Listen Siblings, I come in peace,
“Qualities of a moral order are measured by deeds.” — African Proverb (KMT)
Over 80,000 characters, over 14,000 words, over thirty pages, that’s how much I transcribed from part 2 of “Blake or the Huts of America.” It took me days. Yet as in grammar school where we had “Show and Tell,” I’m not one to only tell my race that I love them and will sacrifice for them; I show my race.
In the last post I shared Part 1 of Martin Delany’s “Blake or the Huts of America” as “very likely the greatest novel written in English.” As Part 2 is unavailable to us online, I transcribed select parts. Not every part. Not every interesting part; but select parts. I wish for every reader to purchase the book from an African bookstore or distributor. But if that’s inconvenient, read and study the following transcriptions. Some of the scenes are very revealing and many of the ideas are incomparably brilliant. This is what genius in 1859 looked like. The notes can be seen in the last post. Thank you for helping me honor our ancestor. If you can make a charitable donation or distribute some flyers, I’ll be all the more gracious. Subscribe, share, love.
Selected Passages from Part 2 of Martin Delany’s “Blake or the Huts of America”
Transcribed by Onitaset Kumat
“Lotty, what is your age? You look like a young woman, but you’re quite gray and careworn.”
“I used to know my age, but since I had so much trouble and came here, they beat me so much over the head till I can’t remember hardly anything. I can’t tell how old I am.”
“He beat her like a dog; and one evening just at dusk he came in and ordered her to leave and go over to the great house; when she refused, telling him she would not, if he killed her. He then struck her in the breast with his fist, knocking her against me, when I kept her from falling. He next gave her a kick in the side, which brought her with a scream to her knees, where for some time leaning against the bed, she was unable to speak from pain, and when she could speak she screamed whenever she drew her breath; when he ordering her with a dreadful oath to get up; and knowing what he was, as she couldn’t she put up her hands to beg him, when he jerked down that piece of iron there, and struck her across the side of the head, nearly splitting the skull, when she fell, we thought, for dead, and he walked indifferently away.”
“I wonder all the Negroes in Cuba are not free, since they have the right to purchase themselves”
“They don’t all know it; and if they did, few comparatively could raise the means. And even now among those who have the means and desire, a given fee dropped into the hands of certain parties impairs their memory wonderfully, making them forget the existence of such law or the time when to proclaim it.”
“I should think that the English, who are such friends to the Negroes, would see that the law was strictly enforced.”
“Womanlike Adelaide, you don’t understand political matters. The English have nothing to do with it; and they have no more love for Negroes than for other people. They have sympathy for the Negro because he is oppressed: but never help those, in a general sense, who don’t help themselves. IIf the Negroes rise and take off our heads, declaring their independence, the English will be the first to acknowledge it. But they’ll never come and cut off our heads, politely handing them to the Negroes. The English must see that something is done before they’ll recognize the doer. Until the Negro does something, the English will let them remain as he is; so don’t be troubled about English Negro-interference in Cuba, nor your own country.”
Page 191 – 192
Henry here, as rapidly as possible, detailed to her his plans and schemes; and the next day imparted his grand design upon Cuba. At this information she was much alarmed, and could not comprehend that an ordinary man and American slave such as he, should project such an undertaking.
“Never mind, wife, you will know better by-and-by,” was the only answer he would give, with a smile, at his wife’s searching inquiries.
“Oh, husband don’t have anything to do with it; as we are now both free and happy, let us attend to our own affairs. I think you have done enough.”
“I am not free, wife, by their acknowledgment, as you are, but have escaped; they can take me whenever they catch me.”
“I think, then, you might let them alone.”
“As God lives, I will avenge your wrongs; and not until they let us alone–cease to steal away our people from their native country and oppress us in their own-will I let them alone. They shall only live–while I live–under the most alarming apprehensions. Our whole race among them must be brought to this determination, and then, and not til then, will they fear and respect us.”
“I don’t know, husband, I may be wrong, and I expect you will say so; but I think our people had better not attempt any such thing, but be satisfied as we are among the whites, and God, in His appointed time, will do what is required.”
