On the lower side, or what I have called in a previous article the oral region of the animal, a wonderfully complicated apparatus is developed. The mouth projects in four angles, and at each such angle a curtain arises, stretching outwardly, and sometimes extending as far as the margin. These curtains are fringed and folded on the lower edge, so that they look like four ruffled flounces hanging from the lower side of the animal. On the upper side of the body, but alternating in position with these curtains, are the four ovaries, crescent-like in shape, and so placed as to form the figure of a cross, when seen from above through the transparency of the disk. I should add, that, though I speak of some organs as being on the upper and others on the lower side of the body, all are under the convex, arched surface of the disk, which is gelatinous throughout, and simply forms a transparent vaulted roof, as it were, above the rest of the body.
When these animals first make their appearance in the spring, they may be seen, when the sky is clear and the sea smooth, floating in immense numbers near the surface of the water, though they do not seek the glare of the sun, but are more often found about sheltered places, in the neighborhood of wharves or overhanging rocks. As they grow larger, they lose something of their gregarious disposition,—they scatter more; and at this time they prefer the sunniest exposures, and like to bask in the light and warmth. They assume every variety of attitude, but move always by the regular contraction and expansion of the disk, which rises and falls with rhythmical alternations, the average number of these movements being from twelve to fifteen in a minute. There can be no doubt that they perceive what is going on about them, and are very sensitive to changes in the state of the atmosphere; for, as soon as the surface of the water is ruffled, or the sky becomes overcast, they sink into deeper water, and vanish out of sight. When approached with a dip-net, it is evident, from the acceleration of their movements, that they are attempting to escape.
At the spawning season, toward the end of July or the beginning of August, they gather again in close clusters. At this period I have seen them at Nahant in large shoals, covering a space of fifty feet or more, and packed so closely in one unbroken mass that an oar could not be thrust between them without injuring many. So deep was the phalanx that I could not ascertain how far it extended below the surface of the water, and those in the uppermost layer were partially forced out of the water by the pressure of those below.
It is not strange that the relation between the various phases of this extraordinary series of metamorphoses, so different from each other in their external aspects, should not have been recognized at once, and that this singular Acaleph should have been called Scyphostoma in its simple Hydroid condition, Strobila after the transverse division of the body had taken place, Ephyra in the first stages of its free existence, and Aurelia in its adult state,—being thus described as four distinct animals. These various forms are now rightly considered as the successive stages of a development intimately connected in all its parts,—beginning with the simple Hydroid attached to the ground, and closing in the shape of our common Aurelia, with its white transparent disk, its silky fringe of tentacles around the margin, its ruffled curtains hanging from the mouth, and its four crescent-shaped ovaries grouped to form a cross on the summit. From these ovaries a new brood of little embryos is shed in due time.
There are other Hydroids giving rise to Medusae buds, from which, however, the Medusae do not separate to begin a new life, but wither on the Hydroid stock, after having come to maturity and dropped their eggs. Such is the Hydractinia polyclina. This curious community begins, like the preceding ones, with a single little individual, settling upon some shell or stone, or on the rocks in a tide-pool, where it will sometimes cover a space of several square feet. Rosy in color, very soft and delicate in texture, such a growth of Hydractinia spreads a velvet-like carpet over the rocks on which it occurs. They may be kept in aquariums with perfect success, and for that purpose it is better to gather them on single shells or stones, so that the whole community may be removed unbroken. These colonies of Hydractinia have one very singular character: they exist in distinct communities, some of which give birth only to male, others to female individuals. The functions, also, are divided,—certain members of the community being appointed to special offices, in which the others do not share. Some bear the Medusae buds, which in due time become laden with eggs, but, as I have said, wither and die after the eggs are hatched. Others put forth Hydroid buds only, while others again are wholly sterile. About the outskirts of the community are more simple individuals, whose whole body seems to be hardly more than a double-walled tube, terminating in a knob of lasso-cells. They are like long tentacles placed where they can most easily seize the prey that happens to approach the little colony. The entire community is connected at its base by a horny net-work, uniting all the Hydroid stems in its meshes, and spreading over the whole surface on which the colony has established itself.
There is a very curious and beautiful animal, or rather community of animals, closely allied to the Hydractinia polyclina, which next deserves to be noticed. The Portuguese Man-of-War—so called from its bright-colored crest, which makes it so conspicuous as it sails upon the water, and the long and various streamers that hang from its lower side—is such a community of animals as I have just described, reversed in position, however, with the individuals hanging down, and the base swollen and expanded to make the air-bladder which forms its brilliant crested float. In this curious Acalephian Hydroid, or Physalia, the individuality of function is even more marked than in the Hydractinia. As in the latter, some of the individuals are Medusae-bearing, and others simple Hydrae; but, beside these, there are certain members of the community who act as swimmers, to carry it along through the water,—others that are its purveyors, catching the prey, by which, however, they profit only indirectly, for others are appointed to eat it, and these feeders may be seen sometimes actually gorged with the food they have devoured, and which is then distributed throughout the community by the process of digestion and circulation.
It would be hopeless, even were it desirable, to attempt within the limits of such an article as this to give the faintest idea of the number and variety of these Hydroids; and I will therefore say nothing of the endless host of Tubularians, Campanularians, Sertularians, etc. They are very abundant along our coast, and will well reward any who care to study their habits and their singular modes of growth. For their beauty, simply, it is worth while to examine them. Some are deep red, others rosy, others purple, others white with a glitter upon them, as if frosted with silver. Their homes are very various. Some like the fresh, deep sea-water, while they avoid the dash and tumult of the waves; and they establish themselves in the depressions on some low ledge of rocks running far out from the shore, and yet left bare for an hour or two, when the tide is out. In such a depression, forming a stony cup filled with purest sea-water, overhung by a roof of rock, which may be fringed by a heavy curtain of brown sea-weed, the rosy-headed, branching Eudendrium, one of the prettiest of the Tubularians, may be found. Others like the tide-pools, higher up on the rocks, that are freshened by the waves only when the tide is full: such are the small, creeping Campanularians. Others, again, like the tiny Dynamena, prefer the rougher action of the sea; and they settle upon the sides of rents and fissures in the cliffs along the shore, where even in calm weather the waves rush in and out with a certain degree of violence, broken into eddies by the abrupt character of the rocks. Others seek the broad fronds of the larger sea-weeds, and are lashed up and down upon their spreading branches, as they rock to and fro with the motion of the sea. Many live in sheltered harbors, attaching themselves to floating logs, or to the keels of vessels; and some are even so indifferent to the freshness of the water that they may be found in numbers along the city-wharves.
Beside the Jelly-Fishes arising from Hydroids, there are many others resembling these in all the essential features of their structure, but differing in their mode of development; for, although more or less Polyp-like when first born from the egg, they never become attached, nor do they ever bud or divide, but reach their mature condition without any such striking metamorphoses as those that characterize the development of the Hydroid Acalephs. All the Medusas, whether they arise from buds on the Hydroid stock, like the Sarsia, or from transverse division of the Hydroid form, like the Aurelia, or grow directly from the egg to maturity, without pausing in the Hydroid phase, like the Campanella, agree in the general division and relation of parts. All have a central cavity, from which arise radiating tubes extending to the margin of the umbrella-like disk, where they unite either in a net-work of meshes or in a single circular tube. But there is a great difference in the oral apparatus; the elaborate ruffled curtains, that hang from the corners of the mouth, occur only in the Species arising from the transverse division of the Polyp-like young. For this reason they are divided into two Orders,—the Hydroids and the Discophorae.
The third Order, the Ctenophorae, are among the most beautiful of the Acalephs. I have spoken of the various hues they assume when in motion, and I will add one word of the peculiarity in their structure which causes this effect. The Ctenophorae differ from the Jelly-Fishes described above in sending off from the main cavity only two main tubes, instead of four like the others; but each of these tubes divides and subdivides in four branches as it approaches the periphery. From the eight branches produced in this way there arise vertical tubes extending in opposite directions up and down the sides of the body. Along these vertical tubes run the rows of little locomotive oars, or combs, as they have been called, from which these animals derive their name of Ctenophorae. The rapid motion of these flappers causes the decomposition of the rays of light along the surface of the body, producing the most striking prismatic effect; and it is no exaggeration to say that no jewel is brighter than these Ctenophorae as they move through the water.
* * * * *
I trust I have succeeded in showing that the three Orders of the Acalephs are, like the five Orders of the Echinoderms, different degrees of complication of the same structure. In the Hydroids, the organization does not rise above the simple digestive cavity inclosed by the double body-wall; and we might not suspect their relation to the Acalephs, did we not see the Jelly-Fish born from the Hydroid stock. In the Hydroid-Medusae and Discophorae, instead of a simple digestive sac, as in the Hydroids, we have a cavity sending off tubes toward the periphery, which ramify more or less in their course. Now whether there are four tubes or eight, whether they ramify extensively or not, whether there are more or less complicated appendages around the margin or the mouth, makes no difference in the essential structure of these bodies. They are all disk-like in outline, they all have tentacles hanging from the margin, and a central cavity from which tubes diverge that divide the body into a certain number of portions, bearing in all the same relation to each other and to the central cavity. In the Ctenophorae, another complication of structure is introduced in the combination of vertical with horizontal tubes and the external appendages accompanying them.
