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Among the stock fallacies which belong to public writers and thinkers, and which exercise a kind of conventional influence as often as they are paraded, there is none greater than this, — that History always repeats herself, because Human Nature never changes. The Tories of all ages and countries content themselves and alarm their neighbors by an adroit interpolation of this formula in their speech. They create the alarm because they are contented and intend to remain so. Successive audiences yield, as to the circus-jokes of the clown, who hits his traditional laugh in the same place so often that it is a wonder the place is not worn through. But people of a finer wit are not so easily surprised. If they bore a fair numerical proportion to the listeners of doctrinaires and alarmists, the repetition would be eventually resisted, with an indignation equal to the amount of literary and political damage which it had effected.
If people mean, when they say that Human Nature is always the same, that a few primitive impulses appear through the disguise of all ages and races, which can be modified, but never extinguished, which work and are worked upon, are capable of doing good or harm according to circumstances, but are at all events the conditions of life and motion, it is fortunately true. That is to say, it is very fortunate that men and women inhabit the earth. Their great, simple features uplift and keep all landscapes in their places, and prevent life from falling through into the molten and chaotic forces underneath. These rugged water-sheds inclose, configure, temper, fertilize, and also perturb, the great scenes and stretches of history. They hold the moisture, the metal, the gem, the seeds of alternating forests and the patient routine of countless harvests. Superficially it is a great way round from the lichen to the vine, but not so far by way of the centre. The many-colored and astonishing life conceals a few simple motives. Certainly it is a grand and lucky thing that there are so many people grouped along the lines of divine consistency.
Men will not starve, if they can help it, nor thirst, if water can be gathered in the palm or reached by digging. If they succeed in making a cup, they betray a tendency to ornament its rim or stem, or to emboss a story on its side. They are not disposed to become food for animals, or to remain unprotected from the climate. They like to have the opportunity of supplying their own wants and luxuries, and will resist any tyrannical interference with the methods they prefer. They propagate their race, and collect in communities for defence and social advantage. When thus collected, they will learn to talk, to write, to symbolize, to construct something, be it a medicine-lodge or a Parthenon. Their primitive sense of an invisible and spiritual agency assumes the forms of their ignorance and of their disposition: dread and cruelty, awe and size, fancy and proportion, gentleness and simplicity, will be found together in the rites and constructions of religion. They like to make the whole tribe or generation conform; and it is dangerous to oppose this tendency to preserve the shape of society from within and to protect it against assaults from without. These are motives originally independent of circumstances, and which made the first circumstances by coming in contact with the elements of the physical world.
But these circumstances are not always and everywhere as invariable as the primitive wants which first set them in motion. Enlargement of knowledge, of political and human relations, of the tenure of the earth, increases the number and variety of circumstances, and combines them so unexpectedly that it is a science to discover their laws, and the conditions of action and reaction between men and things that happen. We can depend upon Human Nature, but the problem always remains. What shall be expected of Human Nature under this or that modification of its external environment? Great laws from without act as well as great laws from within. If we knew all the laws, we should know what average consequences to expect. But in the mean time we shall commit the error of supposing that History does nothing but repeat itself, fretfully crooning into the “dull ear” of age a twice-told tale, if we do not allow for the modifications amid which the primitive impulses find themselves at work.
And besides, there is a difference in individuals; one set of people alone is too poor to furnish us with an idea of human nature. It is natural for Themistocles, Pausanias, or Benedict Arnold, under suspicion or ill-treatment, to desert to the enemy, and propose crushing his country for a balm to apply to wounded feelings. But General Fremont, in similar circumstances, will derive comfort from his loyal heart, and wait in hopes that at least a musket may be put into his hands with which to trust him against the foe. These are very simple variations; they turn upon the proportion of selfish feeling which the men possess. A self-seeking man will turn villain under the encroachment of other people's egotism. The sight of too many trophies will convert a friend into a covert enemy, who, without being treacherous, will nevertheless betray a great cause by his jealousy of its great supporter. But the latter will not always become a traitor to suit the expectations of an envious friendship. And your own judgment of men and prophecy of events, if based entirely upon selfish calculation, will entirely fail.
Nations differ also, in spite of the similar things that they do in analogous circumstances. Both Rome and England will not have too ambitious neighbors. They hate a preponderating power, and find out some way to get rid of the threat to their national egotism. The Romans exterminate the Veians and Carthaginians; they want no colonizing or commercial rivals. If England rules the sea, and uses its advantage to create markets where it can buy at the cheapest and sell at the dearest rates, we can understand its inexpensive sympathy for the people who can manufacture little and therefore have to import a great deal, who are thus the natural, disinterested lovers of free trade. It is very easy to see why England turns red in the Crimea with the effort to lift up that bag of rags called Turkey, to set it on the overland route to India; one decayed nation makes a very good buffer to break the shock of natural competition in the using up of another. It was the constant policy of Rome to tolerate and patronize the various people in its provinces, to respect, if not to understand, their religions, and to protect them from the peculator. She was not so drunk with dominion as not to see that her own comfort and safety were involved in this bearing to inferior and half-effete races. On the other hand, England, with far stronger motives of interest to imitate that policy, disregarding the prophecies of her best minds, takes no pains to understand, and of course misgoverns and outrages her poor nebulous Bengalese, and forces the opium which they cultivate upon the Chinese whom it demoralizes. Is this difference merely the difference between a pocket in a toga and one in the trousers? But a nerve from the moral sense does, nevertheless, spread into papillæ over the surface of the tighter pocket, not entirely blunted by yellow potations; so that the human as well as financial advantage of Jamaica emancipation is perceived. Should we expect this from the nation which undertook the destruction of the Danish fleet before Copenhagen in 1801, without even the formality of a declaration of war, on the suspicion that the Dane preferred to sympathize with France? What moral clamor could have made the selfish exigency of that act appear more damaging than a coalition of all the fleets of Europe? Yet plantation fanaticism did not prevent the great act from which we augured English hatred of a slaveholders' rebellion. Probably the lining membrane of a pocket may have intermitted accesses of induration: we must consult circumstances, if we would know what to expect. An extraordinary vintage or a great fruit year will follow a long series of scant or average crops; but we can count upon the average.
But unless circumstances are constant, it matters little how constant tempers and tendencies may be; and the expectations which we found upon the general action of avarice, credulity, bigotry, self-seeking, or any of the debased forms of legitimate human impulses, will often be disappointed by results. Prepare the favorite climate, moisture, exposure of a foreign plant, imitate its latitude and air and soil: it will not necessarily grow at all, or, growing, it will only surprise you by some alteration of its native features. Results are better chemists than we, and their delicate root-fibres test the ground more accurately; we shall find them languishing for some favorite elements, or colored and persuaded by novel ones. History must remember the constants of Man and of Nature, but be always expecting their variables, lest her prophetic gift fall into ill-repute.
Thus, give unlimited power to the Catholic, and he cannot anywhere set up his old-fashioned absolutism, unless you can manage at the same time to furnish him with Roman and Spanish people, and the fifteenth century. Yet we, too, have trembled at the imaginary horrors of Popery. All the power you can thrust and pile upon the Catholic in America will become an instrument to further the country's tendency towards light, as it drags the human impulses away from the despotic past. All the Jesuits, and prize bulls by every steamer, relays of papal agents, and Corpus-Christi processions in the streets of Boston, will hardly lift the shoulders of the great protesting country, as it turns to stare from its tilling, steaming, pioneering emancipating task.
It is not difficult to see why the revolts of peasants in the Middle Ages were marked by horrible excesses, — why diplomatic Catholicism prepared a St. Bartholomew's Eve for Paris, — why Dutch and Scotch Protestants defaced and trampled under foot ecclesiastical Art, — why German princes proclaimed a crusade against budding Protestantism and Panslavism under Ziska and Procopius in Bohemia, — why the fagots were fired at Constance, Prague, and Smithfield, and Pequod wigwams in New England. All dreadful scenes, by simply taking place, show that they have reason for it. But will they take place again? A Black Douglas did undoubtedly live, and he was the nursery-threat for fractious Scotch children during several generations; the Douglas never caught one of them, but the threat did. So we are plied with stock-phrases, such as “the Reign of Terror” and “the Horrors of San Domingo,” and History is abjectly conjured not to repeat herself, as she certainly will do, if she goes on in the old way. Of course she will. But does she propose to furnish a facsimile of any critical epoch which haunts the imaginations of mankind? That depends upon circumstances. The same barrel will play a fresh tune by a hair's-breadth shifting of a spring. Two epochs may seem to be exactly ahke, and the men who only remember may seek to terrify the men who hope by exposing the resemblance. But unless they can show that all the circumstances are identical, they have no right to infect the morning with their twilight fears. History insensibly modifies her plan to secure the maximum of progress with the minimum of catastrophes, and she repels the flippant insinuation that her children win all their fresh advantages at the expense of the old crimes.