“My dear wife, you have much yet to learn in solving the problem of this great question of the destiniy of our race. I’ll give you one to work out at your leisure; it is this: Whatever liberty is worth to the whites, it is worth to the blacks; therefore, whatever it cost the whites to obtain it, the blacks would be willing and ready to pay, if they desire it. Work out this question in political arithmetic at your leisure, wife, and by the time you get through and fully understand the rule, then you will be ready to discuss the subject further with me.” Maggie smiled and sighed, but said no more on the subject.
“I am, cousin; and have served the hardest apprenticeship at the business, I do assure you; I have gone through all the grades, from common seaman to first mate, and always on the coast had full command, as no white men manage vessels in the African waters, that being entirely given up to the blacks.”
“I really was not aware of that before; you surprised me!” said Placido.
“That is so! Every vessel of every nation, whether trader or man-of-war, so soon as they enter African waters are manned and managed by native blacks, the whites being unable to stand the climate.”
“That, then, opens to me an entirely new field of thought.”
“And so it does. It did to me, and I’ve no doubt it does so to every man of thought, black or white.”
Were I a slave I would be free!
I would not live to live a slave;
But rise and strike for liberty,
For Freedom, or a martyr’s grave!
One look upon the bloody scourge,
Would rouse my soul to brave the fight,
And all that’s human in me urge,
To battle for my innate right!
One look upon the tyrant’s chains,
Would draw my sabre from its sheath,
And drive the hot blood through my veins,
To rush for liberty or death!
One look upon my tortured wife,
Shrieking beneath the driver’s blows,
Would nerve me on to desp’rate strife,
Nor would I spare her dastard foes!
Arm’d with the vindicating brand,
For once the tyrant’s heat should feel;
No milk-sop plea should stay my hand,
The slave’s great wrong would drive the steel!
Away the unavailing plea!
Of peace, the tyrant’s blood to spare;
If you would set the captive free,
Teach him for freedom bold to dare!
To throw his galling fetters by,
To wing the cry on every breath,
Determined manhood’s conquering cry,
For Justice, Liberty, or death!
“Ah, Placido, I often think of the peaceful hours I once enjoyed at the common altar of the professing Christian. I then believed in what was popularly termed religion, as practised in all the slave states of America; I was devoted to my church, and loved to hear on a Sabbath the word of God spoken by him whom I believed to be a man of God. But how sadly have I been deceived! I still believe in God, and have faith in His promises; but serving Him in the way that I was, I had only ‘the shadow without the substance,’ the religion of my oppressions. I thank God that He timely opened my eyes.”
“In this, Henry, I believe you are right; I long since saw it, but you are clear on the subject. I had not throught so much as that.”
“Then as we agree, let us at once drop the religion of our oppressors, and take the Scriptures for our guide and Christ as our example.”
“What difference will that make to us? I merely ask for information, seeing you have matured the subject.”
“The difference will be just this, Placido–that we shall not be disciplined in our worship, obedience as slaves to our master, the slaveholders, by association in our mind with that religion, submission to the oppressor’s will.”
“I see, Henry, it is plain; and every day convinces me that we have much yet to learn to fit us for freedom.”
“I differ with you, Placido; we know enough now, and all that remains to be done, is to make ourselves free, and then put what we know into practice. We know much more than we dare attempt to do. We want space for action–elbow room; and in order to obtain it, we must shove our oppressors out of the way.”
Scarecely had the “Vulture” reach the outside of the harbor before Paul appeared with glass in hand, aside of Captain Garcia, at whose orders the Spanish colors were run down and the American hoisted in their stead. Paul was an able and experienced officer, who, according to usage in the trade, had taken this position as protection against the British West India cruisers, it being a disputed point that they have a right to search American vessels for slaves, however suspicious the vessel.
My country, the land of my birth,
Farewell to thy fetters and thee!
The by-word of tyrants–the scorn of the earth,
A mockery to all thou shalt be!
Hurra, for the sea and its waves!
Ye billows and surges, all hail!
My brothers henceforth–for ye scorn to be SLAVES,
As ye toss up your crests to the gale;
Farewell to the land of the blood-hound and chain,
My path is away o’er the fetterless main!
O Cuba! ’tis in thee
Dark land of slavery,
In thee we groan!
Long have our chains been worn,
Long has our grief been borne,
Our flesh has long been ton,
Even from our bones!