But, whatever their differences may be, a very slight effort of the imagination only is needed to transform any one of these forms into any other. Reverse the position of any simple Hydra, so that the tentacles hang down from the margin, and let four tubes radiate from the central cavity to the periphery, and we have the lowest form of Jelly-Fish. Expand the cup of the Hydra to form a gelatinous disk, increase the number of tubes, complicate their ramifications, let eyes be developed along the margin, add some external appendages, and we have the Discophore. Elongate the disk in order to give the body an oval form, diminish the number of main tubes, and let them give off vertical as well as horizontal branches, and we have the Ctenophore.
In the Class of Polyps there are but two Orders,—the Actinoids and the Halcyonoids; and I have already said so much of the structure of Polyps that I think I need not repeat my remarks here in order to show the relation between these groups. The body of all Polyps consists of a sac divided into chambers by vertical partitions, and having a wreath of hollow tentacles around the summit, each one of which opens into one of the chambers. The greater complication of these parts and their limitation in definite numbers constitute the characters upon which their superiority or inferiority of structure is based. Here the comparison is easily made; it is simply the complication and number of identical parts that make the difference between the Orders. The Actinoids stand lowest from the simple character and indefinite increase of these parts; while the Halcyonoids, with their eight lobed tentacles, corresponding to the same number of internal divisions, are placed above them.
We have the key-note to the common structure of the three Classes whose Orders we have been comparing in the name of the division to which they all belong: they are Radiates. The idea of radiation lies at the foundation of all these animals, whatever be their form or substance. Whether stony, like the Corals, or soft, like the Sea-Anemone, or gelatinous and transparent, like the Jelly-Fish, or hard and brittle, like the Sea-Urchins,—whether round or oblong or cylindrical or stellate, in all, the internal structure obeys this law of radiation.
Not only is this true in a general way, but the comparison may be traced in all the details. One may ask how the narrow radiating tubes of the Acalephs, traversing the gelatinous mass of the body, can be compared to the wide radiating chambers of the Polyp; and yet nothing is more simple than to thicken the partitions in the Polyps so much as to narrow the chambers between them, till they form narrow alleys instead of wide spaces, and then we have the tubes of the Jelly-Fish. In the Jelly-Fish there is a circular tube around the margin into which all the radiating tubes open. What have we to compare with this in the Polyps? The outer edge of each partition in the Polyp is pierced by a hole near the margin. Of course when the partition is thickened, this hole, remaining open, becomes a tube; for what is a tube but an elongated hole? The comparison of the Acalephs with the Echinoderms is still easier, for they both have tubes; but in the latter the tubes are inclosed in walls of their own, instead of traversing the mass of the body, as in Acalephs, etc.
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In preparing these articles on the homologies of Radiates, I have felt the difficulty of divesting my subject of the technicalities which cling to all scientific results, until they are woven into the tissue of our every-day knowledge and assume the familiar garb of our common intellectual property. When the forms of animals are as familiar to children as their A, B, C, and the intelligent study of Natural History, from the objects themselves, and not from text-books alone, is introduced into all our schools, we shall have popular names for things that can now only be approached with a certain professional stateliness on account of their technical nomenclature. The best result of such familiarity with Nature will be the recognition of an intellectual unity holding together all the various forms of life as parts of one Creative Conception.
[Footnote 3: See lower wood-cut, p. 294, d.]
[Footnote 4: Those who care to know more of the habits and structure of these animals will find more detailed descriptions of all the various species, illustrated by numerous plates, in the fourth volume of my Contributions to the Natural History of the United States, just published.]
In exploring among dusty files of newspapers for the true records of Denmark Vesey and Nat Turner, I have caught occasional glimpses of a plot perhaps more wide in its outlines than that of either, which has lain obscure in the darkness of half a century, traceable only in the political events which dated from it, and the utter incorrectness of the scanty traditions which assumed to preserve it. And though researches in public libraries have only proved to me how rapidly the materials for American history are vanishing,—since not one of our great institutions possesses, for instance, a file of any Southern newspaper of the year 1800,—yet the little which I have gained may have an interest which makes it worth preserving. I have never been able to see why American historians should be driven to foreign lands for subjects, when our own nation has furnished tyrannies more terrible than that of Philip of Spain, and heroes more silent than William of Orange,—or why our novelists must seek themes in Italy, on the theory avowed by one of the most gifted of their number, that this country is given over to a "broad commonplace prosperity," and harbors "no picturesque or gloomy wrong." But since, as the Spanish proverb says, no man can at the same time ring the bells and walk in the procession, so it has perhaps happened that those most qualified to record the romance of slave-institutions have been thus far too busy in dealing with the reality.
Three times, at intervals of thirty years, has a wave of unutterable terror swept across the Old Dominion, bringing thoughts of agony to every Virginian master, and of vague hope to every Virginian slave. Each time has one man's name become a spell of dismay and a symbol of deliverance. Each time has that name eclipsed its predecessor, while recalling it for a moment to fresher memory: John Brown revived the story of Nat Turner, as in his day Nat Turner recalled the vaster schemes of Gabriel.
On September 8th, 1800, a Virginia correspondent wrote thus to the Philadelphia "United States Gazette":—
"For the week past, we have been under momentary expectation of a rising among the negroes, who have assembled to the number of nine hundred or a thousand, and threatened to massacre all the whites. They are armed with desperate weapons, and secrete themselves in the woods. God only knows our fate; we have strong guards every night under arms."
It was no wonder, if there were foundation for such rumors. Liberty was the creed or the cant of the day. France was being rocked by revolution, and England by Clarkson. In America, slavery was habitually recognized as a misfortune and an error, only to be palliated by the nearness of its expected end. How freely anti-slavery pamphlets had been circulated in Virginia we know from the priceless volumes collected and annotated by Washington, and now preserved in the Boston Athenaeum. Jefferson's "Notes on Virginia," itself an anti-slavery tract, had passed through seven editions. Judge St. George Tucker, law-professor in William and Mary College, had recently published his noble work, "A Dissertation on Slavery, with a Proposal for the Gradual Abolition of it in the State of Virginia." From all this agitation a slave insurrection was a mere corollary. With so much electricity in the air, a single flash of lightning foreboded all the terrors of the tempest. Let but a single armed negro be seen or suspected, and at once on many a lonely plantation there were trembling hands at work to bar doors and windows that seldom had been even closed before, and there was shuddering when a gray squirrel scrambled over the roof, or a shower of walnuts came down clattering from the overhanging boughs.
Early in September, 1800, as a certain Mr. Moseley Sheppard, of Henrico County in Virginia, was one day sitting in his counting-room, two negroes knocked at the door and were let in. They shut the door themselves, and began to unfold an insurrectionary plot, which was subsequently repeated by one of them, named Ben Woodfolk or Woolfolk, in presence of the court, on the fifteenth of the same month.
He stated that about the first of the preceding June he had been asked by a negro named Colonel George whether he would like to be made a Mason. He refused; but George ultimately prevailed on him to have an interview with a certain leading man among the blacks, named Gabriel. Arrived at the place of meeting, he found many persons assembled, to whom a preliminary oath was administered, that they would keep secret all which they might hear. The leaders then began, to the dismay of this witness, to allude to a plan of insurrection, which, as they stated, was already far advanced toward maturity. Presently a man named Martin, Gabriel's brother, proposed religious services, caused the company to be duly seated, and began an impassioned exposition of Scripture, bearing upon the perilous theme. The Israelites were glowingly portrayed as a type of successful resistance to tyranny; and it was argued, that now, as then, God would stretch forth His arm to save, and would strengthen a hundred to overthrow a thousand. Thus passed, the witness stated, this preparatory meeting. At a subsequent gathering the affair was brought to a point, and the only difficult question was, whether to rise in rebellion upon a certain Saturday, or upon the Sunday following. Gabriel said that Saturday was the day already fixed, and that it must not be altered; but George was for changing it to Sunday, as being more convenient for the country negroes, who could travel on that day without suspicion. Gabriel, however, said decisively that they had enough to carry Richmond without them, and Saturday was therefore retained as the momentous day.
This was the confession, so far as it is now accessible; and on the strength of it Ben Woolfolk was promptly pardoned by the court for all his sins, past, present, or to come, and they proceeded with their investigation. Of Gabriel little appeared to be known, except that he had been the property of Thomas Prosser, a young man who had recently inherited a plantation a few miles from Richmond, and who had the reputation among his neighbors of "behaving with great barbarity to his slaves." Gabriel was, however, reported to be "a fellow of courage and intellect above his rank in life,"—to be about twenty-five years of age,—and to be guiltless of the alphabet.
Further inquiry made it appear that the preparations of the insurgents were hardly adequate to any grand revolutionary design,—at least, if they proposed to begin with open warfare. The commissariat may have been well organized, for black Virginians are apt to have a prudent eye to the larder; but the ordnance department and the treasury were as low as if Secretary Floyd had been in charge of them. A slave called "Prosser's Ben" testified that he went with Gabriel to see Ben Woolfolk, who was going to Caroline County to enlist men, and that "Gabriel gave him three shillings for himself and three other negroes, to be expended in recruiting men." Their arms and ammunition, so far as reported, consisted of a peck of bullets, ten pounds of powder, and twelve scythe-swords, made by Gabriel's brother Solomon, and fitted with handles by Gabriel himself. "These cutlasses," said subsequently a white eyewitness, "are made of scythes cut in two and fixed into well-turned handles. I have never seen arms so murderous. Those who still doubt the importance of the conspiracy which has been so fortunately frustrated would shudder with horror at the sight of these instruments of death." And as it presently appeared that a conspirator named Scott had astonished his master by accidentally pulling ten dollars from a ragged pocket which seemed inadequate to the custody of ten cents, it was agreed that the plot might still be dangerous, even though the resources seemed limited.