The story of Hayti is worth telling, apart from its bearing upon questions connected with the emancipation of slaves. It is a striking record of the degradation of fine races and the elevation of inferior ones, and shows with what ease Nature can transfer her good points from her gifted children and unexpectedly endow with them her neglected ones, — thus affording us a hint of something that is more permanent and irreversible than ethnological distinctions, by repeating within our own time her humane way with her old barbarians whose hair was long. From them sprang the races which never could have dominated by cunning and force alone, and which have to lay down their dominion when they have exhausted everything but force and cunning. It is a story of the desolation in which the avarice and wrath of man must always travel: colonial prosperity was nothing but a howling war-path blazed directly across stately and beautiful human nature. It shows the blood which the fine hands of luxury never could wash off; the terrible secret at last betrayed itself! In telling this story, the horrors of San Domingo are accounted for, and whatever was exceptional in the circumstances is at the same time marked, to prevent them from being applied without discrimination to the present condition of America. But the story must be told from the beginning, for its own sake; otherwise it will be a bad story, without a moral. If the main features of it are carefully preserved, it will make its own application.
That, however, is fatal to any attempt to infect minds with the Haytian bugbear, now that political discussion threatens to ravage the country which our arms are saving. It has been used before, when it was necessary to save the Union and to render anti-slavery sentiment odious. The weak and designing, and all who wait for the war to achieve a constitutional recurrence of our national malady, will use it again to defeat the great act of justice and the people’s great necessity.
Slavery is a continual conspiracy. Its life depends upon intrigue, aggression, adroit combinations with other forms of human selfishness. The people at the North who at this moment hate to hear the word Emancipation mentioned, and who insist that the war shall merely restore things to their original position, are the people who always hated the phrase “Anti-Slavery,” who will be ready to form a fresh coalition with Slavery for the sake of recovering or creating political advantages, and whom the South will know how to use again, by reviving ancient prejudices, and making its very wounds a cause for sympathy. Slavery will be the nucleus of political combinations so long as it can preserve its constitutional and commercial advantages, — while it can sell its cotton and recover its fugitives. Is the precious blood already spilled in this war to become, as it congeals, nothing but cement to fugitive-slave bills, and the basis of three-fifths, and the internal slave-trade? For this we spend three millions a day, and lives whose value cannot be expressed in dollars, — for this anguish will sit for years at thousands of desolate hearths, and be the only legacy of fatherless children. For what glory will they inherit whose fathers fell to save still a chance or two for Slavery? It is for this we are willing to incur the moral and financial hazards of a great struggle, — to furnish an Anti-Republican party of reconstructionists with a bridge for Slavery to reach a Northern platform, to frown at us again from the chair of State. The Federal picket who perchance fell last night upon some obscure outpost of our great line of Freedom has gone up to Heaven protesting against such cruel expectations, wherever they exist; and they exist wherever apathy exists, and old hatred lingers, and wherever minds are cowed and demoralized by the difficulties of this question. In his body is a bullet run by Slavery, and sent by its unerring purpose; his comrades will raise over him a little hillock upon which Slavery will creep to look out for future chances, — ruthlessly scanning the political horizon from the graves of our unnamed heroes. This, and eight dollars a month, will his wife inherit; and if she ever sees his grave, she will see a redoubt which the breast of her husband raises for some future defence of Slavery. The People, who are waging this war, and who are actually getting at the foe through the bristling ranks of politicians and contractors, must have such a moral opinion upon this question as to defeat these dreadful possibilities. Let us be patient, because we see some difficulties; but let us give up the war itself sooner than our resolution, that, either by this war, or after it, Slavery shall be stripped of its insignia, and turned out to cold and irretrievable disgrace, weaponless, fangless, and with no object in the world worthy of its cunning. We can be patient, but we must also be instant and unanimous in insisting that the whole of Slavery shall pay the whole of Freedom's bill. Then the dear names whose sound summons imperatively our tears shall be proudly handed in by us to History, as we bid her go with us from grave to grave to see how the faith of a people watched them against the great American Body-Snatcher, and kept them inviolate to be her memorials. We feel our hearts reinforced by the precious blood which trickled from Ball’s Bluff into the Potomac, and was carried thence into the great sea of our conscience, tumultuous with pride, anger, and resolve. The drops feed the country's future, wherever they are caught first by our free convictions ere they sink into the beloved soil. Let us be instant, be incisive with our resolution, that peace may not be the mother of another war, and our own victory rout ourselves.
Blow, North-wind, blow! Keep that bearded field of bayonets levelled southward! Rustle, robes of Liberty, who art walking terribly over the land, with sombre countenance, and garments rolled in blood! See, she advances with one hand armed with Justice, while the other points to that exquisite symmetry half revealed, as if beckoning thitherward her children back again to the pure founts of life! “Be not afraid,” she cries, “of the noise of my garments and their blood-stains; for this is the blood of a new covenant of Freedom, shed to redeem and perpetuate a chosen land.”
The Place—The Climate—Natives—Settlers.
This old haunted house of Hayti had many occupants, who left as heirlooms generation upon generation of hateful memories. Their dreams, their deeds, their terrific tempers, lurked for the newcomers, and harried them forth or made them kin. It is a cumulative story of dire and fateful proceedings, like the story of the family of Pelops. It must be told with deliberation. So the place, the climate, the aborigines, the early atrocities, the importation of new races and characteristics, command consideration as inevitable elements of the narrative.
This spot of the New World was the first to ache beneath the white man’s greedy and superstitious tread. A tenacious Gothic race, after its long blockade by Moors in the northern mountains of the Iberian Peninsula, had lately succeeded in recovering the last stronghold of Arab power and learning. Fresh from the atrocities of that contest, its natural bigotry deepened by its own struggle for national existence, sombre, fanatical, cruel, and avaricious, but enterprising and indomitable, it is wafted across the ocean by Columbus, to expend its propensities unchecked against a weaker and less characteristic barbarism. What might be expected, when a few noble men succeed in transporting the worst features of their own country, in such numbers of intractable people, the raking of seaports, with little on board in the way of religion, save the traditions of the Church and the materials for exhibiting the drama of the Mass! This is the contingent which civilization detaches for the settlement of another world. It effaces a smiling barbarism by a saturnine and gloomy one, as when a great forest slides from some height over a wild gay meadow. These capable, cruel men went sailing among the Bahamas, soothed by the novelty and delight of finding land, and tried to behave at first as men do among artless children who measure everything by their own scantiness; for they compelled themselves to be very mild and condescending, till, after various mischances and rebuffs by sea and land, the temper breaks forth in rage at disappointments, and Hayti is the first place which is blasted by that frightful Spanish scowl. The change was as sudden as that from calm weather to one of her tempests. The whole subsequent history seems as if it were the revenge of Columbus’s own imagination, when the sober truth was discovered instead of Cipango and the King of India. Thus was the New World unsettled, and the horrors of San Domingo committed to the soil.
Nearly the whole of Hayti lies between the eighteenth and twentieth degrees of latitude, and the sixty-ninth and seventy-fifth of longitude. Its greatest length is three hundred and forty miles, its greatest breadth, one hundred and thirty-two. It has a surface of somewhat more than twenty-seven thousand square miles, or about eighteen million square acres. The greater part of this is mountain-land. There are three extensive plains, — La Vega in the east, Santiago in the north, and Les Plaines in the southeast. These are distinct from the Savannas.1 The island is about the size of the State of Maine. Its shape is peculiar, as it widens gradually from its southeastern end to nearly the centre of its greatest length, whence the southern coast trends rapidly to the north and west and stretches into a peninsula, like a long mandible, corresponding to which on the northern coast is another half as long, like a broken one, and between these lies a great bay with the uncultivated island of Gonaive. The eastern part of the island has also the small peninsula of Samana, lying along the bay of that name. The surface is covered by mountains which appear at first to be tossed together wildly, without system or mutual relation, but they can be described, upon closer inspection, as four ranges, with a general parallelism, extending nearly east and west, but broken in the centre by the Cibao ridge, which radiates in every direction from two or three peaks, the highest in the island. Their height is reputed to be nine thousand feet, but they have not yet been accurately measured. The mountains of La Hotte, which form the long southern tongue of land, rise to the height of seven thousand feet. They are all of calcareous formation, and abound in the caverns which are found in limestone regions. Some of these have their openings on the coast, and are supposed to extend very far inland; they receive the tide, and reject it with a bellowing noise, as the pent air struggles with it under their arched roofs. These were called by the Spaniards baxos roncadores, droning or snoring basses. The French had a name, le gouffre, the gulf, to describe these noises; but they also applied it to the subterranean rumbling, accompanied with explosions and violent vibrations of the ground, which is caused by the heavy rains soaking through the porous stone, after the dry season has heated the whole surface of the island. The steaming water makes the earth groan and shake as it forces its way through the crevices, feeling for an outlet, or thrown back upon its own increasing current. These mysterious noises filled with awe the native priests who managed the superstition of the island before the Spaniards introduced another kind: no doubt they served for omens, to incite or to deter, voices of Chthonian deities, which needed interpreting in the interest of some great cacique who would not budge upon his business without the sanction of religion. Many a buccaneer, in after-times, who quailed before no mortal thunders made by French or Spanish navies, was soundly frightened by the gigantic snoring beneath his feet into reviewing his career, and calculating the thickness of the crust between himself and his impatient retribution.
