Slavery was abolished in Britain's colonies on 1st August, 1834 which happened to be a Monday so, since then, the Virgin Islands celebrates emancipation on the first Monday in August. In the lead up to the big parade on Tortola on August Monday, there are lots of festival activities such as the Calypso Monarch competition and the Miss BVI pageant. We're going to celebrate on Eugenia Writes!, too... but a little bit differently. Over here, we're going to have what I'm calling a Festival of Remembrance. Over the next few days, I'll be posting excerpts from slave narratives and from abolitionist speeches as well as highlighting the lives of a few slave men and women. Our ancestors led lives of great suffering, yet managed to survive, more than survive, to triumph over the degradation that was slavery. This Festival of Remembrance is my way of honouring them and of honouring those who fought with them.
First up - an excerpt from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave. Douglass, one of the most famous of abolitionists, ran away from slavery in 1835 (a year after slaves in British colonies were freed) but was caught and returned to his slave-master in Baltimore. In 1838, he made another run for freedom and was successful. Douglass began attending abolitionist meetings and became an advocate for the eradication of slavery. His Narrative was published in 1845.
"Colonel Lloyd [on whose plantation Douglass was born] kept from three to four hundred slaves on his home plantation, and owned a large number more on the neighboring farms belonging to him...This was the great business place. It was the seat of government for the whole twenty farms. All disputes among the overseers were settled here. If a slave was convicted of any high misdemeanor, became unmanageable, or evinced a determination to run away, he was brought immediately here, severely whipped, put on board the sloop, carried to Baltimore, and sold to Austin Woolfolk, or some other slave-trader, as a warning to the other slaves remaining.
"Here, too, the slaves of all the other farms received their monthly allowance of food, and their yearly clothing. The men and women slaves received, as their monthly allowance of food, eight pounds of pork, or its equivalent in fish, and one bushel of corn meal. Their yearly clothing consisted of two coarse linen shirts, one pair of linen trousers, like the shirts, one jacket, one pair of trousers for winter, made of coarse negro cloth, one pair of stockings, and one pair of shoes; the whole of which could not have cost more than seven dollars. The allowance of the slave children was given to their mothers, or the old women having the care of them. The children unable to work in the field had neither shoes, stockings, jackets, nor trousers, given to them; their clothing consisted of two coarse linen shirts per year. When these failed them, they went naked until the next allowance day. Children from seven to ten years old, of both sexes, almost naked, might be seen at all seasons of the year.
"There were no beds given the slaves, unless one coarse blanket be considered such, and none but the men and women had these. This, however, is not considered a very great privation. They find less difficulty from the want of beds, than from the want of time to sleep; for when their day's work in the field is done, the most of them having their washing, mending, and cooking to do, and having few or none of the ordinary facilities for doing either of these, very many of their sleeping hours are consumed in preparing for the field the coming day; and when this is done, old and young, male and female, married and single, drop down side by side, on one common bed, - the cold, damp floor...and here they sleep till they are summoned to the field by the driver's horn. At the sound of this, all must rise, and be off to the field. There must be no halting; every one must be at his or her post; and woe betides them who hear not this morning summons to the field; for if they are not awakened by the sense of hearing, they are by the sense of feeling...Mr. Severe, the overseer, used to stand by the door of the quarter, armed with a large hickory stick and heavy cowskin, ready to whip anyone who was so unfortunate as not to hear, or, from any other cause, was prevented from being ready to start for the filed at the sound of the horn.
"Mr. Severe was rightly named: he was a cruel man. I have seen him whip a woman, causing the blood to run half an hour at the time; and this, too, in the midst of her crying children, pleading for their mother's release."
Frederick Douglass, you are remembered.