And indeed, as was soon discovered, the effective weapon of the insurgents lay in the very audacity of their plan. The scheme, as it existed in the mind of Gabriel, was as elaborate as that of Denmark Vesey, and as thorough as that of Nat Turner. If the current statements of all the Virginia letter-writers were true, "nothing could have been better contrived." It was to have taken effect on the first day of September. The rendezvous for the blacks was to be a brook six miles from Richmond. Eleven hundred men were to assemble there, and were to be divided into three columns, their officers having been designated in advance. All were to march on Richmond,—then a town of eight thousand inhabitants,—under cover of night. The right wing was instantly to seize upon the penitentiary building, just converted into an arsenal; while the left wing was to take possession of the powder-house. These two columns were to be armed chiefly with clubs, as their undertaking depended for success upon surprise, and was expected to prevail without hard fighting. But it was the central force, armed with muskets, cutlasses, knives, and pikes, upon which the chief responsibility rested; these men were to enter the town at both ends simultaneously, and begin a general carnage, none being excepted save the French inhabitants, who were supposed for some reason to be friendly to the negroes. In a very few hours, it was thought, they would have entire control of the metropolis. And that this hope was not in the least unreasonable was shown by the subsequent confessions of weakness from the whites. "They could scarcely have failed of success," wrote the Richmond Correspondent of the Boston "Chronicle," "for, after all, we could only muster four or five hundred men, of whom not more than thirty had muskets."
For the insurgents, if successful, the penitentiary held several thousand stand of arms; the powder-house was well stocked; the capitol contained the State treasury; the mills would give them bread; the control of the bridge across James River would keep off enemies from beyond. Thus secured and provided, they planned to issue proclamations summoning to their standard "their fellow-negroes and the friends of humanity throughout the continent." In a week, it was estimated, they would have fifty thousand men on their side, with which force they could easily possess themselves of other towns; and, indeed, a slave named John Scott—possibly the dangerous possessor of the ten dollars—was already appointed to head the attack on Petersburg. But in case of final failure, the project included a retreat to the mountains, with their new-found property. John Brown was therefore anticipated by Gabriel, sixty years before, in believing the Virginia mountains to have been "created, from the foundation of the world, as a place of refuge for fugitive slaves."
These are the statements of the contemporary witnesses; they are repeated in many newspapers of the year 1800, and are in themselves clear and consistent. Whether they are on the whole exaggerated or understated, it is now impossible to say. It is certain that a Richmond paper of September 12th (quoted in the "New York Gazette" of September 18th) declares that "the plot has been entirely exploded, which was shallow; and had the attempt been made to carry it into execution, but little resistance would have been required to render the scheme entirely abortive." But it is necessary to remember that this is no more than the Charleston newspapers said at the very crisis of Denmark Vesey's formidable plot. "Last evening," wrote a lady from Charleston in 1822, "twenty-five hundred of our citizens were under arms to guard our property and lives. But it is a subject not to be mentioned [so underscored]; and unless you hear of it elsewhere, say nothing about it." Thus it is always hard to know whether to assume the facts of an insurrection as above or below the estimates. This Virginian excitement also happened at a period of intense political agitation, and was seized upon as a boon by the Federalists. The very article above quoted is ironically headed, "Holy Insurrection," and takes its motto from Jefferson, with profuse capital letters,—"The Spirit of the Master is abating, that of the Slave rising from the dust, his condition mollifying."
In view of the political aspect thus given to the plot, and of its ingenuity and thoroughness likewise, the Virginians were naturally disposed to attribute to white men some share in it; and speculation presently began to run wild. The newspapers were soon full of theories, no two being alike, and no one credible. The plot originated, some said, in certain handbills written by Jefferson's friend Callender, then in prison at Richmond on a charge of sedition; these were circulated by two French negroes, aided by a "United Irishman," calling himself a Methodist preacher,—and it was in consideration of these services that no Frenchman was to be injured by the slaves. When Gabriel was arrested, the editor of the "United States Gazette" affected much diplomatic surprise that no letters were yet found upon his person "from Fries, Gallatin, or Duane, nor was he at the time of his capture accompanied by any United Irishman." "He, however, acknowledges that there are others concerned, and that he is not the principal instigator." All Federalists agreed that the Southern Democratic talk was constructive insurrection,—which it certainly was,—and they painted graphic pictures of noisy "Jacobins" over their wine, and eager, dusky listeners behind their chairs. "It is evident that the French principles of liberty and equality have been effused into the minds of the negroes, and that the incautious and intemperate use of the words by some whites among us have inspired them with hopes of success." "While the fiery Hotspurs of the State vociferate their French babble of the natural equality of man, the insulted negro will be constantly stimulated to cast away his cords and to sharpen his pike." "It is, moreover, believed, though not positively known, that a great many of our profligate and abandoned whites (who are distinguished by the burlesque appellation of Democrats) are implicated with the blacks, and would have joined them, if they had commenced their operations.... The Jacobin printers and their friends are panic-struck. Never was terror more strongly depicted in the countenances of men." These extracts from three different Federalist newspapers show the amiable emotions of that side of the house; while Democratic Duane, in the "Aurora," could find no better repartee than to attribute the whole trouble to the policy of the Administration in renewing commercial intercourse with San Domingo.
I have discovered in the Norfolk "Epitome of the Times," for October 9, 1800, a remarkable epistle written from Richmond jail by the unfortunate Callender himself. He indignantly denies the charges against the Democrats, of complicity in dangerous plots, boldly retorting them upon the Federalists. "An insurrection at this critical moment by the negroes of the Southern States would have thrown everything into confusion, and consequently it was to have prevented the choice of electors in the whole or the greater part of the States to the south of the Potomac. Such a disaster must have tended directly to injure the interests of Mr. Jefferson, and to promote the slender possibility of a second election of Mr. Adams." And, to be sure, the "United States Gazette" followed up the thing with a good, single-minded party malice which cannot be surpassed in these present days, ending in such altitudes of sublime coolness as the following:—"The insurrection of the negroes in the Southern States, which appears to be organized on the true French plan, must be decisive with every reflecting man in those States of the election of Mr. Adams and General Pinckney. The military skill and approved bravery of the General must be peculiarly valuable to his countrymen at these trying moments." Let us have a military Vice-President, by all means, to meet this formidable exigency of Gabriel's peck of bullets, and this unexplained three shillings in the pocket of "Prosser's Ben"!
But Gabriel's campaign failed, like that of the Federalists, and the appointed day brought disasters more fatal than even the sword of General Pinckney. The affrighted negroes declared that "the stars in their courses fought against Sisera." The most furious tempest ever known in Virginia burst upon the land that day, instead of an insurrection. Roads and plantations were submerged. Bridges were carried away. The fords, which then, as now, were the ordinary substitutes for bridges in that region, were rendered wholly impassable. The Brook Swamp, one of the most important strategic points of the insurgents, was entirely inundated, hopelessly dividing Prosser's farm from Richmond; the country negroes could not get in, nor those from the city get out. The thousand men dwindled to a few hundred,—and these half paralyzed by superstition; there was nothing to do but to dismiss them, and before they could reassemble they were betrayed.
That the greatest alarm was instantly created throughout the community, there is no question. All the city of Richmond was in arms, and in all large towns of the State the night-patrol was doubled. It is a little amusing to find it formally announced, that "the Governor, impressed with the magnitude of the danger, has appointed for himself three Aides-de-camp." A troop of United States cavalry was ordered to Richmond. Numerous arrests were made. Men were convicted on one day and hanged on the next,—five, six, ten, fifteen at a time, almost without evidence. Three hundred dollars were offered by Governor Monroe for the arrest of Gabriel; as much more for another chief named Jack Bowler, alias Ditcher; whereupon Bowler, alias Ditcher, surrendered himself, but it took some weeks to get upon the track of Gabriel. He was finally captured at Norfolk, on board a schooner just arrived from Richmond, in whose hold he had concealed himself for eleven days, having thrown overboard a bayonet and bludgeon, which were his only arms. Crowds of people collected to see him, including many of his own color. He was arrested on September 24th, convicted on October 3d, and executed on October 7th; and it is known of him further only, that, like almost all leaders of slave insurrections, he showed a courage which his enemies could not gainsay. "When he was apprehended, he manifested the greatest marks of firmness and confidence, showing not the least disposition to equivocate or screen himself from justice,"—but making no confession that could implicate any one else. "The behavior of Gabriel under his misfortunes," said the Norfolk "Epitome" of September 25th, "was such as might be expected from a mind capable of forming the daring project which he had conceived." The "United States Gazette" for October 9th states, more sarcastically, that "the General is said to have manifested the utmost composure, and with the true spirit of heroism seems ready to resign his high office, and even his life, rather than gratify the officious inquiries of the Governor."
Some of these newspapers suggest that the authorities found it good policy to omit the statement made by Gabriel, whatever it was. At any rate, he assured them that he was by no means the sole instigator of the affair; he could name numbers, even in Norfolk, who were more deeply concerned. To his brother Solomon he is said to have stated that the real head of the plot was Jack Bowler. Still another leader was "General John Scott," already mentioned, the slave of Mr. Greenhow, hired by Mr. McCrea. He was captured by his employer in Norfolk, just as he was boldly entering a public conveyance to escape; and the Baltimore "Telegraphe" declared that he had a written paper directing him to apply to Alexander Biddenhurst or Weddenhurst in Philadelphia, "corner of Coats Alley and Budd Street, who would supply his needs." What became of this military individual, or of his Philadelphia sympathizers, does not appear. But it was noticed, as usually happens in such cases, that all the insurgents had previously passed for saints. "It consists within my knowledge," says one letter-writer, "that many of these wretches who were or would have been partakers in the plot have been treated with the utmost tenderness by their masters, and were more like children than slaves."