The words crête, pic, and montagne are sometimes applied to the peaks and ridges of the island, but the word morne, which is a Creole corruption of montagne, is in common use to designate all the elevated land, the extended ridges which serve as water-sheds for the torrents of the rainy season, as well as the isolated hillocks, clothed in wood, which look like huge hay-cocks, — those, for instance,which rise in the rear of Cap Haytien. The aspect of the higher hills in the interior might mislead an etymologist to derive the word morne from the French adjective which means gloomy, they are so marked by the ravages of the hurricane and earthquake, so ploughed up into decrepit features by the rains, the pitiless vertical heat, the fires, and the landslides. The soft rock cannot preserve its outlines beneath all these influences; its thin covering of soil is carried off to make the river-silt, and then it crumbles away beneath the weather. Great ruts are scored through the forests where the rock has let whole acres of trees and rubbish slip; they sometimes cover the negro-cabins and the coffee-walks below. These mountains are capricious and disordered masses of grayish stone; there are no sustained lines which sweep upward from the green plantations and cut sharply across the sky, no unchangeable walls of cool shadow, no delicate curves, as in other hills, where the symmetry itself seems to protect the material from the wear and tear of the atmosphere. The mornes are decaying hills; they look as if they emerged first from the ocean and were the oldest parts of the earth, not merely weather-beaten, but profligately used up with a too tropical career, which deprives their age of all grandeur: they bewilder and depress.
There are delightful valleys below these sullen hills. In the dry season their torrents are stony bridle-paths, with only two or three inches of water, along which the traveller can pass from the flourishing plantations, where all the forms of a torrid vegetation are displayed, into this upper region of decay. The transition is sudden and unpleasant. Everything below is stately, exuberant: the sugar-cane, the cotton-tree, the coffee-shrub are suggestive of luxury; the orange and lemon shine through the glossy leaves; the palm-tree, the elegant papayo, the dark green candle-wood, the feathery bamboo, the fig, the banana, the mahogany, the enormous Bombax ceiba, the sablier,2 display their various shapes; shrubs and bushes, such as the green and red pimento, the vanilla, the pomegranate, the citron, the sweet-smelling acacia, and the red jasmine, contest the claim to delight one’s senses; and various flowers cover the meadows and cluster along the shallow water-courses. No venomous reptiles lurk in these fragrant places: the seed-tick, mosquito, and a spiteful little fly are the greatest annoyances. The horned lizard, which the Indians esteemed so delicate, and the ferocious crocodile, or caiman, haunt the secluded sands and large streams, and the lagoons which form in marshy places.
The trees and thickets do not glitter with fruits alone: gay birds fill them with shifting colors, and a confusion of odd, plaintive, or excited notes. Several kinds of pigeons, paroquets, thrushes, bright violet and scarlet tanagras go foraging among the bananas, the rice, and the millet. The ponds of the savannas are frequented by six or eight varieties of wild ducks, and the wild goose; woodcock and plover abound in the marshy neighborhoods; and the white crane, the swan, different kinds of herons, and an ibis are found near the sea. On the shores stand pelicans and cormorants absorbed in fishing enterprises, and the flamingo,3 whose note of alarm sounds like a trumpet.
Charming valleys open to sight from the coast, where the limestone bluffs let in the bays. The eye follows the rivulets as they wind through green, sequestered places, till the hills bar the view, but do not prevent the fancy from exploring farther, and losing itself in a surmise of glens filled with rare vegetation and kept quiet by the inclosing shadows. From the sea this picture is especially refreshing, with the heat left out which is reflected with great power from the sandy rocks and every denuded surface. Below all appears beautiful, luxurious, and new; but above the signs of decrepitude appear, and the broad wastes stretch where little grows except the bayaonde, (Mimosa urens,) with its long murderous spines and ugly pods. Sudden contrasts and absence of delicate gradations mark the whole face of the island. All is extreme; and the mind grows disquieted amid these isolated effects.
The climate also corresponds to this region of luxury and desolation. From November to April everything is parched with heat; some of the trees lose their leaves, the rest become brown, and all growth ceases. From April to November everything is wet; vegetation revives without a spring, and the slender streams suddenly become furious rivers, which often sweep away the improvements of man, and change the face of the country in a single night. During the dry season the inhabitants depend upon the sea-breeze which blows in over the heated land to replace the rarefied air. It blows from six in the morning to three in the afternoon, in the eastern part of the Island; in other parts, from nine to three. But frequently a furious northeast wind interrupts this refreshing arrangement: the air becomes hard and cold; thick, wintry-looking clouds sweep over the hills; the inhabitants shut themselves up in their houses to escape the rheumatism, which is a prevalent infliction; a March weather which was apparently destined for New England seems to have got entangled and lost among these fervid hills. The languid Creole life is overtaken by universal discomfort.
Great fires break out over the elevated plateaus and hill-sides, during the dry season. They sweep with incredible rapidity across great tracts, levelling everything in the way. The mountains seem tipped with volcanic flames. The angry glow spreads over the night, and its smoke mixes with the parched air by day. These fires commence by some carelessness, though they are sometimes attributed to the action of the sun’s rays, concentrated by the gray cliffs upon great masses of vegetation dried to tinder.
In the rainy season the earthquakes occur; and not a year passes without the experience of several shocks in different parts of the island. The northern part is exempt from them.4 Those which take place in the west, around the shores of the great bay upon which Port-au-Prince is situated, are severe, and sometimes very disastrous. At mid-day the wind falls instantly, there is a dead calm on land and sea, the heat is consequently more intense, and the atmosphere suffocating; then the vibrations occur, after which the wind begins to blow again. Sometimes, at an interval often or twelve hours, there is a supplementary shock, less violent than the first one. It is said that the coast-caves bellow just before an earthquake. Their noise probably seems more emphatic in the sudden calm which is the real announcement of the earth's shudder.
Port-au-Prince was entirely destroyed by an earthquake in June, 1770. The inhabitants built the new town upon the edge of the gulf which had just swallowed up their old one, convinced that the same disaster would not recur in the same spot. But that region is peculiarly sensitive: the subterranean connections with the Mexican and South-American volcanic districts chronicle disturbances whose centre is remote.
The rains are short and frequent showers, very heavy, and almost always accompanied by violent electric phenomena. By June they are at their height. Then the land-slides take place, which often affect seriously the cultivation, not only by their direct ravages, but by the changes which they make in the water-courses: large tracts of good soil are turned into swamp-land, the rivers are forced to bend out of their direction and to desert places which depended upon them for irrigation. These damages were seldom repaired, for the indolent planter would not undertake the work of draining and of permanently securing the tillable surface of his land. It is good luck, if a land-slide, instead of creating a new morass, fills up an old one.
In some years no less than three hurricanes have occurred in the West Indies. Father Du Tertre, a French missionary in St. Christophe, describes one which he witnessed in 1642, — a year memorable for three. During the second of these, more than twenty vessels, laden with colonial produce and just ready to sail for Europe, were wrecked in the harbor, including the ship of De Ruyter, the Dutch Admiral. The island was swept of houses, trees, cattle, and birds; the manioc and tobacco plants were destroyed, and only one cotton shrub survived. The shores were covered with dead fishes blown out of the water, and the bodies of shipwrecked men. The salt-works were flooded and spoiled, and all the provisions on the island were so damaged that the inhabitants were put on rations of biscuit till the arrival of vessels from France.
Another storm like this desolated Martinique in 1657; and the annals of most of the islands abound in similar narratives. They are less severe in Hayti, and seldom sweep violently over Cuba. The word hurricane is a European adaptation of a Carib word, borrowed by the Haytian Indians from the natives of the Antilles.
The inhabitants of Hayti do not agree in the statements which they make concerning their climate. The commencement of the two seasons, the range of the thermometer, the duration of the different winds, the liability to earthquakes, are subjects upon which the North is at variance with the East, and the West with both. The most trustworthy notices of these phenomena are held to represent that portion of the island which was formerly occupied by the French. Still the variations cannot be important over so small an area: the petty and fitful changes of every day are more noticeable, but the climate has its average within which these local caprices occur.