The white man rules the day,
He bears despotic sway,
O’er all the land;
He wields the tyrant’s rod,
Fearless of man or God,
And at his impious nod,
We fall or stand!
O, shall we longer bleed!
I’m a goin’ to Afraka,
Where de white man dare not stay;
I ketch ‘im by de collar,
Den de white man holler;
I hit ‘im on de pate,
Den I make ‘im blate!
I seize ‘im by de throat–
Laud!–he beller like a goat!*
* This song was sung by a little black boy, sitting by himself on a fence in the South, musing.
The family of Draco consisted of a wife, Zorina, a handsome native African, and two daughters, Angelina and Seraphina, beautiful mulatto children, the former having just completed as lisbon her education in one of the first convents.
“Only a moderate supply, señor–some five-and-twenty hundred in the pens–a little more than one good cargo,”* replied Lude Draco.
*They frequently prepared the vessels to carry 2000, which was the case with a slaver taken by the British cruiser, brig “Triton,” which the wrtier saw at Sierre Leone, in April 1860.
“Hark!” exclaimed Angelina, unaccustomed, from her continued absence at school to such a sound–“What is that I hear?”
“It comes, my child, from the barracoons,” explained the mother, with a deep sigh.
“Do you tell me, mother, that wailings come already, since the tapping of that bell?? What does it mean?”
“Preparing the slaves, my child, for packing, I suppose.”
“How preparing them, mother? What do they do to them?” anxiously inquired the girl.
“They whip and burn them, my child, to make them obey.”
“And what do you mean by “packing”?”
“Putting them down in the bottom of the ship, my child, so that they can’t move about.”
“How can they live this way? Oh, mother, they can’t live!”
“They can’t live long, my child; but many of them die, when that makes room, and some of them live.”
“Oh horrible!–cruel, cruel!” exclaimed the more than astonished girl. “Pardon me, mother–I cannot help it–and is this my father’s business?”
“It is, my daughter,” replied the mother, the brightness of whose eyes were glaring with the evidence of sympathy for the sufferings of her people.
“Then forgive me, mother, I receive nothing from this day forth from my father’s hand.* He’s cruel, and–”
“Stop, my child!” interrupted the mother. “Curse** not him from whose lines you came.”
“Forgive me, mother, Heaven forbid! But I cannot consent to go to Madrid to obtain accomplishments at the price of blood. The Lady Superior when at Lisbon, taught me to ‘love my neighbor as myself’–that all mankind was my neighbor. I thought I was educated to come home and teach my race.”
“My child, you must–”
“Hark! Mother, don’t you hear?” again exclaimed the young affrighted girl, when another wailing came, more terrible than the other.
“Have patience, my child.”
“I can’t, mother–I can’t! How can I have patience with such dreadful things as these?”
“God will give you patience, my child. Depend on Him.”
“I will depend on Him, and go directly to the spot and beseech Him in mercy for the poor suffering ones. Come and take me to them,” she concluded, calling for native servants to carry her after them, as the party had no left the receptacles for the trading posts at the landing on the lagoon, nearly a mile distant.”
Soon she arrived near the dreadful scene.
Where fiends incarnate–vile confederate band–
Torture with thmscrew, lash, and fire-brand
*The young mulatto daughter of a slave trader on the coast peremptorily refused to leave her people and go with him to Portugal to finish an education.
** The native African is very correct in speech, pronouncing very distinctly any word they learn in other languages. Curse–to speak ill of, by the native African.
This most remarkable spot which for years had sent forth through the world its thousands of victims–a place repulsively noted in the history of wrong–was a dismal nook in the northeastern extremity of the lagoon, extending quite into the bush, forming a cove of complete secuirty and quiet. In this position lay the “Vulture”; and near the barracoons, under cover of seemingly impenetrable undergrowth, sat the beautiful Angelina, the good-hearted natives who bore her there lying at her feet to protect her, as is their custom to strangers in the forest. In this position, quietly inspecting the whole proceedings, her soul became horror-stricken.
“Hark!” again exclaimed Angelina in a surprassed frightened tone, unconscious, seemingly, of the half-dressed natives lying at her feet. “Don’t you hear? What in God’s name does it mean?”