These appear to be all the details now accessible of this once famous plot. They were not very freely published even at the time. "The minutiae of the conspiracy have not been detailed to the public," said the "Salem Gazette" of October 7th, "and, perhaps, through a mistaken notion of prudence and policy, will not be detailed, in the Richmond papers." The New York "Commercial Advertiser" of October 13th was still more explicit. "The trials of the negroes concerned in the late insurrection are suspended until the opinions of the Legislature can be had on the subject. This measure is said to be owing to the immense numbers who are interested in the plot, whose death, should they all be found guilty and be executed, will nearly produce the annihilation of the blacks in this part of the country." And in the next issue of the same journal a Richmond correspondent makes a similar statement, with the following addition:—
"A conditional amnesty is perhaps expected. At the next session of the Legislature [of Virginia] they took into consideration the subject referred to them, in secret session, with closed doors. The whole result of their deliberations has never yet been made public, as the injunction of secrecy has never been removed. To satisfy the court, the public, and themselves, they had a task so difficult to perform, that it is not surprising that their deliberations were in secret."
It is a matter of historical interest to know that in these mysterious sessions lay the germs of the American Colonization Society. A correspondence was at once secretly commenced between the Governor of Virginia and the President of the United States, with a view to securing a grant of land whither troublesome slaves might be banished. Nothing came of it then; but in 1801, 1802, and 1804, these attempts were renewed. And finally, on January 22d, 1805, the following vote was passed, still in secret session:—"Resolved, that the Senators of this State in the Congress of the United States be instructed, and the Representatives be requested, to use their best efforts for the obtaining from the General Government a competent portion of territory in the State of Louisiana, to be appropriated to the residence of such people of color as have been or shall be emancipated, or hereafter may become dangerous to the public safety," etc. But of all these efforts nothing was known till their record was accidentally discovered by Charles Fenton Mercer in 1816. He at once brought the matter to light, and moved a similar resolution in the Virginia Legislature; it was almost unanimously adopted, and the first formal meeting of the Colonization Society, in 1817, was called "in aid" of this Virginia movement. But the whole correspondence was never made public until the Nat-Turner insurrection of 1831 recalled the previous excitement, and these papers were demanded by Mr. Summers, a member of the Legislature, who described them as "having originated in a convulsion similar to that which had recently, but more terribly, occurred."
But neither these subsequent papers, nor any documents which now appear accessible, can supply any authentic or trustworthy evidence as to the real extent of the earlier plot. It certainly was not confined to the mere environs of Richmond. The Norfolk "Epitome" of October 6th states that on the sixth and seventh of the previous month one hundred and fifty blacks, including twenty from Norfolk, were assembled near Whitlock's Mills in Suffolk County, and remained in the neighborhood till the failure of the Richmond plan became known. Petersburg newspapers also had letters containing similar tales. Then the alarm spread more widely. Near Edenton, N.C., there was undoubtedly a real insurrection, though promptly suppressed; and many families ultimately removed from that vicinity in consequence. In Charleston, S.C., there was still greater excitement, if the contemporary press may be trusted; it was reported that the freeholders had been summoned to appear in arms, on penalty of a fine of fifteen pounds, which many preferred to pay rather than risk taking the fever which then prevailed. These reports were, however, zealously contradicted in letters from Charleston, dated October 8th, and the Charleston newspapers up to September 17th had certainly contained no reference to any especial excitement. This alone might not settle the fact, for reasons already given. But the omission of any such affair from the valuable pamphlet containing reminiscences of insurrections in South Carolina, published in 1822 by Edwin C. Holland, is presumptive evidence that no very extended agitation occurred.
But wherever there was a black population, slave or emancipated, men's startled consciences made cowards of them all, and recognized the negro as a dangerous man, because an injured one. In Philadelphia it was seriously proposed to prohibit the use of sky-rockets for a time, because they had been employed as signals in San Domingo. "Even in Boston," said the New York "Daily Advertiser" of September 20th, "fears are expressed, and measures of prevention adopted." This probably refers to a singular advertisement which appeared in some of the Boston newspapers on September 16th, and runs as follows:—
"NOTICE TO BLACKS.
"The officers of the police having made returns to the subscriber of the names of the following persons who are Africans or negroes, not subjects of the Emperor of Morocco nor citizens of any of the United States, the same are hereby warned and directed to depart out of this Commonwealth before the tenth day of October next, as they would avoid the pains and penalties of the law in that case provided, which was passed by the Legislature March 26, 1788.
"By order and direction of the Selectmen."
The names annexed are about three hundred, with the places of their supposed origin, and they occupy a column of the paper. So at least asserts the "United States Gazette" of September 23d. "It seems probable," adds the editor, "from the nature of the notice, that some suspicion of the design of the negroes is entertained, and we regret to say there is too much cause." The law of 1788 above mentioned was "an act for suppressing rogues, vagabonds, and the like," which forbade all persons of African descent, unless citizens of some one of the United States or subjects of the Emperor of Morocco, from remaining more than two months within the Commonwealth, on penalty of imprisonment and hard labor. This singular statute remained unrepealed until 1834.
Amid the general harmony in the contemporary narratives of Gabriel's insurrection, it would be improper to pass by one exceptional legend, which by some singular fatality has obtained more circulation than all the true accounts put together. I can trace it no farther back than Nat Turner's time, when it was published in the Albany "Evening Journal"; thence transferred to the "Liberator" of September 17th, 1831, and many other newspapers; then refuted in detail by the "Richmond Enquirer" of October 21st; then resuscitated in the John-Brown epoch by the Philadelphia "Press," and extensively copied. It is fresh, spirited, and full of graphic and interesting details, nearly every one of which is altogether false.
Gabriel in this narrative becomes a rather mythical being, of vast abilities and life-long preparations. He bought his freedom, it is stated, at the age of twenty-one, and then travelled all over the Southern States, enlisting confederates and forming stores of arms. At length his plot was discovered, in consequence of three negroes' having been seen riding out of a stable-yard together; and the Governor offered a reward of ten thousand dollars for further information, to which a Richmond gentleman added as much more. Gabriel concealed himself on board the Sally Ann, a vessel just sailing for San Domingo, and was revealed by his little nephew, whom he had sent for a jug of rum. Finally the narrative puts an eloquent dying speech into Gabriel's mouth, and, to give a properly tragic consummation, causes him to be torn to death by four wild horses. The last item is, however, omitted in the more recent reprints of the story.
Every one of these statements appears to be absolutely erroneous. Gabriel lived and died a slave, and was probably never out of Virginia. His plot was voluntarily revealed by accomplices. The rewards offered for his arrest amounted to three hundred dollars only. He concealed himself on board the schooner Mary, bound to Norfolk, and was discovered by the police. He died on the gallows, with ten associates, having made no address to the court or the people. All the errors of the statement were contradicted when it was first made public, but they have proved very hard to kill.
It is stated at the close of this newspaper romance,—and it may nevertheless be true,—that these events were embodied in a song bearing the same title with this essay, "Gabriel's Defeat," and set to a tune of the same name, both being composed by a colored man. The reporter claims to have heard it in Virginia, as a favorite air at the dances of the white people, as well as in the huts of the slaves. It would certainly be one of history's strange parallelisms, if this fatal enterprise, like that of John Brown afterwards, should thus triumphantly have embalmed itself in music. But I have found no other trace of such a piece of border-minstrelsy, and it is probable that even this plaintive memorial has at length disappeared.
Yet, twenty-two years after these events their impression still remained vivid enough for Benjamin Lundy, in Tennessee, to write,—"So well had they matured their plot, and so completely had they organized their system of operations, that nothing but a seemingly miraculous intervention of the arm of Providence was supposed to have been capable of saving the city from pillage and flames, and the inhabitants thereof from butchery. So dreadful was the alarm and so great the consternation produced on this occasion, that a member of Congress from that State was some time after heard to express himself in his place as follows: 'The night-bell is never heard to toll in the city of Richmond but the anxious mother presses her infant more closely to her bosom.'" The Congressman was John Randolph of Roanoke, and it was Gabriel who had taught him the lesson.
And longer than the melancholy life of that wayward statesman,—down even to the beginning of the present civil war, and perhaps to this very moment,—there lingered in Richmond a memorial of those days, most peculiar and most instructive. Before the days of Secession, when the Northern traveller in Virginia, after traversing for weary leagues its miry ways, its desolate fields, and its flowery forests, rode at last into its metropolis,—now slowly expanded into a city of twenty-eight thousand inhabitants,—he was sure to be guided erelong to visit its stately Capitol, modelled by Jefferson, when French minister, from the Maison Carre. Standing before it, he might admire undisturbed the Grecian outline of its exterior, or criticize at will the unsightly cheapness of its stucco imitations; but he found himself forbidden to enter, save by passing an armed and uniformed sentinel at the door-way. No other State of the Union has thus found it necessary in time of profoundest quiet to protect its State-House by a permanent cordon of bayonets; indeed, the Constitution expressly prohibits to any State a standing army, however small. Yet there for sixty years has stood sentinel the "Public Guard" of Virginia, wearing the suicidal motto of that decaying Commonwealth, "Sic semper Tyrannis"; and when one asked the origin of the precaution, one learned that it was the lasting memorial of Gabriel's insurrection, the stern heritage of terror bequeathed by his defeat.