In another climate the mountains would present a gradation of vegetable growth, from the tropical through the temperate to the northern zone. And this can be traced in some quarters, where the palm and mahogany are succeeded by resinous trees, of which there are several varieties, till the bare summits show only lichens and stunted shrubs. But the seasons do not harmonize with this graduated rise of the mountain-chains, and the temperate forms are interrupted, or confined to a few localities. Yet the people who live upon the mornes, those for instance which are drained by Trois-Rivières in the northwestern part of the island, are healthier and plumper, and the Creoles have a fresher look, than the inhabitants of the plains. In the still more elevated regions the cold is frequently so great that people do not like to live there. Newly imported negroes frequently perished, if they were carried up into the southern range of mountains; and the dependent Creole was forced to abandon places where the slave could not go.
It would be singular, if a place of such marked natural features, and with such phenomena of climate, should have no perceptible effects upon the Eastern races of all kinds which have been transported there. We shall expect that the Creole will betray a certain harmony with his petulant and capricious skies, and imitate the grace and exuberance of the tropical forms amid which he lives, the languor of the air that broods over them, its flattering calms and fierce transitions; he will mature early and wilt at maturity with passions that despise moderation and impulses that are incapable of continuity. In Hayti the day itself rushes precipitately into the sky, and is gone as suddenly: there is no calm broadening of dawn, and no lingering hours of twilight. The light itself is a passion which fiercely revels among the fruits and flowers that exhale for it ardently; it gluts, and then suddenly spurns them for new conquests. Nothing can live and flourish here which has not the innate temperament of the place.
One would not expect to find great wealth in these gray-looking mountains of simple and uniform structure; yet they abound in stones and metals. Besides the different kinds of marble, which it is not strange to find, diamonds also, jasper, agates, onyx, topaz, and other stones, a kind of jade and of malachite, are found in a great many places. Copper exists in considerable quantities in the neighborhood of Dondou and Jacmel, and in the Cibao; silver is found near San Domingo, and in various places in the Cibao, together with cinnabar, cobalt, bismuth, zinc, antimony, and lead in the Cibao, near Dondon and Azua, blue cobalt that serves for painting on porcelain, the gray, black specular nickel, etc.; native iron near the Bay of Samana, in the Mornes-du-Cap, and at Haut- and Bas-Moustique; other forms of that metal abound in numerous places, crystallized, spathic, micaceous, etc. Nitre can be procured in the Cibao, that great storehouse which has specimens of almost every metal, salt, and mineral; borax at Jacmel and Dondon, native alum at Dondon, and aluminous earth near Port-au-Prince; vitriol, of various forms, in a dozen places; naphtha, petroleum, and asphaltum at Banique, and sulphur in different shapes at Marmalade, La Soufrière, etc. The catalogue of this wealth would be tedious to draw up.
The reports concerning gold do not agree. It is maintained that there are mines and washings which have been neglected, or improperly worked, and that a vigorous exploration would reopen this source of wealth; but it is also said as confidently that the Spaniards took off all the gold, and were reduced to working mines of copper, before the middle of the sixteenth century. It is certain, however, that great quantities of gold were taken from the island by the Spaniards, while they had the natives to perform the labor. The principal sources from which gold can be procured are in the part of the island formerly occupied by the Spaniards; and when their power decayed, all important labors came to an end. But Oviedo records several lumps of gold of considerable size: one was Bobadilla’s lump, found, during his government, at Bonne Aventure, which was worth thirty-six hundred castellanos, or $19,153. This was lost at sea on the way to Spain. The finding of pieces in the River Yaqui weighing nine ounces was occasionally recorded, and pieces of pure gold, without the least mixture, more than three inches in circumference, in the River Verte: they were undoubtedly found much oftener than recorded. Good authorities, writing at the close of the last century, declare that the mines of Cibao alone furnished more gold than all Europe had in circulation at that time. All the larger streams, and the basins near their sources, furnished gold.
Bobadilla’s lump was found by a slave of Francisco de Garay, afterwards Governor of Jamaica. He and the famous Diaz worked a mine together in San Domingo. His slave was poking about with a pike in the shallows of the River Hayna, when the head struck the metal. Garay was so rejoiced that he sacrificed a pig, which was served upon this extemporaneous platter, and he boasted that there was no such dish in Europe. Twenty other ships with gold on board went down in the storm which swallowed up Garay’s waif.5
Many French writers have maintained that the Indians procured their golden ornaments from Yucatan and other points of the main-land, by way of traffic. But they had nothing to barter, and their ornaments were numerous. Besides, the Spaniards found in various places near the rivers the holes and slight diggings whence the gold had been procured. It is said that the Haytian natives only washed for gold, but the Caribs had frequented the island long previously, and they without doubt carried gold away from it. The Spaniards were deceived by the Haytians, who did not wish to dig gold under the lash to glitter on the velvet of hidalgos.
It is difficult, as Humboldt says, to distinguish, in the calculations by the Spanish writers of the amount of gold sent to Spain, “between that obtained by washings and that which had been accumulated for ages in the hands of the natives, who were pillaged at will.” He inclines, however, to the opinion, that a scientific system of mining would renew the supply of gold, which may not be represented by the scanty washings that have been occasionally tried in Hayti and Cuba. In Hayti, “as well as at Brazil, it would be more profitable to attempt subterraneous workings, on veins, in primitive and intermediary soils, than to renew the gold-washings which were abandoned in the ages of barbarism, rapine, and carnage.”
But the chief interest which Spain took in Hayti was derived from the collars and bracelets which shone dully against the skins of the caciques and native women in the streets of Seville. It did not require an exhausted treasury, and the clamor of a Neapolitan war for sinews, to stimulate the appetite of a nation whose sensibility for gold was as great as its superstition. Columbus triumphed over the imaginations of men through their avarice; the procession of his dusky captives to the feet of Isabella was as if the Earth-Spirit, holding a masque to tempt Catholic majesties to the ruin of the mine, sent his familiars, “with the earth-tint yet so freshly embrowned,” to flatter with heroncrests, the plumes of parrots, and the yellow ore. Behind that naked pomp the well-doubleted nobles of Castile and Aragon trooped gayly with priests and crosses, the pyx and the pax, and all the symbols of a holy Passion, to crime and death.
Columbus discovered Guanahani, which he named San Salvador, on the morning of the 12th of October, 1492. After cruising among these Lucayan Islands, or Bahamas, for some time, he reached Cuba on the 28th of the same month. His Lucayan interpreters were understood by the natives of Cuba, notwithstanding they spoke a different dialect. They were also understood at Hayti, which was reached on the 6th of December; but here the Cuban interpreter was found to be more useful. Each island appeared to have a dialect of a language whose origin has been variously attributed to Florida, to Central America, and to the Caribbee Islands. But the Indians of Central America could not understand the Cubans and Haytians, and they in turn spoke a different language from the Caribs, some of whose words they had borrowed. A favorite theory is, that the Ygneris were ancient inhabitants of the West Indian Islands, distinct from the Caribs, who made their way from Florida by the Lucayan Islands, leaving Hayti to the right, and reaching South America by that fringe of islands that stretches from Porto Rico to Trinidad, through which the great current is strained into the Caribbean Sea. Humboldt says, in noticing the difference between the language of the Carib men and their women, that perhaps the women descended from the female captives made in this movement, the men being as usual slain. But the Haytians also claimed to have come from Florida. Perhaps, then, an emigration from Florida, which may be called, for want of any historical data, that of the Ygneris, covered all the West Indian Islands at a very early period, to be overlapped, in part, by a succeeding emigration of Caribs who were pressed out of Florida by the Appalachians.
The Caribs are supposed to have derived the compliment of their name, which means “valiant men,” from the Appalachians, who had great trouble in dislodging them. They were very different from the Haytians: they cut their hair very short in front, leaving a tuft upon the crown, bandaged the legs of their children to make a calf that Mr. Thackeray’s Jeames would have envied, pulled out their beard hair by hair, and then polished the chin with rough leaves. A grand toilet included a coat of scarlet paint, which protected them from the burning effect of the sun and from the bites of insects. It also saved their skins from the scurf and chapping which the sea-water occasioned. A Carib chief, in a full suit of scarlet, excited once the anger of Madame Aubert, wife of a French governor of Dominica, because he sat upon her couch, which had a snowy dimity cover, and left there the larger portion of his pantaloons. But afterwards, upon being invited to dine at the Government-House, he determined to respect the furniture, and, seeing nothing so appropriate as his plate, he removed it to his chair before he took his seat. The Carlbs, however, had such an inveterate preference for dining au naturel, that they frequently served up natives themselves, whenever that expensive luxury could be obtained. The Spaniards brought home the word Cannibal, which was a Haytian pronunciation of Cariba (Galiba); and it gradually came into use to express the well-known idea of a mancater. The South-American Caribs preserve this vicious taste.