Scarecely had the awe-stricken girl given utterance, till a heartrending wail sent a thrill through her.
“O! O! O!” was the cry from a hundred voices, as the last torture was inflicted upon them.*
Again came a hissing sound, accompanied by the smell of scorched flesh, with wailing in their native tongues for mercy to God.
“Holy Madonna! Mother of God! Is this the sacrifice, or what is it?”
“Yes,” replied a hidden, unknown voice, in chaste and elegant Portuguese–“a sacrifice of burnt offering to the god of Portugal and Spain.”
“Good, sir, pray tell me”–looking around she said–“what is this, and where am I?”
“Be patient, dear child–be patient, and you shall hear–as from the graves of our forefathers–of untold suffering from this spot–
“A place where demons daring land–
Fiends in bright noon day–and sit
A hellish conclave band to barter
The sons and daughters of our land away.”
“May God protect me!” she screamed, and sunk in a swoon, when in an instant the servants bore her in the hammock away.
In parties of ten or more the branding iron was applied in such quick succession, that a sound and smell like that of broiling and scorched flesh was produced. At this last sad act of cruelty, and the voice in explanation of it, the tender and affrighted girl, yielding to frail nature, had sickened and fallen at the root of a tree where she sat, when the first impressions of consciousness found her again at the side of a devoted mother under the roof of the dwelling, fondly ministering to her relief.
“O, mother–O, mother! What an experience have I had this day! O, what my ears have heard!” were the first words of Angelina on recovering.
“Tell me, my child,” with native simplicity but earnestness inquired the mother, “what is it?”
“As well may you, mother,” replied the excited, intelligent girl, “go
“Ask the whirlwhinds why they rove;
The storms their raging showers:
Ask the lightning why they move,
The thunders whence their powers!”
“My child your head is bad; it is hot; it is not sound. You must keep quiet, my child,” anxiously admonished the mother, applying leaves taken from cold water continually to her brow.
“A cup of water, mother; I am sick. Oh, I hear it again! They are burning them alive!” continued she to talk at random, till sleep quieted her voice, whilst her mother stood over her with a calabash of leaves and water anxiously watching every breath she drew.
*One method of torture inflicted by the foreign traders to prevent meeting, is an oblong square piece of iron in a box form, made so as to admit the ends of the middle and ring fingers, when it is driven down as far as it will go, tearing the flesh from the bones as it forces its way.
Paul looking at Royer, advanced whispering in his ear, “You better treat him well; he’s no common Negro, I assure you,” to which Royer answered also in a whisper:
“But we’re going to where he will be common, where every Negro’s made to know his place.”
“Where is that?” whispered Paul.
“Home, in the United States, where else!” replied Royer.
“Yes, but you’re not yet there, and it might be that you’ll never reach there!” rejoined he.
“Curse the niggers, I hate ’em!” retorted Royer impatiently.
“That may be, Mr. Royer, but it wasn’t the way to show it I’m thinking, by comin’ to Africa after ’em,” calmly replied Paul.
Abruptly leaving him, Royer advanced to the main hatchway, when Paul following after, they made ready to enter, each officer with a sabre at his side, revolver studded in his belt, and an unsheathed bowie knife in his hand.
“Blake,” said Paul, “you better take the lead!” to which Royer readily consented, though opposed to a Negro leading in anything wherein a white man was concerned.
Blake entered the hatch followed by Paul, Garcia, Castello and Royer.
“Merciful God! what a sigh,” exclaimed Spencer, as he caught the first sight of the half-suffocated beings closely packed in narrow stalls like brutes wallowing in revolving mire.
“In very good condition,” replied the Spaniard, “none dead worth naming”; two fine children–a boy and girl of three years of age–having died through the night for want of air and water.
“Stir up here, you nests of black maggots, stir up!” exclaimed Royer, punching with a capstan bar all within his reach to see whetehr they lived or not.
“Good Heavens!” again exclaimed Spencer. “What a condition they are in. I wonder they’re not all dead. How on earth will we ever get them purified?”
“The pump and hose with plenty sea water is all that’s required,” replied Garcia.
“Yes, give ’em plenty; that’ll soon straighten up matters,” added Royer. “Stir about there–stir about!” still punching in among them.
