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The Situation of the Slaves in the French Colonies.
HAPPILY are we, in a great measure,
relieved from the dreary scenes which have been presented to us. We now enter on a more pleasing task. To the immortal honour of the French
government, it must be acknowledged, that, of all the European powers, who have slaves in the West-Indies, they use their slaves with the greatest humanity. I speak of the French government previous to the late revolution. The state of their colonial possessions and slaves is now greatly changed. The former French government charged the governors of their several settlements, in an express manner, to protect the slaves. They also paid particular attention to the religious instruction of these negroes; appointing missionaries, at the expence of the public, to instruct them in the principles of the Christian religion, as they are held in the Romish church. All the festivals of that church were observed among them. Then the slaves were forbidden to work, and enjoined to attend mass. Every slave was, by law, allowed a certain quantity of food and clothing, which
the master could not, under any pretext, withhold, or even diminish. The master, indeed, was allowed to apply the whip and the chain; but, even in the use of these, his power was limited. He was not permitted to mutilate his slaves. If he treated a slave with barbarity, the latter had a right to apply to the king's attorney, who was indispensibly bound to redress his grievances. The French proprietors of slaves were not permitted, like the masters in certain other West-India colonies, to send their superanuated or sick slaves to perish in the woods, or on the mountains. The estimation in which marriage was held among them was attended with great utility. The slaves, not less than the native French, were married, with proper solemnity, by a priest; and the nuptial relation continued for life. The happy consequence was, a due attachment to their families, together with a numerous regular offspring. For one child that is born on an English or Dutch settlement, twenty, perhaps, were born on a French, of the same extent. On an English or Dutch settlement, a slave multiplies his wives, and changes them at pleasure; looking no farther than the present momentary gratification. In this instance he imitates the example of his white master. I have known a master treat mulatto girls, his own daughters, with no less severity than the African blacks. It is not uncommon for masters, in the English and Dutch colonies, to commit, not only adultery, but incest of the grossest kind, with iinpunity.
There was one circumstance of vast utility, both to the masters and the slaves, in the French colonies. The former did not like their English neighbours, return to spend the product of their plantations in the mother.country; but lived upon their estates in the West-Indies, and superintended their own business; not leaving their slaves to the caprice and cruelty of any scoundrel they could hire on the easiest terms, for a manager or
The French planters seemed to know and attend to the wants of their slaves.
Living among them, they contracted an affection for them. Hence their slaves were better fed, better dressed, and better lodged, than other slaves; and were allowed a competent time for relaxation and rest. The happy consequence was, they were orderly, sensible, honest, and faithful to their masters. I must not omit to mention here, that the French slaves began and ended their work with prayer; the black overseer officiating as priest. Before I dismiss this topic, I must observe, that when I speak of the cruel treatment of the English and Dutch slaves, and the mild usage
of the French, I must be understood to make al. lowance for the different, rather opposite, tempers of the masters. Among the English, and, I hope, the Dutch, there are a few, and, I believe, only a few masters, who treat their slaves with a degree of lenity and tenderness; and among the French governors, and owners of slaves, there were some, who were as oppressive and brutal as they could at all be with impunity. But even in this instance the situation of English and French slaves seems very different. The English appear as if they put the slaves entirely in the power of their masters, whether cruel or compassionate. The French, by their laws, strongly urged and enforced the dictates of humanity. The English slave, almost starved, is exposed to the resistless temptation of hunger; the French was rais
ed above temptations of this kind. The English ". slave hates his master; the French loved his.
The English slave is restrained by the whip; the French by his regard for his humane master ; by the approbation or the censure of the priest; and by those hopes and fears which religion naturally inspires.
The question, Whether the African Negroes be a
part of the Human Species, capable of intellectual, moral, and religious Improvement, no less than the other Nations of Mankind; or, an inferior Order of beings, occupying a middle Place between Men and Brutes ?-considered.
EASY is it to account for the occasion and origin of the question, the consideration of which I have now undertaken. Secretly convicted of their enormous cruelty, the proprietors and managers of slaves have tortured their invention to find out excuses to palliate, if possible, their guilt; and have discovered, for a subterfuge, that the poor Africans are not, strictly speaking, human beings; but creatures of a lower kind. Desperate expedient! Desperate must the cause be, that cannot be defended but by such desperate means. How fruitful in the invention of excuses for criminal behaviour is the human imagination ! This unavailing method of defending an indefensible cause, is of great antiquity. It originated in Eden, the primeval residence of the first human pair. If we cannot deny a criminal act, we,