The Caribs had not overrun the island of Hayti, but it was never free from their incursions. That hardy and warlike race was feared by the milder Haytians, who had been compelled, especially in the southern provinces of the island, to study the arts of defence, which do not appear to have been much esteemed by them. Their arms were of the simplest description: wood pointed and hardened in the fire, arrows tipped with fish-bone or turtle-shell, and clubs of the toughest kinds of wood. The Caribs used arrows poisoned with the juice of the manchineel, or pointed with formidable shark’s-teeth, their clubs of Brazil-wood were three feet long, and their lances of hardened wood were thrown with great adroitness and to a great distance. The southern Haytians learned warlike habits from these encroaching Caribs, and were less gentle than the natives whom Columbus first met along the northern coast.
But they were all gentler, fairer, more graceful and simple than the Caribs, or the natives of the main. Their ambition found its limit when the necessaries of daily life were procured. The greatest achievement of their manual dexterity was the hollowing of a great trunk by fire to fashion a canoe.6 Their huts were neatly made of stakes and reeds, and covered with a plaited roof, beneath which the hamaca, (hammock,) coarsely knitted of cotton, swung. Every collection of huts had also one of larger dimensions, like a lodge, open at the sides, where the natives used to gather for their public business or amusement. This was called bohio, a word improperly applied to the huts, and used by the Spaniards to designate their villages. In the southern districts, the bohios, and the dwellings of the caciques, were furnished with stools wrought with considerable skill from hard wood, and sometimes ornamented. But they could not have been made by the natives, who had neither iron nor copper in use. Their golden ornaments were nothing more than pieces of the metal, rudely turned, by pounding and rubbing, into rings for the nose and ears, and necklace-plates. Whatever they had, for use or ornament, which was more elaborate, came by way of trade from Yucatan and the contiguous coasts. It is difficult to conjecture what their medium of barter was, for they prepared nothing but cassava-cakes for food and the fermented juice for drink, and raised only the pimento, (red pepper,) the agi, (sweet pepper,) the yuca, whence the cassava or manioc meal was obtained, and sweet potatoes; and all these productions were common to the tribes along the coast. Tobacco may have been cultivated by them and neglected by other tribes. The Haytian word tabaco, which designated the pipe from which they sucked the smoke into their nostrils, and also the roll of leaves, — for they employed both methods, — has passed over to the weed. The pipe was a hollow tube in the shape of a Y, the mystic letter of Pythagoras: the two branches were applied to the nose, and the stem was held over the burning leaves. The weed itself was called cohiba.
At the time of the discovery, five principal caciques ruled the island, which was divided into as many provinces, with inferior caciques, who appear to have been the chiefs of settlements. We find, for instance, that Guatiguana was cacique of a large town in the province of which Guarionex was the chief cacique. The power of each cacique was supreme, but nothing like a league existed between the different provinces. When the Haytians in desperation tried the fortune of war against the Spaniards, Caonabo, the cacique of the central province in the South, like another Pontiac, rallied the natives from all quarters, and held them together long enough to fight a great battle on the Vega. But he was a Carib. His brother who succeeded him was also a Carib, and he maintained a union of several caciques till his defeat by Ojeda. Then the less warlike chiefs of the North readily submitted to the Spaniards, and the bolder caciques of the South were compelled to ask for peace.7
Thus were the natives bound together by the polity of instinct and consanguinity alone. They had no laws, but only natural customs. The cacique was an arbitrator: if his decision did not appease a litigant, the parties had an appeal to arms in his presence. Their cacique received unbounded reverence, and for him they would freely die. Polygamy was permitted only to him, but not always practised by him. The Spaniards were so surprised at the readiness with which the natives gave them everything, both food and ornaments, that they declared them to be defective in the sense of property, and to have everything in common. This was a mistake: each man had his little possessions; stealing was punished with death, as the crime that did the greatest violence to the natural order; and crimes against domestic purity were severely punished, till the people became demoralized by their conquerors, who mistook the childish freedom of the women for lustful invitation, and imputed to the native disposition something which belonged to their own.8
They were timid, credulous, extravagantly friendly, affected easily to tears, not cunning enough for their own good, and little capable of concealing or of planning anything. Yet when their eyes were opened, and they understood at last that the strangers had not descended from the skies, their indignation and loathing were well sustained, with a frankness, indeed, which only embittered their condition. They suffered, but could not dissimulate.
But they were at once volatile and of a languid frame, which could not long repel the enticements of wine and passionate excess, liable to petty rages, incapable of concentration, with no power of remembering anything but a benefit, lavish fawners, but not hearty haters, easily persuaded, and easily repenting of everything but hospitality. No abuse of that put the drop of savage blood in motion, till the Spaniards began to regard their women with indiscriminate desire. That was the first outrage for which a Spanish life had to atone. But neither treachery nor cruelty lurked beneath their flowery ways; it was sullen despair which broke their gayety, brief spasms of wrath followed by melancholy. But they could not keep their ideas well enough in hand to lay a plot.
These graceful children, with their curious prognostics of a Creole temper, were not devoid of religion. The Creator has set none of His children in the sun, to work or play, without keeping this hold upon them. They defer to this restraint, with motions more or less instinctive, but can never, in their wildest gambols, break entirely loose. It is not easy to separate the real beliefs of the Haytians from the conjectures of Catholic and Jewish observers. The former were interested to discover analogies which would make it appear that they had been foreordained to conversion; the latter were infested with the notion that they were descendants of one of the Lost Tribes. What, for instance, can be made of the assertion that the Haytian Supreme had a mother? The natives were gentle enough to love such a conception, and to be pleased with the Catholic presentation of it, but this is the only proof we have that they originated it. It would be pleasant to believe that they referred, in some dim way, their sense of the womanly quality back to the great Source of Life.
But the Hebrew coincidences were as eagerly sought. If a cacique remarked to Columbus that he thought good men would be transported to a place of delights, and bad men to a foul and dismal place where darkness reigned, it was deemed to be a reminiscence of Sheol and a later Jewish idea of Paradise. If Anacaona, the charming wife of Caonabo, came forth to meet the Adelantado, at the head of thirty maidens of her household, dancing and singing their native songs, and waving branches of the palm-tree, a variety of Old and New Testament pictures occurred to the mind. Their hospitality and pertinacious sheltering of fugitives was another Oriental trait. But, above all, the horrible oppression to which the Spaniards subjected them, the indignities and sufferings heaped upon them, were considered to fulfil the divine curse which rested upon Jews! What a choice morsel of theology is this!
Cabrera found at Cuba, says Humboldt, a variation of the story respecting the first inebriation of Noah. A wild grape grew in all the West India Islands. The natives of Cuba preserved also the tradition of a great terrestrial disturbance, in which water played the chief part. This was probably held by the Haytians also, for we find it again among the Caribs beyond, especially in South America. But Cabrera, mounting with the waters of the Deluge, was not content till he had found in Cuba the ark, the raven and dove, the uncovering of Noah, and his curse; in fact, the Indians were descended from this unfortunate son whom Noah's malediction reduced to nudity, but the Spaniards, descending from another son, inherited his clothes. “Why do you call me a dog?” said an old Indian of seventy years to Cabrera, who had been insulting him. “Did we not both come out of the same large ship that saved us from the waters?”
It is certain that the Haytians believed in continued existence after death, and pointed, as all men do, to the sky, when talking of that subject. They held, indefinitely, that there was some overruling Spirit; but they believed also in malignant influences which it was advisable to propitiate. Their worship was connected with the caverns of the island, those mysterious formations beneath which the strange sounds were heard. The walls of these caverns were covered with pictured distortions, half man, half animal, which yielded to the priests, or butios, interpretations according to the light and shadow. Some of these vaults are lighted through a natural fissure in the roof, and the worship or augury commenced at the moment the sun struck through it. There were movable idols, called Zemés, which represented inferior deities. The Catholic writers call them messengers and mediators, having their own saints in mind. But their forms were sometimes merely animal, a toad, a tortoise with a sun upon its back, and upon each side a star with the moon in her first change; another was a monstrous figure in basalt, representing a head surmounting a female bosom, diminishing to a ball; another was a human figure made from a gypseous stalactite.9
The cacique took precedence of the butios, in theory, at least, and designated the days for public worship. He led the procession of men and women festively adorned, beating on a drum, to the cavern where the priests awaited them. Presents were offered, and old dances and songs repeated in honor of the Zemés, and of departed caciques. Then the priests broke cakes and distributed the pieces to the heads of families, who carefully kept them till the next festival as amulets and preservatives against disease.
They had an original way of expressing their vague instinct that the Supreme Being loves truth and cleanliness in the inward parts. Each person presented himself, with singing, before the chief idol, and there thrust a stick into his throat till the gorge rose, in order, as they said, to appear before the Divinity with a heart clean and upon the lips.