We mustered at midnight, in darkness we formed, And the whisper went round of a fort to be stormed; But no drum-beat had called us, no trumpet we heard, And no voice of command, but our Colonel's low word,— "Column! Forward!"
And out, through the mist and the murk of the morn, From the beaches of Hampton our barges were borne; And we heard not a sound, save the sweep of the oar, Till the word of our Colonel came up from the shore,— "Column! Forward!"
With hearts bounding bravely, and eyes all alight, As ye dance to soft music, so trod we, that night; Through the aisles of the greenwood, with vines overarched, Tossing dew-drops, like gems, from our feet, as we marched,— "Column! Forward!"
As ye dance with the damsels, to viol and flute, So we skipped from the shadows, and mocked their pursuit; But the soft zephyrs chased us, with scents of the morn, As we passed by the hay-fields and green waving corn,— "Column! Forward!"
For the leaves were all laden with fragrance of June, And the flowers and the foliage with sweets were in tune; And the air was so calm, and the forest so dumb, That we heard our own heart-beats, like taps of a drum,— "Column! Forward!"
Till the lull of the lowlands was stirred by a breeze, And the buskins of Morn brushed the tops of the trees, And the glintings of glory that slid from her track By the sheen of our rifles were gayly flung back,— "Column! Forward!"
And the woodlands grew purple with sunshiny mist, And the blue-crested hill-tops with rose-light were kissed, And the earth gave her prayers to the sun in perfumes, Till we marched as through gardens, and trampled on blooms,— "Column! Forward!"
Ay! trampled on blossoms, and seared the sweet breath Of the greenwood with low-brooding vapors of death; O'er the flowers and the corn we were borne like a blast, And away to the fore-front of battle we passed,— "Column! Forward!"
For the cannon's hoarse thunder roared out from the glades, And the sun was like lightning on banners and blades, When the long line of chanting Zouaves, like a flood, From the green of the woodlands rolled, crimson as blood,— "Column! Forward!"
While the sound of their song, like the surge of the seas, With the "Star-Spangled Banner" swelled over the leas; And the sword of DURYEA, like a torch, led the way, Bearing down on the batteries of Bethel, that day,— "Column! Forward!"
Through green-tasselled cornfields our columns were thrown, And like corn by the red scythe of fire we were mown; While the cannon's fierce ploughings new-furrowed the plain, That our blood might be planted for LIBERTY'S grain,— "Column! Forward!"
Oh! the fields of fair June have no lack of sweet flowers, But their rarest and best breathe no fragrance like ours; And the sunshine of June, sprinkling gold on the corn, Hath no harvest that ripeneth like BETHEL'S red morn,— "Column! Forward!"
When our heroes, like bridegrooms, with lips and with breath, Drank the first kiss of Danger and clasped her in death; And the heart of brave WINTHROP grew mute, with his lyre, When the plumes of his genius lay moulting in fire,— "Column! Forward!"
Where he fell shall be sunshine as bright as his name, And the grass where he slept shall be green as his fame; For the gold of the Pen and the steel of the Sword Write his deeds—in his blood—on the land he adored,— "Column! Forward!"
And the soul of our comrade shall sweeten the air, And the flowers and the grass-blades his memory upbear; While the breath of his genius, like music in leaves, With the corn-tassels whispers, and sings in the sheaves,— "Column! Forward!"
[Footnote 5: The march on Bethel was begun in high spirits at midnight, but it was near noon when the Zouaves, in their crimson garments, led by Colonel Duryea, charged the batteries, after singing the "Star-Spangled Banner" in chords. Major Winthrop fell in the storming of the enemy's defences, and was left on the battle-field. Lieutenant Greble, the only other officer killed, was shot at his gun soon after. This fatal contest inaugurated the "war of posts" which has since raged in Virginia.]
THE HORRORS OF SAN DOMINGO.
THE BUCCANEERS—FLIBUSTIERS—TORTUGA—SETTLEMENT OF THE WESTERN PART OF SAN DOMINGO BY THE FRENCH.
Peaceable voyagers in the West Indies were much astonished at their first sight of certain men, who might have been a new species of native, generated with slight advances upon the old stock by the principle of selection, or spontaneous growths of a soil well guanoed by ferocity. They sported the scarlet suit of the Carib, but of a dye less innocent, as if the fated islands imparted this color to the men who preyed upon them. A cotton shirt hung on their shoulders, and a pair of cotton drawers struggled vainly to cover their thighs: you had to look very closely to pronounce upon the material, it was so stained with blood and fat. Their bronzed faces and thick necks were hirsute, as if overgrown with moss, tangled or crispy. Their feet were tied up in the raw hides of hogs or beeves just slaughtered, from which they also frequently extemporized drawers, cut while reeking, and left to stiffen to the shape of the legs. A heavy-stocked musket, made at Dieppe or Nantes, with a barrel four and a half feet long, and carrying sixteen balls to the pound, lay over the shoulder, a calabash full of powder, with a wax stopper, was slung behind, and a belt of crocodile's skin, with four knives and a bayonet, went round the waist. These individuals, if the term is applicable to the phenomena in question, were Buccaneers.
The name is derived from the arrangements which the Caribs made to cook their prisoners of war. After being dismembered, their pieces were placed upon wooden gridirons, which were called in Carib, barbacoa. It will please our Southern brethren to recognize a congenial origin for their favorite barbecue. The place where these grilling hurdles were set up was called boucan, and the method of roasting and smoking, boucaner. The Buccaneers were men of many nations, who hunted the wild cattle, which had increased prodigiously from the original Spanish stock; after taking off the hide, they served the flesh as the Caribs served their captives. There appears to have been a division of employment among them; for some hunted beeves merely for the hide, and others hunted the wild hogs to salt and sell their flesh. But their habits and appearance were the same. The beef-hunters had many dogs, of the old mastiff-breed imported from Spain, to assist in running down their game, with one or two hounds in each pack, who were taught to announce and follow up a trail.
The origin of these men, called Buccaneers, can be traced to a few Norman-French who were driven out of St. Christophe, in 1630, by the Spaniards. This island was settled jointly, but by an accidental coincidence, by French and English, in 1625. They lived tranquilly together for five years: the hunting of Caribs, who disputed their title to the soil, being a bond of union between them which was stronger than national prejudice. But the Spanish power became jealous of this encroachment among the islands, which it affected to own by virtue of Papal dispensation. Though Spain did not care to occupy it, Cuba and the Main being too engrossing, she determined that no other power should do so. She therefore took advantage of disturbances which arose there, in consequence, the French writers affirm, of the perfidious ambition of Albion, and chased both parties out of the island. The French soon recovered possession of it, which they solely held in future; but many exiles never returned, preferring to woo Fortune in company with the French and English adventurers who swarmed in those seas, having withdrawn, for sufficient reasons, from civilized society before a graceful retreat became impossible. This medley of people settled at first upon the northern and western coasts of San Domingo,—the latter being as yet unoccupied. A few settlements of Spaniards upon the northern coast, which suffered from their national antipathies and had endeavored to root them out, were quickly broken up by them. The Dutch, of course, were friendly, and promised to supply them with necessaries in payment for hides, lard, and meat, boucan.
Their favorite haunt was the little island Tortuga, so named, some say, from its resemblance to a turtle afloat, and others, from the abundance of that "green and glutinous" delight of aldermen. It is only two or three leagues distant from the northern coast of San Domingo, off the mouth of Trois Rivires. Its northern side is inaccessible: a boat cannot find a nook or cove into which it may slip for landing or shelter. But there is one harbor upon the southern side, and the Buccaneers took possession of this, and gradually fortified it to make a place tenable against the anticipated assaults of the Spaniards. The soil was thin, but it nourished great trees which seemed to grow from the rocks; water was scarce; the hogs were numerous, smaller and more delicate than those of San Domingo; the sugar-cane flourished; and tobacco of superior quality could be raised. About five-and-twenty Spaniards held the harbor when these adventurers approached to take possession. There were, besides, a few other rovers like themselves, whom the new community adopted. The Spaniards made no resistance, and were suffered to retire.
There was cordial fellowship between the Flibustiers and Buccaneers, for they were all outlaws, without a country, with few national predilections,—men who could not live at home except at the risk of apprehension for vagrancy or crime,—men who ran away in search of adventure when the public ear was ringing with the marvels and riches of the Indies, and when a multitude of sins could be covered by judicious preying. The Spaniards were the victims of this floating and roving St. Giles of the seventeenth century. If England or France went to war with Spain, these freebooters obtained commissions, and their pillaging grew honorable; but it did not subside with the conclusion of a peace. They followed their own policy of lust and avarice, over regions too far from the main history of the times to be controlled.
