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|The Memoirs of Captain Hugh Crow: The Life and Times of a Slave Trade Captain|
Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, England
Numerous documents attest to the horrific conditions endured by African slaves during the centuries of the Atlantic slave trade. Less well known is the perspective of those who wielded power during this dark time in human history. Oxford's Bodleian Library fills that gap with the memoirs of a principal figure in the slave trade, Captain Hugh Crow. The first-hand account of a man who commanded one of the last legal slave vessels to cross the Atlantic, Life and Times of a Slave Trade Captain offers a revealing if frequently troubling look into the psyche of a slave trader. His chronicle leaves nothing to the imagination, as he recounts the harsh routine of daily life on a slave vessel, where on average a fifth of the crew — let alone the human cargo — never survived the crossing. Crow portrays himself as an “enlightened” slaver, a claim he justifies through the link between his close attention to his “negroes” and his financial success, and the songs composed for him by the slaves. His account also includes commentary on the social propriety of the slave trade and notes about conditions on West Indian and Caribbean plantations as well as on slave ships.
England was the most successful of the northwestern European predators on the Spanish possessions. In 1623, the English occupied part of Saint Christopher and in 1625, they occupied Barbados. In 1629 a large group of Irish men and women were sent to Guiana, and by 1632, Irish were the main slaves sold to Antigua and Montserrat in the West Indies.
For centuries, African and Irish people have traversed the Atlantic, as slaves, servants, migrants, exiles, political organizers and cultural workers. Their experiences intersected; their cultures influenced one another. These essays explore the connections that have defined the "Black and Green Atlantic" in culture, politics, race and labour.
By 1637 a census showed that 69% of the total population of Montserrat were Irish slaves, which records show was a cause of concern to the English planters. But there were not enough political prisoners to supply the demand, so every petty infraction carried a sentence of transporting, and slaver gangs combed the country sides to kidnap enough people to fill out their quotas.
By 1655, English colonies had been established in Nevis, Antigua, Montserrat and were being established in Jamaica.
August 15, 1860, The New York Times, New York, New York
THE LEEWARD ISLANDS
Want of Labor in Antique and its Origin
From Our Own Correspondent
St. John, Antigua, March 1860
Small as Antigua is, there are ports of the island where labor is abundant and other parts where labor is scarce.
The planters are seeking to introduce coolies. They are in need, they say, of 2,000 laborers; and it is to be presumed that they understand their own wants. At the same time it is very certain that Antigua, with a population of 318 to the square mile, and with six-sevenths of her superficial area pre-occupied by large proprietors, is not in the condition of Jamaica or Trinidad with their immense tracts of fertile soil thirsting for settlement and cultivation. The planters of Antigua have never complained of emancipation. They avow, what is unquestionably the truth, that, by the introduction of a cheaper system of labor, the island was saved from impending ruin. They were the first to get rid of slavery, and they have no reason to regret that they did so. In the present demand for labor they use fair and liberal language, and place one prominent cause of the deficiency of Creole labor in this and all British islands, in its true light.
Pirate's Cove. Montague Dawson
"We regard" say the Legislative assembly in their reply to the last address of the Governor:
"We regard the withdrawal of a large number of the laboring population from the estates, either to engage in the cultivation of land purchased by themselves or to embark successfully in other avocations of life, as the natural consequence of an improved material condition, of the free and equal administration of the law, and of the facilities largely enjoyed for civil and religious instruction; but while we acknowledge and sympathize with this abstraction, it is clear that a deficiency has been thus created in the supply of manual labor to an extent which is not to be compensated either by increased skill, by implemental husbandry, or by the application of extended capital."
While the statement here made is one undoubted cause of the deficiency complained of, it is not the less true that the abstraction of labor from estates was abetted by planters themselves in times not yet passed away when want of capital was more preening than want of labor. If capital was abundant, it surely lay in the power of the proprietary body, or of individual planters, to retain their land, if they believed that the sale or lease of allotments to the laborers would inflict a serious injury to the planting interest. Yet they did sell and still continue to sell, and the negroes continue to buy, though land is scarce, and averages in value $50 per acre In the last Government report bearing on this subject I find it stated that there is " no squatting in Antigua of any importance in its effect on the supply of labor. The facility," continues the report," which the laboring population possess for the purchase or rent of small plots of ground near the villages, built since Emancipation in various parts of the island, removes the temptation that might otherwise exist to appropriate portions of the unclaimed Crown lands.
While agricultural labor in all the British West Indies is the great desideratum, and the cry for immigration is echoed and reechoed, it is amazing to see how the labor which the planter has within his reach ia wasted and frittered away how the particular population upon which the prosperity of the Colonies so utterly depends is neglected how, by mismanagement and unpardonable blunders of policy, the life of a field-laborer has been made so distasteful to the peasant that the possession of half an acre, or the most meager subsistence, with independence, seems to him, in comparison, the very acme of luxurious enjoyment. Can it be credited that, solely through want of proper medical care, the agricultural population to Antigua has been allowed, for twenty years past, to decrease at the rate of a half per cent, per annum? But evidence of this criminal neglect is on record. The island is remarkably healthy. It escaped the general visitation of cholera in 1864. and yet the mortality is greater now than it was in the days of Slavery, before the population was thoroughly creolized.
In 1800 the taxed negroes of Antigua were numbered at 38,000, in 1815 there were 36,000 slaves; in 1821, when the last census before Emancipation was taken, there were 1,780 whites, 4,066 free colored, and 31,064 slaves on the island; in 1861 the total population was 37,163, and in 1866 it was only 35,408, of whom 26,522 were black, 6,711 colored, and 1,172 white.
It is thus shown that the blacks, which are the agricultural portion of the population, are the sufferers, the whites and colored having actually increased. It appears from the latest return of the Registrar that, during 1815, thirty-two per cent of the deaths were under the, age of one year a mortality that can be explained by the want of proper medical care. The acting Governor of Antigua. Mr. Eyre, a a gentleman of great ability and well-deserved popularity, recently brought this subject to the notice of the Legislature. He says:
"The returns of births and deaths disclose the melancholy fact that, In Antigua, the deaths are nearly equal to the births, and that therefore, although no epidemic or other unusual grounds for mortality exist, the population is not increasing as it ought to do, especially in a country where the climate and other conditions propitious to life are so favorable, and where wholesome food is so readily procurable, for there is, perhaps, hardly any country in the world where the laborer can obtain all that is necessary to make his home comfortable at a less cost of exertion than he can in most of the West India Islands."
"A large proportion of the deaths appears to occur in infancy or early childhood, and there can be little doubt but that they are for the most part the result of neglect and want of medical attendance. In the days of slavery, hospitals and medical attendance for all were provided by the estates but now that the majority of laborers have ceased to be residents on properties, and this obligation but partially exists, the greater number of them, distributed about the country in populous villages, are either unwilling or unable to obtain the necessary medical attendance and proper nursing in illness for themselves, their children, or their relatives."
"It is worthy the best attention of an enlightened Legislature to provide a remedy for this state of things, and to consider whether arrangements cannot be made under which medical supervision shall again be extended to the entire population."
"The value of such supervision is evidenced by the fact that the rate of mortality is less among the resident population on estates than it is in the villages where the laborers reside on their own lands, the great saving of human life and the large accession of labor which would thereby accrue to the Colony, would both justify and compensate for any expenditure of public money which it may be necessary to incur in securing objects so desirable and so important."