The priests were diviners and doctors. If their predictions failed, they did not want the usual cunning of mediums and spiritual quacks of all ages, who are never known to be caught. But it became a more serious affair for them in the case of a death. Friends consulted the soul at the moment of its leaving the body, and if it could give no sign, or if no omen of fair play appeared from any quarter, the butio was held to be the author of the death, and, if he was not a very popular individual, he incurred the vengeance of the family. If at such a time an animal was seen creeping near, the worst suspicions were confirmed
The natives had a legend that the sun and moon issued from one of these caverns, which Mr. Irving says is the Voûte-à-Minguet, about eight leagues from Cap Haytien.
They were very nervous, and did not like to go about after dark. Many people of all races have this vague disquiet as soon as the sun goes down. It is the absence of light which accounts for all the tremors and tales of superstition. How these sunflowers of Hayti must have shuddered and shrunk together at the touch of darkness! But they had a graceful custom of carrying the cocujos10 in a perforated calabash, and keeping them in their huts, when the sudden twilight fell.
Their festivals and public gatherings were more refined than those of the Caribs, who held but one meeting, called a Vin, for consultation upon war-matters and a debauch upon cassava-beer.11 The Haytians loved music, and possessed one or two simple instruments; their maguey was like a timbrel, made of the shells of certain fishes. Their speech, with its Italian terminations, flowed easily into singing, and they extemporized, as the negroes do, the slightest incidents in rhythmical language. They possessed national ballads, called areytos, and held in high repute the happy composers of fresh ones. Altogether their life was full of innocence and grace.
Such were the aborigines of Hayti, the “Mountain-land.” But as our narrative does not propose a minute and consecutive survey, it will detain us too long from certain essential points which deserve to be made clear, if we follow step by step the dealings of the Spaniards with these natives. All this can be found delightfully told by Mr. Irving in his “Life of Columbus,” in such a way as to render an attempt at repeating it hazardous and useless. Our task is different, — to make prominent, first, the character of the natives, which we have just striven to do, and next, the style of treatment in converting and in enslaving them, which gave its first chapter of horrors to San Domingo, and laid violent hands on the whole sequence of her history.
What influence could the noble elements of the Spanish character have, when theology, avarice, and lust controlled the conquest? Pure minds and magnanimous intentions went in the same ships with adventurers, diseased soldiers, cold and superstitious men of business, and shaven monks with their villainous low brows and thin Inquisitorial smile. The average character speedily obtained ascendency, because the best men were to some extent partakers of it. Columbus was eager to make his great discovery pay well, to preserve the means of continued exploration. In one hand he lifted high the banner of possession with its promise of a cross, which direful irony fulfilled; with the other he kept feeding the ravenous nation with gold, to preserve its sympathy and admiration, that the supply of men and vessels should not fail. Las Casas himself, a just and noble man, the first advocate of the natural rights of men in the New World, soon found that the situation was too strong and cruel; his wishes and struggles went under before the flood of evil passions which swept the island. He maintained his fight against Indian slavery by not discountenancing negro slavery. And his fight was unavailing, because mercy had no legitimate place upon the new soil. The logic of events was with the evil majority, which was obliged at last to maintain its atrocious consistency in self-defence. He might as well have preached the benefits of Lenten diet to shipwrecked men upon a raft, insane with thirst and the taste of comrade’s flesh. It was a Devil’s problem, which is the kind that cannot hold back from its devilish conclusion.
But bad passions were not alone to blame. The Spanish notion of conversion desolated like avarice. The religious bodies which from time to time controlled the affairs of the island differed in their humanity and general policy: the Dominicans were friends of the Indian and haters of the turbulent oppressor; the Franciscans were the instruments of the bad men whose only ambition was to wring pleasure and fortune out of the Indian’s heart; the monks of St. Jerome undertook in vain a neutral and reconciling policy. But they all agreed that the Indians must be baptized, catechized, and more or less chastised into the spirit of the gospel and conformity to Rome. The conquistadores drove with a whip, the missionaries with a dogma. The spirit of the nation and of the age sternly asked for theological conformity: it was seriously understood that a man should believe or burn. For one of those two things he was preordained. Everybody was convinced that a drop of water on the dusky forehead of these natives quenched the flames of hell. The methods used to get that holy drop applied lighted flames, to escape from which anybody would take his chance of the remoter kind.
The cacique Hatuey understood the Spaniards. He was the first man in the New World who saw by instinct what an after-age perceived by philosophical reflection. He should have been the historian of the Conquest. The Spaniards had destroyed his people, and forced him to fly to Cuba for safety. There he also undertook a conversion of the natives. “Do you expect to defend yourselves against this people,” he said, “while you do not worship the same God? This God I know; he is more powerful than ours, and I reveal him to you.” With this he shows them a little piece of gold. “Here he is; let us celebrate a festival to honor him, that his favor may be extended to us.” The natives hold a solemn smoking around the Spanish God, which is followed by singing and dancing, as to one of their own Zemes. Having adroitly concentrated their attention in this way upon the article of gold, Hatuey the next morning reassembles the people and finishes his missionary labors. “My mind is not at ease. There can be no safety for us while the God of the Spaniard is in our midst. They seek him everywhere. Their devotion is so great that they settle in a place only for the convenience of worship. It is useless to attempt to hide him from their eyes. If you should swallow him, they would disembowel you in the name of religion. Even the bottom of the sea may not be too far, but there it is that we must throw him. When he can no longer be found with us, they will leave us in peace.”
Admirable counsel, if the gold in veins, or their own blood, were not also the object of search. The natives collected all their gold and threw it into the sea. A party of Spaniards landing upon the island not long after, Hatuey was taken prisoner, and condemned to be burnt alive because he refused to be converted!
Was conduct ever more affronting?
With all the ceremony settled!
With the towel ready—
and all the other apparatus for a first-class baptism, and the annexation to Rome and heaven of a tribe! When he was tied to the stake, and a priest conjured him to profess Christianity and make a sure thing of paradise, he cut him short with, —
“Are there Spaniards in this place of delights of which you speak?”
“There are indeed, but only good ones.”
“The best of them is good for nothing,” said the cacique. “I would rather not go where I might have to meet them.”
Dying, he had his preference.
It seems to be one that is innate in the savage mind. An Ojibbeway was apparently pleased with the new religion that was proffered to him, and thought of being baptized, but, dreaming that he went up to a fair prairie covered with numerous trails of white men, without the print of a single moccasin, was cured of his desire. The Frisian Radbod also expressed his disgust at the converting methods of Charles the Hammer. “He had already immersed one of his royal legs in the baptismal font, when a thought struck him. ‘Where are my dead forefathers at present?’ he said, turning suddenly upon Bishop Wolfran. ‘In hell, with all other unbelievers,’ was the imprudent answer. ‘Mighty well!’ replied Radbod, removing his leg; ‘then will I rather feast with my ancestors in the halls of Woden than dwell with your little starveling band of Christians in heaven.’” And if he, too, died a heathen, it is certain that one continued to live in Bishop Wolfran. For it is men of his narrow and brutal theology who are not yet converted to Christianity, but who get a dispensation to disgust men with that glorious name.
So it went on at Hayti. Catholic fetiches vied with the native ones for ascendency. Ecclesiastics were charged with the management of secular as well as spiritual matters, for it was the genius of Spain to govern by the priest. A very few of them understood men, and had a head for affairs; of these, some were pure, the rest were base, and readily fraternized with the soldiers and politicians in their selfish policy. A bad and cruel theology, a narrow priestly mind, became the instruments of lust and murder.
Guarionex was the chief cacique of a province which comprised the middle part of the Vega Real. His conversion was undertaken by Friar Roman, a St. Jeromite, and Joan Borognon, a Franciscan. The cacique listened attentively to their instructions, but the natives, already alienated by the excesses of the Spaniards, would neither attend mass nor be catechized, except upon compulsion. It was the policy of Guarionex to offer no resistance to the addresses of the priests. But an outrage committed upon his wife hindered the progress of religion in his province. He dashed the cross to the ground in fury, and scattered the utensils. The affrighted priests fled, leaving behind a chapel with some pictures which they had instructed the converts to regard in offering up their prayers. Guarionex buried all the pictures, and said over them, instead of a Pater, “Now you will begin to bear fruit!” Friar Roman says that a catechumen, digging his agis (sweet pepper) in that field, found two or three of them grown together in the shape of a cross. The miracle and the outrage were reported at once, and the six natives who had buried the pictures at the command of Guarionex were burnt alive! This was the first auto-da-fé on Haytian soil.