The word Flibustier is derived from the Dutch Vlieboot, fly-boat, swift boat, a kind of small craft whose sailing qualities were superior to those of the other vessels then in vogue. It is possible that the English made freebooter out of the French adaptation. The fly-boat was originally only a long, light pinnace or cutter with oars, fitted also to carry sail; we often find the word used by the French writers to designate vessels which brought important intelligence. They were favorite craft with the Flibustiers, not from their swiftness alone, but from their ease of management, and capacity to run up the creeks and river-openings, and to lie concealed. From these they boarded the larger vessels, to plunder or to use them for prolonged freebooting expeditions. The Flibustier, then, was a sea-hunter or pirate, as the Buccaneer was a land-hunter, but ready also for pillaging expeditions, in which they coperated. And their pursuits were interchangeable: the Buccaneer sometimes went to sea, and the Flibustier, in times of marine scarcity, would don the hog-skin breeches, and run down cows or hunt fugitive negroes with packs of dogs. The Buccaneers, however, slowly acquired a tendency to settle, while the Flibustiers preferred to keep the seas, till Europe began to look them up too sharply; so that the former became, eventually, the agricultural nucleus of the western part of San Domingo, when the supply of wild cattle began to fail. This failure happened partly in consequence of their own extravagant hunting-habits, and partly through the agency of the Spaniards of the eastern colony, who thought that by slaughtering the cattle their French neighbors would be driven, for lack of employment, from the soil.
The Buccaneers generally went to the chase in couples, attended by their dogs and Engags. These hired or engaged men first appear in the history of the island as valets of the Buccaneers. But, in their case, misfortune rather than vice was the reason of their appearance in such doubtful companionship. They were often sold for debt or inability to pay a rent, as happened in Scotland even during the eighteenth century; they were deluded to take ship by the flaming promises which the captains of vessels issued in the ports of different countries, to recruit their crews, or with the wickeder purpose of kidnapping simple rustics and hangers-on of cities; they sometimes came to a vessel's side in poverty, and sold their liberty for three years for the sake of a passage to the fabled Ind; press-gangs sometimes stole and smuggled them aboard of vessels just ready to sail; very young people were induced to come aboard,—indeed, one or two cases happened in France, where a schoolmaster and his flock, who were out for a walk, were cajoled by these purveyors of avaricious navigators, and actually carried away from the country. There was, besides, a regular method of supplying the French colonies in the different islands with voluntary engags, who agreed to serve for three years at certain wages, with liberty and a small allotment of land at the expiration of the time. These were called "thirty-six months' men." Sometimes their regular indenture was respected, and sometimes violently set aside to make the signers virtually slaves. This was done occasionally by the French in imitation of the English. A number of engags at St. Christophe, finding that they were not set at liberty at the expiration of their three years, and that their masters intended to hold them two years more, assembled tumultuously, and threatened to attack the colony. This was in 1632. Their masters were not in sufficient force to carry out their plan, and the Governor was obliged to set at liberty all who had served their time. In 1719, the French Council of State decreed, in consequence of the scarcity of engags, that all vagabonds and criminals sentenced to the galleys should be transported for colonial service; and in order to diminish the expense of shipping them, every vessel leaving France for the Antilles was compelled to carry three engags free of expense.
The amount of misery created by these various methods of supplying the islands with human labor cannot be computed. The victims were very humble; the manner of their taking-off was rarely noticed; the spirit of the age never stooped to consider these trifles of sorrow, nor to protect by some legislation the unfortunates who suffered in remote islands, whence their cries seldom reached the ears of authority. It would have been surprising, if many of these engags had not assumed the habits of their masters, and kept the wandering hordes by land and sea recruited. Some of the most famous Buccaneers—for that name popularly included also the Flibustiers—were originally thirty-six months' men who had daring and conduct enough to make the best of their enforced condition.
These engags were in all respects treated as slaves, especially when bound to agricultural service. Their master left them to the mercies of an overseer, who whistled them up at daybreak for wood-cutting or labor in the tobacco-fields, and went about among them with a stout stick, which he used freely to bring the lagging up to their work. Many cruelties are related of these men, but they are of the ordinary kind to be found in the annals of all slave-holding countries. The fact that the engags were indentured only for three years made no difference with men whose sole object was to use up every available resource in the pursuit of wealth. Bad treatment, chagrin, and scurvy destroyed many of them. The French writers accused the English of treating their engags worse than any other nation, as they retained them for seven years, at the end of which time they gave them money enough to procure a lengthened debauch, during which they generally signed away their liberty for seven more years. Oexmelin says that Cromwell sold more than ten thousand Scotch and Irish, destined for Barbadoes. A whole ship-load of these escaped, but perished miserably of famine near Cape Tiburon, at a place which was afterwards called L'Anse aux Ibernois.
The first engags were brought by the French from Dieppe: they signed contracts before notaries previously to quitting the country. This class of laborers was eagerly sought by all the colonists of the West Indies, and a good many vessels of different nations were employed in the trade. There was in Brazil a system of letting out land to be worked, called a labrados, because a manager held the land from a proprietor for a certain share of the profits, and cultivated it by laborers procurable in various ways. The name of Labrador is derived by some writers from the stealing of natives upon our northern coast by the Portuguese, to be enslaved. It is certain that they did this as early as 1501, and named the coast afterwards Terra de Laborador.
The Buccaneers, hunting in couples, called each other matelot, or shipmate: the word expresses their amphibious capacity. When a bull was run down by the dogs, the hunter, almost as fleet of foot as they, ran in to hamstring him, if possible,—if not, to shoot him. A certain mulatto became glorious in buccaneering annals for running down his game: out of a hundred hides which he sent to France, ten only were pierced with bullet-holes. When the animal was stripped of its skin, the large bones were drawn from the flesh for the sake of the marrow, of which the two matelots made their stout repast. Portions of the flesh were then boucan by the followers, the rest was left to dogs and birds, and the chase was pursued day by day till a sufficient number of hides were collected. These were transported to the little coves and landing places, where they were exchanged for powder and shot, spirits and silver. Then a grand debauch at Tortuga followed, with the wildest gratification of every passion. Comrades quarrelled and sought each other's blood; their pleasure ran amk like a mad Malay. When wine was all drunk and the money gamed away, another expedition, with fresh air and beef-marrow, set these independent bankrupts again to rights.
The Flibustiers had an inexpensive way of furnishing themselves with vessels for prosecuting their piratical operations. A dozen of them in a boat would hang about the mouth of a river, or in the vicinity of a Spanish port, enduring the greatest privations with constancy, till they saw a vessel which had good sailing qualities and a fair equipment. If they could not surprise it, they would run down to board it regardless of its fire, and swarm up the side and over the decks in a perfect fury, which nothing could resist, driving the crew into the sea. These expeditions were always prefaced by religious observances. On this point they were very strict; even before each meal, the Catholics chanted the Canticle of Zacharias, the Magnificat, and the Miserere, and the Protestants of all nations read a chapter of the Bible and sang a psalm. For many a Huguenot was in these seas, revenging upon mankind its capability to perpetrate, in the name of religion, a St. Bartholomew's.
Captain Daniel was a Flibustier with religious tendencies. Finding himself out of poultry, as he lay between Les Saintes and Dominica, (1701,) he approached the former island by night, landed and carried off the cur and some of the principal inhabitants. These were not the fowls he wanted, but rather decoys to the fattest poultry-yards. The account of his exquisite mingling of business and religion gives us a glimpse into the interior of flibustierism. We translate from Father Labat, who had the story from the astonished cur. They were very polite to them, he says, "and while the people were bringing in the provisions, they begged the cur to say mass in their vessel, which he did not care to refuse. They sent on shore for the proper accessories, and set up a tent on the quarter-deck, furnished with an altar, to celebrate the mass, which they chanted zealously with the inhabitants who were on board. It was commenced by a discharge of musketry, and of eight pieces of cannon with which their bark was armed. They made a second discharge at the Sanctus, a third at the Elevation, and a fourth at the Benediction, and, finally, a fifth after the Exaudiat and the prayer for the King, which was followed by a ringing Vive le Roi. Only one slight incident disturbed a little our devotions. One of the Flibustiers, taking an indecent posture during the Elevation, was reprimanded by Captain Daniel. Instead of correcting himself, he made some impertinent answer, accompanied with an execrable oath, which was paid on the spot by the Captain, who pistolled him in the head, swearing before God that he would do the same to the first man who failed in respect for the Holy Sacrifice. The cur was a little flustered, as it happened very close to him. But Daniel said to him, 'Don't be troubled, father; 't was a rascal whom I had to punish to teach his duty': a very efficacious way to prevent the recurrence of a similar fault. After mass, they threw the body into the sea, and paid the holy father handsomely for his trouble and his fright. They gave him some valuable clothes, and as they knew that he was destitute of a negro, they made him a present of one,"—"which," says Father Labat, "I received an order to reclaim, the original owner having made a demand for him."
Such was Captain Daniel's rubricated copy of the Buccaneers' [Greek: Leitourgia]. One may judge from this what the early condition of religion must have been in the French colony of San Domingo, which sprang from these pirates of the land and sea. And it seems that their reverence for the observances diminished in an inverse proportion to their perils. Father Labat said mass in the little town of Cap Franais, in 1701. The chapel was not much better than an ajoupa, that is, a four-posted square with a sloping roof of leaves or light boards. The aisle had half a foot of dust in the dry season, and the same depth of mud during rain. "I asked the sacristan, who also filled the office of chanter, if he should chant the Introit, or begin simply with the Kyrie Eleson; but he replied that it was not their custom to chant a great deal, they were content with low mass, brief, and well hurried up, and never chanted except at funerals. However, I did not omit to bless the water and asperse the people; and as I thought that the solemnity of the day demanded a little preaching, I preached, and gave notice that I should say mass on the following day." This he did, but was infinitely scandalized at the behavior of the people, comparing it with that of the thorough-going Catholics of the other French islands. "They came into the chapel as to an assembly, or to some profane spectacle; they talked, laughed, and joked. The people in the gallery talked louder than I did, and mingled the name of God in their discourse in an insufferable manner. I mildly remonstrated with them three or four times; but seeing that it had no effect, I spoke in a way that compelled some officers to impose silence. A well-behaved person had the goodness to inform me, after mass, that it was necessary to be rather more indulgent with the People of the Coast, if one wanted to live with them." This was an old euphemism for Flibustiers. The good father could expect nothing better, especially as so many of his audience may have been Calvinists, for the first habitant at Cap Franais was of that sect. These men were trying to become settled; and the alternative was between rapine with religion and raising crops without it. The latter became the habitude of the island; for the descendants of the Buccaneers could afford the luxury of absolute sincerity, which even their hardy progenitors were too weak to seize.
