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For some time past the situation of the Negro Slaves in the British West-India islands has been a subject of much discussion, and excited a large share of public attention. The general treatment of these slaves, and the measures that have been taken for their instruction in the principles of morality and religion, have been made distinct heads of official inquiry : and in consequence of this inquiry, it seems to be a very prevailing opinion, that some improvements may and ought to be made in the condition of the Negroes, both temporal and spiritual. It is an opinion no less prevalent, that such improvements can
no where originate with so much propriety as from this venerable society. Every one indeed must see, that nothing can be more suitable to the character of a religious body, than to take the lead in so pious and benevolent a work as that of attempting to introduce into the West-India islands a better system of managing, instructing, and proselyting the Negro slaves. And, most fortunately for the interests of humanity and religion, it so happens that we are possessed of the means of doing this in the best and most effectual manner.
It should seem as if Providence had almost for this very purpose thrown into our hands, as-trustees, a plantation stocked with a considerable number of Negroes. In any other view, such a trust must be frequently distressing to our feelings. But considered in the light of affording us materials for our compassion, our charity, our zeal, our piety to work upon, and for shewing to the whole world what great things may be done by the joint operation of these principles, both in advaneing the present comfort and the future salvation of the Negroes, and that too, without
the least injury to the interests of the planter; in this light, I say, the possession of an estate so circumstanced, must be considered as one of the happiest events that could befal us.. '
Here then we shall have an opportunity of realizing for the benefit of mankind, as well as for our own, what now only exists in theory; and of carrying into actual execution all those humane and pious designs which will so properly take their rise from this venerable so ciety, but which the rest of the world may be disposed to think visionary and chimerical. And this undertaking will be easier also to us than to any others, because we have already made considerable advances in it by that kind attention which we have always paid to the proper treatment and instruction of our Negroes. This society (as I have fully stated in another place) has repeatedly and earnestly enjoined their managers and agents in Barbadoes to treat their slaves with lenity and tenderness. They have for many years maintained a catechist in orders on the plantation, whose sole business it is to train up the Negroes in the principles of religion, and to perform divine service for their benefit on the
:. .. Lord's Lord's day. And that the slaves may have leisure to attend this and other religious duties, the society has very humanely given them the afternoon of Saturday for cultivating their own land, and attending to their own family affairs. Yet notwithstanding these, and other wise and benevolent regulations, it is but too evident, both from the letters of our catechists, as well as from other undoubted testimony, that the endeavours used to civilize and to christianize our Negroes have not been attended with the desired success. Though many of them have undergone the ceremony of baptism, and when they choose it, attend divine service, yet we have no reason to believe, that they are any thing more than mere nominal christians. No effectual impressions of religion seem to have been made on their minds, nor any material change produced in their principles, dispositions, and habits of life *.
:* A very worthy member of this society (Mr. Braithwaite) in his evidence before the Privy Council, March 13, 1788, says “the catechist (on the society's estate) has, as far as I am informed, had but little success in improving the morals or principles of the Negroes, though they have been, I believe, baptized.".
· To what, then, has this failure in our hopes been owing? Most certainly not to that, which some of our catechists have alleged, an impossibility in the nature of the thing itself, an absolute incapacity in the minds of the Africans to receive, or comprehend, or retain religious truths. This is a position which can never be admitted. The christian religion was undoubtedly intended by its Divine Author for an universal one. It was not meant to be confined to any certain climate, to any particular degree of understanding, conformation of features, or shade of complexion. We are expressly commanded to preach the gospel to every creature; and therefore every human creature must necessarily be capable of receiving it. It may be true, perhaps, that the generality of the Negro slaves are .extremely dull of apprehension, and slow of understanding; but it may be doubted whether they are more so than some of the lowest classes of our own people; at least they are certainly not inferior in capacity to the GreenJanders, many of whom have been made very sincere christians. Several travellers of good credit speak in very favourable terms, both