The preaching and the lust went on. But the preaching sometimes addressed the sinner also. Montesino, a Dominican preacher, attacked the cruelty of the colonists from the pulpit of San Domingo. He was accused of treason; that is to say, the king was held to represent the policy which enslaved and destroyed the Indian. The authorities threatened to expel the Dominicans from the island, if the preacher did not apologize and withdraw his charges. Montesino promised soon to preach in another style. Having filled the church with his malignant audience, he bravely maintained his position with fresh facts and arguments; he showed that the system of repartimientos, or partition of the Indians among the colonists, was more disastrous than the first system, which imposed upon each cacique a tax and left him to extort it from his subjects. He urged the policy of interest ; for the Indians, unused to labor, died in droves: they dropped in the fields beneath the whip; they escaped by whole families to the mountains, and there perished with hunger; they threw themselves into the water, and killed each other in the forests; families committed suicide in concert; — there would soon be no laborers, and the Spaniard could rob and murder, but would not toil. Brave preacher, worthy mouth-piece of the humane Las Casas, what could he effect against the terrible exigency of the situation? For here was a colony, into which all the prisons of Spain had just been emptied to repair a failing emigration, — men bred in crime coalescing with men whose awakened passions made them candidates for prison, — the whole community, with the exception of the preacher and his scattered sympathizers, animated by one desire, to get the gold, to exhaust the soil, to glut voluptuous immunity, to fill the veins with a fiery climate, and to hurry back with wealth enough to feed it more safely in the privacies of Madrid and Seville. What were preaching and benevolent intention, where shaven superstition was inculcating the cross by its weight alone, and bearded ferocity desolated with the sword what the cross could spare? The discussion which Montesino raised went home to Spain; but when a board of commissioners, charged to investigate the subject, advised that all Indians granted to Spanish courtiers, and to all other persons who did not reside upon the island, should be set at liberty, the colonists saw the entering wedge of emancipation. The discontent was so great, and the alternative of slavery or ruin was so passionately offered to the Government at home, that the system of repartimientos remained untouched; for the Government felt that it must choose between the abandonment of the island and the destruction of those who alone, if judiciously protected, could make it profitable to retain it.
Protection and amelioration, then, became the cry. In consequence of the great increase of cattle in the island, it was considered no more than just that the Indians should no longer be used as beasts of burden. They were also to have one day in the seven, besides the Church festivals, for their own use; and intendants were appointed who were to have a general supervision of their affairs, and to protect them from barbarous punishments. These regulations were a weir of reeds thrown across a turbid and tumultuous Amazon.
Las Casas was an eye-witness of the cruelties which he exposed in his memoirs to the Government, those uncompromising indictments of his own nation and of the spirit of the age. He had seen the natives slaughtered like sheep in a pen, and the butchers laid bets with each other upon their dexterity in cleaving them asunder at a stroke. Children, torn from the bosoms of their mothers, were brained against the stones, or thrown into the water with mocking cries, — “That will refresh you!” A favorite mode of immolation, which had the merit of exciting theological associations, was to bind thirteen of the natives to as many stakes, one for each apostle and one for the Saviour, and then to make a burnt-offering of them. Others were smeared with pitch and lighted. Sometimes a fugitive who had been recaptured was sent into the forest with his severed hand, — “Go, carry this letter to the others who have escaped, with our compliments.”
“I have seen,” says Las Casas, “five chiefs and several other Indians roasting together upon hurdles, and the Spanish captain was enraged because their cries disturbed his siesta. He ordered them to be strangled, that he might hear no more of it. But the superintendent, whom I know, as well as his family, which is from Seville, more cruel than the officer, refused to end their torture.” He would not be cheated of his after-dinner luxury, so he gagged them with sticks, and replenished the fires.
Columbus first made use of dogs against the Indians, but merely to intimidate. They were swift dogs of chase, impetuous and dangerous, but did not yet deserve to be called blood-hounds. The Spaniards, however, by frequently using them in the pursuit of escaping natives, without thinking it worth while to restrain their motions, gradually educated them to a taste for human blood. From the breed, thus modified, the West-Indian blood-hound descended, possibly not without admixture with other savage dogs of French and English breeds which were brought to the island by their scarcely less savage owners. Many of the dogs which the Spaniards carried to South America roamed at large and degenerated into beasts of prey. Soldiers at one time were detailed to hunt them, and were then nicknamed Mataperros, or dog-slayers.
But if the dogs fed upon the Indian’s body, the monk was ever vigilant to save his soul. A woman was holding her child of twelve months, says Las Casas, when she perceived the approach of the hounds in full cry after a party of natives. Feeling that she could not escape, she instantly tied her babe to her leg and then suspended herself from a beam. The dogs came up at the moment that a monk was baptizing the child, thus luckily cutting off its purgatory just behind the jaws that devoured it.
Spaniards were known to feed their dogs, when short of meat, by chopping off a native’s arm and throwing it to them; and a few fed their dogs exclusively upon native-meat. We have the authority of Las Casas for the fact, which he took care to have well attested from various sources, that a Spaniard would borrow a quarter of native from a friend for his hounds, promising to return it at a favorable opportunity. Somebody asked one of these generous livers how his housekeeping flourished. “Well enough,” was the reply; “I have killed twenty of these rascally Indians, and now, thank God, my dogs have something to eat.”
The Spaniards paid their gambling debts in natives. If a governor lost heavily at cards, he would give the winner an order upon some cacique for a corresponding amount of gold, or natives in default of the metal, knowing that the gold could no longer be procured. Sometimes the lucky gambler made the levy without applying to the cacique. The stakes were not unfrequently for three and four hundred Indians in the early days of the colonies, when natives were so plenty that one could be bought for a cheese, or an arroha of vinegar, wine, or lard. Eighty natives were swapped for a mare, and a hundred for a lame horse. When it began to be difficult to lay hands upon them, it was only necessary to send for a missionary, who would gradually collect them for purposes of instruction and worship. When the habit of attending a chapel was pretty well confirmed, the building was surrounded, the young and stout ones were seized and branded, and carried away, with the most attractive females, for further indoctrination in the Christian arts.
A device of the caciques which was practised in Nicaragua might easily have been pursued in Ilayti. But the account of Las Casas refers to the former province. When a demand was made upon one cacique to supply laborers, he would repair to another, and say, “The devil who has me in his power wants so many men and women. I have no doubt that your devil will say the same thing to yon. Let us arrange the matter. Give me the facility of procuring my quota in your tribe, and you shall take yours from my tribe.” “It is agreed; for my devil has just made a similar demand of me.” Each cacique would then swear to the Commanders, who were very nice upon the technicality so long as slaves were plenty, that the men furnished came from his own district, thus saving his life and his credit with his people. This was a great convenience; for in all savage exigencies and dire perils men must study how they can best arrange with the inevitable.
But it will be too painful to recount the various inventions for punishing these unhappy children of Nature. The dogs, perhaps, were merciful, for they killed and ate a native on the spot. Cutting off the ear and nose was an ordinary barbarity, — in its origin it was a way to save time in collecting ornaments; shutting fifty or more into a house and setting it in flames was a favorite method of extemporizing a bonfire; pricking a crowd of insurgent natives over a precipice into the sea was an exceptional act of mercy, — they would place one hand over their eyes and take the plunge. It was a common sport to match stout Indians with the hounds, and bet upon their wrestling. In the pearl-fisheries, in rowing galleys, in agriculture, in the mines, in carrying ship-timber, anchors, and pieces of ordnance, in transporting produce, the Spaniards wasted the natives as if they were wind- and water-power which Nature would supply without limit. How can this ferocity be accounted for? It consulted neither interest nor personal safety. They raged like men stung to madness by poisonous clouds of insects; the future received no consideration; plans for improving the methods of cultivating different crops, or for introducing new staples, could not be carried out. Once having tasted native blood, like their own dogs, the hunting mania possessed them, till two millions of Haytians alone had perished. The population had become so reduced as early as 1508 that they were obliged to organize great Indian chases on the main-land, and a Coolie trade sprang up in the Lucayan Islands, to keep the Haytian mines and plantations supplied with hands. Forty thousand of these Lucayans were transported, on the assurance of the Spaniards that they would be restored to the souls of their ancestry, who had gone to reside in that Mountain-land of the West. Was there a touch of grim Spanish humor in this inducement to emigrate? For certainly the Lucayans did very soon rejoin those departed souls.