In the other Islands, however, the priest had the colonists well in hand, as may be understood from the lofty language which he could assume towards petty sacramental infractions. At St. Croix, for instance, three light fellows made a mock of Sunday and the mass, saying, "We go a-fishing," and tried to persuade some neighbors to accompany them.
"No; 't is Trinity Sunday, and we shall go to mass."
"And will the Trinity help you to your dinner? Come, mass will keep for another time."
The decent neighbors refusing, these three unfortunate men departed, and were permitted by an inscrutable Providence to catch a great number of little fishes, which they shared with their conforming neighbors. All ate of them, but with this difference, that the three anti-sabbatarians fell sick, and died in twenty-four hours, while the others experienced no injury. The effect of this gastric warning is somewhat weakened by the incautious statement of the narrative, that a priest, who ran from one dying man to another, became overheated, and contracted a fatal illness.
The Catholic profession brought no immunity to the Spanish navigators. Our Flibustiers, strengthened by religious exercises, and a pistol in each hand, stormed upon the deck, as if they had fallen from the clouds. "Jesus, son demonios estos": "They are demons, and not men." After they had thus "cleared" their vessel, they entered into a contract, called chasse-partie, the articles of which regulated their voyage and the disposition of the booty. They were very minutely made out. Here are some of the awards and reimbursements. The one who discovered a prize earned one hundred crowns; the same amount, or a slave, recompensed for the loss of an eye. Two eyes were rated at six hundred crowns, or six slaves. For the loss of the right hand or arm two hundred crowns or two slaves were paid, and for both six hundred crowns. When a Flibustier had a wound which obliged him to carry surgical helps and substitutes, they paid him two hundred crowns, or two slaves. If he had not entirely lost a member, but was only deprived of its use, he was recompensed the same as if the member had disappeared.
"They have also regard to qualities and places. Thus, the captain or chief is allotted five or six portions to what the ordinary seamen have, the master's mate only two, and other officers proportionable to their employ, after which they draw equal parts from the highest to the lowest mariner, the boys not being omitted, who draw half a share, because, when they take a better vessel than their own, it is the boys' duty to fire their former vessel and then retire to the prize."
Among the conventions of English pirates we find some additional articles which show a national difference. Whoever shall steal from the company, or game up to the value of a piece of eight, (piastre, translated cu by the French,—rated by the English of that day at not quite five shillings sterling,—about a dollar,) shall be landed on a desert place, with a bottle of water, gun, powder, and lead. Whoever shall maltreat or assault another, while the articles subsist, shall receive the Law of Moses: this was the infliction of forty consecutive strokes upon the back, a whimsical memento of the dispensation in the Wilderness. There were articles relative to the treatment and disposition of women, which sometimes depended upon the tossing of a coin,—jeter croix pile,—but they need not be repeated: on this point the French were worse than the English.
The English generally wound up their convention with the solemn agreement that not a man should speak of separation till the gross earnings amounted to one thousand pounds per head. Then the whole company associated by couples, for mutual support in anticipation of wounds and danger, and to devise to each other all their effects in case of death. While at sea, or engaged in expeditions against the coasts of Terra Firma, their friendship was of the most romantic kind, inspired by a common feeling of outlawry, and colored by the risks of their atrocious employment. They called themselves "Brothers of the Coast," and took a solemn oath not to secrete from each other any portion of the common spoil, nor uncharitably to disregard each other's wants. Violence and lust would have gone upon bootless ventures, if justice and generosity had not been crimped to strengthen the crew.
These buccaneering conventions were gradually imposed upon all the West-Indian neighborhood, by the title of uncompromising strength, and became known as the "Usage of the Coast." When the Brothers met with any remonstrance which referred the rights of navigators and settlers back to the Common Law of Europe, they were accustomed to defend their Usage, saying that their baptism had absolved them from all previous obligations. This was an allusion to the marine ceremony called in later times "Crossing the Line," and administered only upon that occasion; but at first it was performed when vessels were passing the Raz de Fonteneau, on their way to and from the Channel, and originated before navigators crossed the Atlantic or passed the Tropic of Cancer. The Raz, or Tide-Race, was a dangerous passage off the coast of Brittany; some religious observance among the early sailors, dictated by anxiety, appears to have degenerated into the Neptunian frolic, which included a copious christening of salt water for the raw hands, and was kept up long after men had ceased to fear the unknown regions of the ocean. Perhaps an aspersion with holy-water was a part of the original rite, on the ground that the mariner was passing into new countries, once thought uninhabited, as into a strange new-world, to sanctify the hardiness and propitiate the Ruler of Sea and Air. The Dutch, also, performed some ceremony in passing the rocks, then called Barlingots, which lie off the mouth of the Tagus. Gradually the usage went farther out to sea; and the farther it went, of course, the more unrestrained it grew.
This was the baptism which regenerated Law for the Buccaneers. It also absolved them from the use of their own names, which might, indeed, in many cases have been but awkward conveniences; and they were not known except by sobriquets. But when they became habitans or settlers, and took wives, their surnames appeared for the first time in the marriage-contract; so that it was a proverb in the islands,—"You don't know people till they marry."
The institution of marriage was not introduced among the Buccaneers for many years after their settlement of the western coast. In the mean time they selected women for extemporaneous partners, to whom they addressed a few significant words before taking them home to their ajoupas, to the effect that their antecedents were not worth minding, but this, slightly tapping the musket, "which never deceived me, will avenge me, if you do."
These women, with the exception of one or two organized emigrations of poor, but honest, girls, were the sweepings of the streets of Paris and London. They were sometimes deported with as little ceremony as the engags, and sometimes collected by the Government, especially of France, for the deliberate purpose of meeting the not over nice demands of the adventurers; for it was the interest of France to pet Tortuga and the western coast. All the French islands were stocked in the same manner. Du Tertre devotes a page to the intrigues of a Mademoiselle de la Fayolle, who appeared in St. Christophe with a strong force of these unfortunate women, in 1643. They were collected from St. Joseph's Hospital in Paris, to prevent the colonists from leaving the island in search of wives. Mademoiselle came with letters from the Queen and other ladies of quality, and quite dazzled M. Aubert, the Governor, who proposed to his wife that she should be accommodated in the chateau. She had a restless and managing temper, and her power lasted as long as her merchandise.
In 1667 there was an auction-sale of fifty girls without character at Tortuga. They went off so well that fifty more were soon supplied. Schoelcher says that in the twelfth volume of the "Archives de la Marine" there is a note of "one hundred nymphs for the Antilles and a hundred more for San Domingo," under the date of 1685.
Here were new elements of civilization for the devoted island, whose earliest colonists were pirates pacified by prostitutes. They were the progenitors of families whom wealth and colonial luxury made famous; for in such a climate a buccaneering nickname will soon flower into titles which conceal the gnarled and ugly stock. Some of these French Dianas led a healthy and hardy life with their husbands, followed them to the chase, and emulated their exploits with the pistol and the knife. Some blood was thus renewed while some grew more depraved, else the colony would have rotted from the soil.
Nature struggles to keep all her streams fresh and clear. The children of adventurers may inherit the vices of their parents; but Nature silently puts her fragrant graft into the withering tree, and it learns to bud with unexpected fruit. Inheritance is only one of Mother Nature's emphatic protestations that her wayward children will be the death of her; but she knows better than that, unfortunately for the respectable vice and meanness which flourish in every land and seek to prolong their line. California and Australia soon reach the average of New York and London, and invite Nature to preserve through them, too, her world. She drains and plants these unwholesome places; powerful men and lovely women are the Mariposa cedars which attest her splendid tillage. But a part of this Nature consists of conservative decency in men who belong to law-abiding and Protestant races. For want of this, surgery and cautery became Nature's expedients for Hayti, which was one of the worst sinks on her great farm.
If a greater number of female emigrants had been like Mary Read, pirate as she was, the story of Hayti would have been modified. She had the character which Nature loves to civilize.
Mary Read was the illegitimate daughter of an Englishwoman, who brought her up as a boy, after revealing to her the secret of her origin, apparently wishing to protect her against the mischances which befell herself. She was first a footman, then a sailor on board a man-of-war; afterwards she served with great bravery in Flanders in a regiment of infantry. Then she entered a cavalry regiment, where she fell deeply in love with a comrade, and her woman's nature awoke. Obeying the uncontrollable instinct, she modestly revealed her sex to him, and was married with great clat, after he had sought in vain, repelled by her high conduct, to make her less than wife. He died soon after, and the Peace of Ryswick compelled her to assume her male attire again and seek employment. She went before the mast in a vessel bound for the West Indies, which was taken by English pirates, with whom she afterwards enjoyed the benefit of a royal proclamation pardoning all pirates who submitted within a limited period. Their money gave out, and they enlisted under a privateer captain to cruise against the Spaniards; but the men, finding a favorable opportunity, took the vessel from the officers, and commenced their old trade. Mary was as brave as any in boarding Spanish craft, pistol in hand, to clear the decks; no peril made her falter, but she was disarmed again by love in the person of a fine young pirate of superior mind and grace. She made a friend of him, revealed her sex, and married him. Her husband had a falling-out with a comrade, and a duel impended. Torn with love and dread, she managed to pick a quarrel with his antagonist, appointed a meeting an hour before the one which her husband expected, and was lucky enough to postpone the latter indefinitely. At her trial in Jamaica, she would have escaped through the compassion of the court, if some one had not deposed that she often deliberately defended piracy with the argument that pirates were fortunately amenable to capital punishment, and this was a restraint to cowards, without which a thousand rascals who passed for honest people, but who did nothing but pillage widows and orphans and defraud their neighbors, would rush into a more honorable profession, the ocean would be covered with this canaille, and the ruin of commerce would involve that of piracy. She died in prison of a fever.