Next commenced the washing process, when the double cranked pump was brought into full requisition. The stream was directed by Royer himself, which, regardless of their eyes, was thrown into their faces, when the poor wretches almost dying with thirst, opened their mouths to catch the stream a it played among them, sucking and licking the salt water off of each others heads and shoulders.
During the inspection of the stalls an affected scene ensued. A fine specimen of a man, tall and athletic, of some forty-five years of age, was cruelly treated by the coarse and ruthless American. On looking imploringly at his abuser, he gave him a punch with the butt of the bar, drawing blood, which streamed down his face. On again imploring him, Royer screamed–
“Do you look at me that way, you black devil!” when, turning his face away to conceal his grief, the mate give him another blow on the cheek bone, producing contusion, when the tears stole down his manly face, baptizing with sorrow his bare expanded breast heaving with emotions of despair.
To all this Blake was witness, with a watchful eye and determination more than ever to carry out his objects, observing which in his countenance, the grief-pierced captive cast at him a glance the most impressive.
“A sail!” repeated Royer, dropping the rope.
“What is her course?” inquired Garcia, without his glass.
“Direct pursuit!” answered Castello.
“British then, as sure as the world!” exclaimed Garcia.
“Run up the Stars and Stripes,” commanded Royer.
“Off with the hatches there, you black devils! Bring out the dead and dying; heave them overboard!” order the heartless Portuguese.
The hatches, which had been for many hours closed, being opened, the blacks fell back, and retreated to escape the pestiferous fumes which met them.
“No running from dead niggers there, you black wolves! Down in the hold like a gang of half-starved hyenas into the grave of an executed thief!” exclaimed the reckless American.
Next came the heaves and sighs, wailing and cries, groaning and moaning of the thirsty, hungry, sick, and dying in tones of agony, such to rend the soul with anguish to invoke Jehovah why
Is there not some chosen curse–
Some hidden thunder in the stores of heaven,
Red with uncommon wrath, to blast the man
Who gains his fortune from the blood of souls?
“Bring out the dead, dying, and damaged, an’ we’ll give ’em* a free an’ quick passage to kingdom come, in less an’ no time. Out with ’em, you black porcupines–out with ’em” again roared the coarse American.
Then came a scene the most terrible. Men, women and children raging with thirst, famished, nauseated with sea sickness, stifled for want of pure air, defiled and covered with loathsomeness, one by one were brought out, till the number of six hundred were thrown into the mighty deep, and sunk to rise no more till summoned by the trump of Heaven in the morning of the General Resurrection of all the dead, to apear before the Eternal Throne of God.
On casting them over, many of the sick and feeble begged in humble supplication to be spared, who, when clinging to the rigging or side of the vessel, had their hold broken by the foot of an officer, and when this was unsuccessful, a blow on the head with a handspike or capstan bar, sent the helpless victim trembling to a watery grave.
“Bear a hand a the pumps there–bear a hand!” ordered the surly Portuguese, the water being directed in constant streams among them, when opening their mouths as before they caught at it to slake their parching palates and stay the perishing threat.
Among those remaining in loathsomeness was Abyssa, the Christian woman of Soudan, who so soon as the black seamen entered, burst into tears of grief, begging for relief from her disgusting condition.**
*The coarseness and ruthlessness of these persons on slavers are indescribable. Imprecations, blasphemy, and sacriligiousness, they seem to delight in mocking and sporting over the distresses of their victims, even when themselves are in danger.
** Native Africans are very cleanly about their person, bathing generally several times a day.
The slaves confined in the stalls, immediately turned their eyes toward Mendi, the athletic captive so abused by the mate, who then sat in the centre of the hold, loose and entirely out of place.
There was nothing very remarkable about this, because were Cubans classified according to their complexion or race, three out of five of the inhabitants called white would decidedly be claimed by the colored people, though there is a large number much fairer than those classified and known in the register as colored.
Be patient in your misery, be meek in your despair,
Be patient, O be patient, suffer on, suffer on!
We are all for freedom, we are all for freedom,
We are for liberty and justice–
And for freedom through the land!
We have hatred dark and deep for the fetter and the thong,
We bring light to prisoned spirits, for the captive wail a song;
We are all for freedom, we are all for freedom,
We’re for liberty and justice,
And for freedom through the land!
