a nominal Christian Protestant county; but if the word “Christian” implies, (which it unquestionably doth), one who has the mind of Christ, then there can be no breach of charity in pronouncing such wretches as these, children of the devil rather than the children of God. This horrid barbarity overspread the island of Jamaica in the year 1727, and I fear the same spirit still prevails there. Our fellow-creatures are clandestinely taken away from their native country, utterly against the consent of their parents and themselves, and kept in slavery to the latest moment of their lives, with their children and their children’s children, unto many generations.
I can never sufficiently praise the Almighty for my happy deliverance from the slave-trade, seeing it is one of the basest practices under the sun. Surely an immediate curse from God attends upon it, as few voyages are made to those parts in which the crews are not thinned by poison, suicide, ill useage and every species of destruction. [Clarkson’s research found the fatality rates on slave ships for crew was about 5 times that of other ships] God followed me with daily convictions of sin; yet, having an evil precedent always before me, and the corruptions of my own nature incessantly prompting me to sin, I sometimes gave way thereto against the light of conscience, knowing but very little of the corrupt fountain from whence those currents flowed. I found that, when the bank was broken the breach was made wider and wider; and being at that time between 17 and 18 years of age, my carnal passions getting the dominion over me, I was oftentimes overcome with swearing, drunkenness, and lewdness, as also divers other evils: therefore, what with my terrified conscience and disappointments in temporals, my life became completely miserable; and, for about 10 years, I continued in that unsettled state, sinning and repenting; yet I never was without fear of death, hell and judgement. ”

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