Ann Bonny was born in Cork. She was of a truculent disposition, and the murdering part of piracy was much to her taste. When her husband was led out to execution, the special favor was granted of an interview with her; but her only benediction was,—"I'm sorry to find ye in this state; if ye had fought like a man, ye would not be seein' yerself hung like a dog."
But what could angels themselves have done to make Captain Teach presentable in the best society? Blackbeard was his sobriquet, for he had one flowing over his chest which patriarchs might be forgiven for coveting. The hair of his head was tastefully done up with ribbons, and inframed his truculent face. When he went into a fight, three pairs of pistols hung from a scarf, and two slow-matches, alight and projecting under his hat, glowed above his cruel eyes. Certainly, the light of battle was not in his case a metaphor.
On board his vessel, one day, Captain Teach, just combing upon strong-water, summoned his crew. "Go to, now, let us make a hell," he cried, "and get a little seasoned. We'll find who can stand it longest." Thereupon they all went down into the hold, which he had carefully battened down; then he lighted sundry pots of sulphur, and showed superior qualifications for the future by smoking them all out.
On the day of his last combat, when advised to confide to his wife where his money was hid, he refused, saying that only he and the Devil knew where it was, and the survivor was to have it.
Whenever these English pirates found a clergyman, they acted as if pillaging had been only a last resort, owing to the scarcity of that commodity in those seas. Captain Roberts took a vessel which had on board a body of English troops with their chaplain, destined for garrison-duty. His crew went into ecstasies of delight, as if they had separated themselves from mankind and incurred atrocious suspicions from their desire to seek for religious persons in all places. They wanted nothing but a chaplain; they had never wanted anything else; he must join them; he would have nothing to do but to pray and make the punch. As he steadily refused, they reluctantly parted with him; but, smitten with his firmness, they retained of his effects nothing but three prayer-books and a corkscrew.
These were but common villains. The genuine Flibustier mingled national hatred with his avarice, and harried the Spanish coasts with a sense of being the avenger of old affronts, at least the divine instrument of his country's honest instincts, whose duty it was to smite and spoil, as if the Armada were yet upon the seas as the Inquisition was upon the land. Frenchmen and Englishmen, Huguenot and Dutch Calvinists, Willis, Warner, Montbar the Exterminator, Levasseur, Lolonois, Henry Morgan, Coxon and Sharp, Bartholomew the Portuguese, Rock the Dutchman, were representative men. They gave a villanous expression, and an edge which avarice whetted, to the religious patriotism of their countrymen. The sombre and deadly prejudices which lay half torpid in their cage at home escaped from restraint in these men, and suddenly acted out their proper nature on the highways of the world.
We have no space to record particular deeds and cruelties. The stories of the exploits of the Flibustiers show that their outlaw-life had developed all the powerful traits which make pioneering or the profession of arms so illustrious. Audacity, cunning, great endurance, tenacity of purpose, all the character of the organizing nations whence they sprang, appeared in them so stained by murder and bestiality of every kind, that the impression made by their career is revolting, and gets no mitigation from their better qualities. They were generous to each other, and scrupulously just; but it was for the sake of strengthening their hands against mankind. They fought against the enemies of their respective nations with all the fiendishness of popular hate that has broken loose from popular restraints and civilizing checks and has become a beast. Commerce was nothing to them but a convenience for plunder; a voyaging ship was an oasis in the mid-waste on which they swarmed for an orgy of avarice and gluttony; the cities of the Spanish Main were hives of wealth and women to be overturned and rifled, and their mother-country a retreat where the sanctimonious old age of a few survivors of these successful crimes could display their money and their piety, and perhaps a titled panel on their coach. Henry Morgan was knighted, and made a good end in the Tower of London as a political prisoner. Pierre le Grand, the first Flibustier who took a ship, retired to France with wealth and consideration. Captain Avery, who had an immense fame, was the subject of a drama entitled "The Happy Pirate," which inoculated many a prentice-lad with cutlasses and rollicking ferocity. Others became the agents of easy cabinets who always winked at buccaneering, because it so often saved them the expense of war. What gift or place would a slave-holding cabinet, or a Southern Confederacy, have thought too dear to bestow upon Captain Walker, whose criminal acts were feeding the concealed roots of the Great Conspiracy, if his murder and arson had become illustrious by success?
The Flibustiers were composed of many nations. The Buccaneers were mostly French. Their head-quarters, or principal boucans, upon San Domingo, were on the peninsula of Samana, at Port Margot, Savanna Brule near Gonaives, and the landing-place of Mirebalais. The Spaniards gained at first several advantages over them by cutting off the couples which were engaged in chasing the wild cattle. This compelled the Buccaneers to associate in larger bands, and to add Spaniards to their list of game. The word massacre on the maps of the island marks places where sanguinary surprises were effected by either party; but the Spaniards lost more blood than their wily antagonists, and were compelled to abandon all their settlements on the northern and northeastern coasts and to fall back upon San Domingo and their other towns. The Flibustiers blockaded their rivers, intercepted the vessels of slave-traders of all nations, made prizes of the cargoes, and sold them to the French of the rising western colony, to the English at Jamaica, or among the other islands, wherever a contraband speculation could be made. This completed the ruin of Spanish San Domingo; for the Government, crippled by land- and sea-fights with English, French, and Dutch, was unable to protect its colonies. It is very strange to notice this sudden weakness of the nation which was lately so domineering; the causes which produced it have been stated elsewhere with great research and power.
The Spaniards had made a few settlements in the western part of the island, the principal one of which was Yaguana, or Leogane. They were too far from the eastern population to be successfully defended or succored, in case of the attacks which were constantly expected after Drake's expedition. In 1592, the town of Azua was taken and destroyed by an English force under Christopher Newport, who was making war against the Spaniards on his own account. He afterwards attacked Yaguana, was at first repulsed, but took it by night and burned it to the ground. In consequence of this, all the western settlements were abandoned; and not a Spaniard remained in that part of the island after 1606. Cruisers of other nations seized the ports for their private convenience.
A brief outline will suffice to conduct us to the secure establishment of the French in Western San Domingo. Tortuga was attacked by the Spaniards in 1638; the Buccaneers were surprised, put to the sword, and scattered. A few joined their brethren in San Domingo. Their discomfiture was thought to be so complete that no garrison was left upon Tortuga. At the same time the Spaniards organized bands of fifty men each, called la cinquantaine by the French Buccaneers, to serve as a kind of rural police to hunt down the latter and exterminate them. For safety the French collected, and put at their head Willis, an Englishman, who had just then appeared with two or three hundred men, with the view of joining those of his countrymen who were Buccaneers. He led them back to Tortuga, and threw up some rude works to command the harbor. But the national antipathies soon appeared, on the occasion of some encroachment of Willis, whose countrymen were the more numerous party. The French despatched secret agents to St. Christophe, who made it clear to M. de Poincy, the Governor of that island, that the English could be easily dispossessed by a small force attacking them from without, while the French rose within. The Governor thought it was a good opportunity to weed the Huguenots, who were always making trouble about religious matters, out of his colony; he did not hesitate, therefore, to cooperate with the outlaws for so nice a game as driving out the English by getting rid of his heretics. The operation was intrusted to M. Levasseur, a brave and well-instructed Huguenot officer, who took with him about a hundred men. Willis decamped at their first summons, knowing the temper of his French subjects; and Levasseur landed, and immediately began to fortify a platform-rock which rose only a few paces from the water's edge. This he intrenched, surrounding an open square capable of accommodating three or four hundred men. A never-failing spring gushed from the rock for the supply of a garrison. From the middle of this platform there rose conveniently another rock thirty feet high, with scarped sides, upon which he built a block-house for himself and the ammunition, communicating with the platform by a movable ladder of iron. He made the place so formidable as a buccaneering centre that the Spaniards resolved to attack it. They tried it at first from the sea, but, being well battered, retired and disembarked six hundred men by night to make a land-attack. They were defeated, with the loss of a hundred men.
Levasseur appears to have grown arrogant with his success. He began to abuse and persecute all the Catholics, burned their chapel, and drove away a priest. He had stocks set up, made of iron, which he called his Hell, and the fort where he kept it, Purgatory. Du Tertre says that he wanted to make of Tortuga a little Geneva. He disavowed the authority of M. de Poincy, and when the latter demanded restitution of a Ntre Dame of silver which the Flibustiers had taken from a Spanish vessel, he sent a model of it, constructed of wood, with the message that Catholics were too spiritual to attach any value to the material, but as for himself, he had a liking for the metal. Levasseur was assassinated by two of his captains after a reign of a dozen years.