We are coming, we are coming, and no league with tyrant man,
Is emblazoned on our banner, while Jehovah leads the van!
He is coming on to lead us,
And never means to leave us,
Till he gains us our liberty,
And freedom through the land!”
The next amusement succeeding was the sport of the chase, which consisted in training the bloodhounds exhibited on the parade ground. This sport is such that in the training the slave is sometimes caught and badly lacerated, which produces terror in the black spectators, the object designed by the custom.
Never before had the African race been so united as on that occasion, the free Negroes and mixed free people being in unison and sympathy with each other. During the sport of the chase, it was generally observed by the whites that in the event of a slave being caught, instead of–as formerly–indifference on the part of the blacks, or a shout from a portion of the free colored people present, there were gloomy countenances, sour angry expressions and looks of revenge, with general murmuring, which plainly indicated if not a preconcerted action, at least a general understanding pertaining to that particular amusement. There was a greater tendency to segregation instead of a seeming desire to mingly as formerly among the whties, as masses of the Negroes, mulattoes and quadroons, Indians* and even Chinamen, could be seen together, to all appearance absorbed in conversation on matters disconnected entirely from the occasion of the day.
The National Parade came next in order, being the only exhibition in which the African race took pleasure, they being desirous of witnessing the display of the troops to learn something of the character of the soldiers that might be brought against them. Though not so exciting particularly to the blacks, this was the most grand and imposing scene of the day.
At the sound of the reveille, the troops assembled in military array, presenting a formidable front, the field officers being richly dressed and elegantly mounted on splendid caparisoned, grand, and dashing steeds. Here and there through the field they were flying, inspecting the lines without giving orders, intending it would seem to anticipate by intimidating the Negroes from action. Now and again as though to show the blacks their chance of escape in an attempt at retreat, came an isolated soldier running at the best of speed, who had been loitering away his time in idle gossip, or in a booth regaling a whetted appetite, and thirst with ardent spirits.
*For many years the Yucatan Indians taken in war by the Mexicans were sold into Cuba as slaves.
All hail thou true and noble chief,
Who scorned to live a cowering slave;
Thy name shall stand on history’s leaf,
Amid the mighty and the brave!
Thy name shall shine a glorious light
To other brave and fearless men,
Who live thyself in freedom’s might,
Shall brave the robber in his den;
Thy name shall stand on history’s page,
And brighter, brighter, brighter glow,
Throughout all time, through every age,
Till bosoms cease to feel and know.
“Created worth or human woe”;
Thy name shall nerve the patriot’s hand,
When mid the battle’s deadly strive,
The glittering bayonet and brand
Are coming with the stream of life;
When the dark clouds of battle roll,
And slaughter reigns without control,
Thy name shall then fresh life impart
And fire anew each freeman’s heart.
Though wealth and power their force combine
To crush thy noble spirit down,
There is above a power divine
Shall bear thee up against their frown.
. . . On this occasion Pino Golias proved himself master of the favorite instrument of his father land, the African bango. . . ..
“Now, Gondolier,” said Castina, who sat as guard at the door, on resigning his seat and handing him the sword, “I leave you my post in charge; see that you do your duty!”
“I will sir, and ef a candle face gits by me, it’ll not be tell after I knock the light out of it!” drolly replied he, referring to the gendarmes or such other whites as might be out on espionage. “But I got a better thing than this!” he said, holding out and looking at the sword, with a wage of his head.
“What is that curiously constructed instrument you have there, Gofer; will you show it to me?” asked Castina, on seeing under his jacket on the left breast a large weapon.
“O, nothing, sir, but a knife. I thought as you had a gathering tonight that you might have some carving to do, an’ as I just finished that business at the Palace, I thought I’d come over and help here,” replied he.
“Carving! Do you call that a carving knife?” earnestly enquired Castina, as Gondolier handed him the formidable instrument.
“I do, sir!” replied Gofer.
“Where did you get it?”
“I made it, sir.”
“You made it!” with surprise enquired Castina.
“I did, sir, I cut the pattern out of a barrel stave, and had the knife manufactured to order.”
“What motives had you in doing so?”
“That on a general rising the blacks in every house might have good weapons without suspicion.”
