11: The Abominable Stuff Filthy Rum Is Drawn From, and the Barbarity Used towards Slaves in West Indies

I, having made a little digression, may resume the matter relating to my dear wife and the Negroes. She was a tender-hearted woman, and, as I said, would be very often giving them something or other: stinking biscuits which sometimes we had in abundance, bitten by the cockroaches; or a rotten cheese, stinking meat, decayed fish, which we had plenty of in that hot country. So my dear, sweet Sarah, she would hand it to them, here and there, to those that she thought wanted it most—though all wanted enough, God Almighty knows, except here and there a favorite slave, one of a hundred or thousand maybe, kept for their glory and pride to wait on them: amongst their proud, lazy, dainty, tyrannical, gluttonous, drunken, debauched visitors, the scum of the infernal pit, a little worse than the scum that comes off their sugar when it is boiling, which is composed of grease, dirt, dung, and other filthiness, as it may be limbs, bowels, and excrements of the poor slaves and beasts and other matters.

But this I say serves exceedingly well to make rum of, and molasses, for that is the use it is put to, with other ingredients pretty much like it. And these people in the Islands may laugh at us for being ridiculously infatuated, to send away our excellent good provisions and other good things to purchase such filthy stuff, which tends to the corruption of mankind, and maybe send us some of the worst of their slaves, when they cannot rule them themselves, along with their rum, to complete the tragedy, that is to say, to destroy the people in Pennsylvania and ruin the country.

Dear Friends or any of my fellow creatures, I must confess I am apt to digress. But when such dangerous filthiness comes in my way, I think it my duty to make it appear, if possible, to others. For it is so, to me, exceedingly sinful above measure, I will assure you: more than what I can speak or write abundantly. If it should be so to you, I hope you will endeavor to avoid it, and pray for heaven’s assistance, without which all is nothing.

As to what was touched on before, when my dear Sarah had given to them what she thought fit within-doors, we have taken some more of the same sort and thrown it into the street, stinking as to be sure it was. Yet the poor creatures would come running, and tearing and rending one another, to get a part in the scramble of that which I am sure some dogs would not touch, much less eat of, their poor bellies were so empty, and so ravenous were they that I never saw a parcel of hounds more eager about a dead carcass than they mostly were.

This scramble was commonly on First Day [Sunday], before we went to meeting [for worship], which was their market day as well as their Hallowing Day. When they are exempted from their labor, they come down to town, many hundreds of them, they that could get or steal anything—a little sugar, or cotton, ginger, aloes, rum, coconuts, pineapples, oranges, lemons, citrons, old iron, wood for firing—steal anything out of houses, yards, or anywhere; or anything that was not too hot or too heavy, and bring it to market on a Sunday—as they call it—to get a penny or something for the mouth. And they that could not get anything to bring to market, they would come to town, if possibly they could hold out and keep from falling down and fainting by the way, being perished with hunger and hard labor the week before. I say these very miserable objects that could get no truck in the country to bring to market, yet they would if possible come to town, and see what they could beg or steal there. (Who could blame them if it were ten times worse, they being under such unmerciful tyrants.)

These wretches being in town in this miserable condition, with not a crumb of good or bad to put into their mouths, ready to drop as they walked or crawled along the streets, they—many of them hearing of us, for we were very much known amongst them—they would come to our door, if they came before we were gone to Meeting, and there they would stand as thick as bees, but much more like Pharaoh’s lean kine [cows], and I may say their appearance was dismal enough to move a very hard heart. So we used to give them a little of something at times, as we found some freedom, considering our circumstances; But if we gave to some and did not to all, as to be sure we could not, oh how the poor creatures would look. I say many hundreds would come and flock about us. And them that received, O how thankful, with bended knees. But them that did not, what words can set forth the dejected sinking looks that appeared in their countenances? Shall I ever forget them?

Many of these poor creatures, in town and country, were sent to market by their masters or mistresses at other times, and they would come to us to lay out their money, if we had such goods as they wanted, and when they came in, seemed to rejoice to see us together, we were so very much alike; and would lift up their hands with admiration, and say, “That little backararar man,” for so they call white people, “go all over world see for that backarar woman for himself.” But we––alas!––are parted!

Here Friends you may see and understand the powerful influence long custom, conveniency, intimacy, and profit has to insinuate itself into our affections. For I have often heard my dear wife say in her lifetime, and express the danger she was in when living in Barbados, of being leavened into the very nature of the inhabitants—pride and oppression. So that dear creature, she seeing the evil and the danger, she was willing and desirous to leave the island; and indeed so was I.

But my Friends, here I must come to that which is not very agreeable to flesh and blood, which is confession of sins. For although I never was owner of a slave myself—and all Friends in Barbados could never persuade me to purchase one—I humbly bless the Lord my good God for that, and this is now my comfort and dear joy and sweet experience. Yet I must confess and I have not full peace without it, yet I may say, I have been sorely grieved to see and hear the inexpressible cruelty, torture, and misery these poor wretches were and are put to, night and day. Yet although, as I have said, I saw and heard of such very great barbarity used toward the slaves, night and day, yet for want of dwelling near enough to the blessed Truth, I was leavened too much into the nature of the people there which are masters and mistresses of slaves—though I never had nor would have any of my own—but by conversing, trading, and living daily amongst them, where there are vast numbers, abundance coming daily to buy goods and to beg, some to steal, we had abundance stolen from us at times, the worth of ten, fifteen, or near twenty shillings at a time, come into shop whole droves together, lay the scheme I suppose, come by appointment; when many are come in, they seem in great haste. One would say, “Serve me!” Another, “Serve me, serve me!”  Come sometimes by twilight and within night: there was their time. So when we were in a hurry, one would run away with one thing, another with another, and so on. Very much we lost to be sure. Sometimes I could catch them, and then I would give them stripes sometimes. But I have been sorry for it many times, and it does grieve me to this day, considering the extreme cruelty and misery they always live under. Oh my heart has been pained within me many times, to see and hear. And now, now, now, it is so.

Shall we fetch and steal them out of their own country, where God Almighty has made them and placed them, and in taking of them murder many, very many, and serve them that we take alive ten times worse? Steal husband from wife, wife from husband? Steal the children from their parents, bring them here or elsewhere amongst our extraordinary Christians—worse thieves than the others by far? They work them, whip and starve them almost to death; and if the poor wretch steal a little to satisfy hunger, he is tormented without mercy. Be these Christians, and ministers too, that encourage and plead for these things? It must be all lie; and that is of the devil, for when he speaketh a lie, it is of himself (John 8:44). I do believe in my soul: if Christ was here in that very body, he would say as much to some Quakers as he said to the scribes and  Pharisees in the eighth [chapter] of John. If he the devil be a murderer and a liar, what are our slave-merchants? Is there a greater lie in the world?  He that saith, I know him, and keeps not his sayings, is a liar (1 John 2:4).  Do not all liars deny the Father and Son? (1 John 2:22). He is a liar that saith he loves God, and hates his brother (1 John 4:20). He that believeth not God, hath made him a liar (1 John 5:10). What do our dear slaves with their slaves think of these things? As Solomon saith, a poor man is better than a liar (Proverbs 19:22).  A good tree bears good fruit (Luke 4:43–44) and can a good tree bear Negro-trading for gain?