Wine and the climate maddened these unbridled Europeans. Avarice is a calculating passion; but here were aimless and exhausting horrors, like those which swarm in tlie drunkard’s corrupted brain. What were vices at home became transformed into manias here. The representatives of other nations were not slow to imitate the example of the possessors of Hayti. Venezuela was ceded to a company of Germans in 1526, whose object was simply to strip the country of its treasures. Las Casas tries to believe that the Spaniards seemed like just men by the side of these new speculators; but it was not possible to destroy natives faster than was done in the countries under Spanish rule. The Germans, after all, were forced to employ Spaniards to pursue the Indians when they attempted to escape from this new system of farming into the mountains, and they profited so well by the lessons of their Catholic hunters, that, upon their departure, they hit upon new expedients for making the natives productive. The German Governor constructed a great palisaded park, into which he managed to drive all the Indians of the neighborhood, and then informed them that they could issue from it only as slaves, unless they paid a certain ransom, whose value he fixed. They were deliberately starved into adopting one or the other alternative. Those who could procure gold were let out to collect it, leaving their wives and children as pledges of their return. Many of the others preferred to die of hunger and thirst. When the ransomed natives departed with their families, the Governor had them pursued, reparked, and subjected to a repetition of this sponging process, and again a third time, so admirably did it work. This strikes Las Casas as a refinement of cruelty, which can be attributed only to the fact that these Germans were Lutheran heretics, and never assisted at the mass. “This is the way,” he says, “that they conformed to the royal intention of establishing Christianity in these countries!”
How did the Spaniards conform to it? Rude soldiers became the managers of the different working gangs into which the Indians had been divided, and it devolved upon them to superintend their spiritual welfare. Enough has been said about their brutality; but their ignorance was no less remarkable. Las Casas complains that they could not repeat the Credo, nor the Ten Commandments. Their ignorance of the former would have been bliss, if they had been practically instructed in the latter. John Colmenero was one of these common soldiers who became installed in a Commandery (Encomienda). When the missionaries visited his plantation, they found that the laborers had not the slightest notions of Christianity. They examined John upon the subject, and discovered to their horror that he did not know even how to make the sign of the cross. “What have you been teaching these poor Indians?” they asked him. “Why, that they are all going to the Devil! Won't your signin santin cruces help to teach them that?”
No doubt it would; for we know how serviceable in that way Ovando found it, when he plotted to seize the beautiful Anacaona, who governed the province of Xaragua in Hayti. This he did, and also gave the signal for a dreadful massacre of her subjects, whom he had beguiled to a military spectacle, by lifting his hand to the cross of Alcantara that was embroidered on his dress.
Colmenero had not a head for business like that other Spaniard who baptized all the inhabitants of a village and took away their idols of gold, for which he substituted copper ones, and then compelled the natives to purchase them of him at so many slaves per idol.
“Come, then, caciques and Indians, come!” This was the ordinary style of proclamation. “Abandon your false gods, adore the God of the Christians, profess their religion, believe in the gospel, receive the sacrament of baptism, recognize the King of Castile for your king and master. If you refuse, we declare war upon you to kill you, to make you slaves, to spoil you of your goods, and to cause you to suffer as long and as often as we shall judge convenient,” and for the good of your souls.
In 1542, Charles V. procured a bull from Pope Paul III. restoring the Indians to their natural freedom: this he confirmed and despatched to the island. Las Casas, the Protector of the Indians, had carried his point at last, but the Indiana were beyond protection. The miserable remnant were no longer of consequence, for the African had begun to till the soil enriched by so much native blood. Thus ends the first chapter of the Horrors of San Domingo.
Schoelcher reminds us that the traveller may read upon the tomb of Columbus at Seville: “Known worlds were not enough for him: he added a new to the old, and gave to heaven innumerable souls.”
Read PDFs of part two, part three, part four, and part five.
- Savanna was a Haytian word spelt and pronounced by Spaniards. It is a plain of grass, affording pasturage in the rainy season; but a few shrubs also grow upon it. Pampas are vast plains without vegetation except during three months of the rainy season, when they yield fine grass. The word is Peruvian; was originally applied to the plains at the mouth of the La Plata. But the plains of Guiana and tropical America, which the Spaniards called Llanos, are also pampas. The Hungarian pasture-lands, called Puszia, are savannas. A Steppe is properly a vast extent of country, slightly rolling, without woods, but not without large plants and herbs. In Russia there are sometimes thickets eight or ten feet high. The salt deserts in Russia are not called steppes, but Solniye. Pampas and deserts are found alternating with steppes. A Desert may have a sparing vegetation, and so differ from pampas: if it has any plants, they are scrubby and fibrous, with few leaves, and of a grayish color, and so it differs from steppes and savannas. But there are rocky and gravelly, sandy and salt deserts: gravelly, for instance, in Asia Minor, principally in the district known to the ancients as the κατυκεκανμένη. A Heath is a level covered with the plants to which that name has been applied. Finally, a Prairie differs from a savanna only in being under a zone where the seasons are not marked as wet and dry, but where the herbage corresponds to a variable moisture. ↩
- Hura crepitans, one of the handsomest trees in the West Indies, called sablier because its fruit makes a very convenient sandbox, when not fully ripe, by removing the seeds. It is of a horn-color, about three and a half inches wide and two high, and looks like a little striped melon. The ripe fruit, on taking out one of the twelve woody cells which compose it, will explode with a noise like a pistol, each cell giving a double report. This sometimes takes place while the fruit is hanging on the tree, and sometimes when it stands upon the table filled with sand. To prevent this, it is prettily hooped with gold, silver, or ivory. ↩
- When the English were meditating a descent upon the coast of Gonaive, a negro happened to see a prodigious number of these red-coated birds ranked on the savanna near the sea, as their habit is, in companies. He rushed into the town, shouting, “Z’Anglais, yo après veni, yo en pile dans savanne l’Hôpital!” “The English, they are after coming, they are drawn up on l’Hôpital savanna!” The générale was beaten, the posts doubled, and a strong party was sent out to reconnoitre.The pelican is a source of great amusement to the negroes. They call this bird blague à diable, because of the incredible number of fish it can stow away in its pouch. They call the cormorant grand gosier, big gullet; and they make use of the membranous pocket which is found under the lower mandible of its beak to carry their smoking tobacco, fancying that it enhances the quality and keeps it fresh. Among the queer birds is the cra-cra, or crocodile’s valet, a bold and restless bird with a harsh cry, represented in its name, which it uses to advertise the dozing crocodile of any hostile approach. It is a great annoyance to the sportsman by mixing with the wild ducks and alarming them with the same nervous cry. ↩
- Not entirely. The great earthquake of 7th of May, 1842, was very destructive at Cap-Haytien. On this occasion Port-au-Prince escaped with little injury. ↩
- Great quantities of gold were embezzled by the Spanish officials. Las Casas, in his lively arguments with the Council of State in behalf of the Indians, always insisted that his plan for controlling them would be more profitable as well as liumane. He promised large increase of treasure, and showed how the royal officers appropriated the gold which they extorted from the natives. Piedro Arias, for instance, spent six years at Castilla-de-Oro, at a cost to the Government of fifty-four thousand ducats, during which time he divided a million's worth of gold with his officers, at the expense of thousands of natives, whose lives were the flux of the metallic ore, while he paid only three thousand pesos for the king's fifth. — Llorente: (Euvres de Las Casas, Tom. II. p. 472.) ↩
- Canoa is Haytian, and is like enough to Kayak, Esquimaux, to Caïque, Turkish and to Kahn, German, to unsettle an etymologist with a theory of origin ↩
- In Mr. Irving’s Life of Columbus, the characters of the different Indian chieftains are finely drawn, and the history of their intercourse and warfare with the Spaniards admirably told. ↩
- They even accused the natives of communicating that loathsome disease which results from promiscuous intercourse, when in fact the virus was shipped at Palos, with the other elements of civilization, to give a new world to Castile and Leon! Nations appear to be particularly sensitive upon this point, and accuse each other. But the first time a disorder is observed is not the date of its origin. See the European opinion in the fifteenth century, in Roscoe's Lorenzo de’ Medici, p. 359, and note, Bohn’s edition. It has probably existed from the earliest times, wherever population was dense and habits depraved. The Romans suffered from it, but, like the Europeans of the Middle Ages, did not always attribute it to its proper source. What did Persius mean in one or two places in his Third Satire, e. g., 113- 115? And see also Celsus, Medicina, Lib. V. § 3.When the fighting-man of Europe became a mercenary, (soldier, soldner, paid-man,) he carried this tinder from country to country, and kindled the fire afresh. The Spaniards bore it to Hayti, and it stung like a snake beneath that fervid sky. ↩
- The savages of Martinique kept in their caverns idols made of cotton, in the form of a man, with shining black seeds of the soap-berry (Sapindus) for eyes, and a cotton helmet. These were the original deities of the island. It cannot now be decided whether the cotton thus worshipped was long-staple or upland; but the tendency of the savage mind to make a fetich of its chief thing appears to be universal. ↩
- A Haytian word appropriated by the Spaniards, (cocuyos): Elater noctilucus. Their light is brilliant enough to read by. ↩
- Father Du Tertre enjoys relating, that a Carib orator, wishing to make his speech more impressive, invested his scarlet splendor in a jupe which he had lately taken from an Englishwoman, tying it where persons of the same liturgical tendency tie their cambric. But though his garrulity was thereby increased, the charms of the liquor drew his audience away. ↩