“I can’t see how this could be effected without detection, as they must be made and sold by the whites,” judiciously replied Castina.
“If you can’t, I can, sir, because anything originating among the people about the Palace the Captain General always receives with favor, giving orders to be supplied; and I being his butler and chief caterer, these orders go through me. So you see sir, by making a carving knife, I present something that comes in general use as a domestic and family convenience, with which every person may supply himself without suspicion, especially the blacks, who are not only great imitators of the whites as they say we are, but also great eaters as we know ourselves to be,” intelligently explained Gondolier.
“Gracious!” exclaimed Castina, examining the weapon. “What a formidable thing it is to be sure! You must be a man, Gondolier, to have conceived such an idea.”
“If I wasn’t I wouldn’t be here, sir,” promptly replied Gofer.
“I mean, sir, that you are worthy to be here!” explained Castina.
“That is just what I mean, sir,” continued he. “If the poet hadn’t known me to be such, as I was only a domestic in the palace where he and the Colonel were visitors, he never would have admitted me to the gatherings, nor took me into the seclusions.”
“You are right, Gondolier, you are right, and shall henceforth hold a place among us higher than the position of caterer at the National Palace; it shall be here!” said Castina, placing his hand upon his breast over his heart.
“Noble fellow!” said Montego to Madame Cordora; “He’s worthy of a better position than his former one, and he shall have it.”
The provisional organization consisted of Placido, Director of Civil Government; Minister of State, Camina; Minister of Justice, Carolus Blacus; Minister of Foreign Affairs, Castina; Postmaster General, Antonio Blacus; Minister of War and Navy, Montego.
The Army regulations were: Henry Blake, Commander in Chief of the Army of Emancipation; Juan Montego, General of First Division; Pedro Castina, General of Second Division; Ferdinand Recaud, General Third Division; Stephen Rivera, General of Fourth Division; Gofer Gondolier, Quartermaster General. Thus organized, the oppressed became a dangerous element in the political ingredients of Cuba.
“Arm of the Lord awake!” cried Abyssa Soudan.
“With strength and power!” responded the Council.
The female members of the Council instantly commenced whispering among themselves, all except Abyssa seeming earnestly engaged. The captive woman noticing them with some embarassment, which the ladies observed, Madame Cordora rose to ask an explanation.
“I should like to be relieved of a difficulty,” said this highly intelligent woman, “not only for my own sake, but that of my female collegaues of the Council as well as the general cause in which we are engaged. We have all or most of us been bred Catholic, to believe in the doctrines of the Romish Church. I perceive, however, that a portion of our ceremonies consist of prayers and other formalities, objectionable to us as such. Can we as Catholics, with any degree of propriety consistently with our faith, conform to those observances? I ask only for information, and hope for reasons stated to receive it.”
“A word of explanation addressed to your intelligence, Madame Cordora, will suffice I know to set the matter right,” said Blake. “I, first a Catholic, and my wife bred as such, are both Baptists; Abyssa Soudan, once a pagan, was in her own native land converted to the Methodist or Wesleyan belief; Madame Sabastina and family are Episopalians; Camina, from long residence out of the colony, a Presbyterian, and Placido is a believer in the Swedenborgian doctrines. We have all agreed to know no sects, no denomination, and but one religion for the sake of our redemption from bondage and degradation, a faith in a common Savior as an intercessor for our sins; but one God, who is and must be our acknowleged common Father. No religion but that which brings us liberty will we know; no God but He who owns us as his children will we serve. The whites accept of nothing but that which promotes their interests and happiness, socially, politically and religiously. They would discard a religion, tear down a church, overthrow a government, or desert a country, which did not enhance their freedom. In God’s great and righteous name, are we not willing to do the same?”
“Yes!” was the unanimous response.
“Our ceremonies, then,” continued Blake, “are borrowed from no denomination, creed, nor church: no existing organization, secret, secular, nor religious; but originated by ourselves, adopted to our own condition, circumstances, and wants, founded upon the eternal word of God our Creator, as impressed upon the tablet of each of our hearts. Will this explanation suffice, women of Cuba, sisters in oppression with us? Are you satisfied to act and do our own way regardless of aping our oppressors indiscriminately?”
“We are, we are!” cried out they.
“Amen!” exclaimed the woman of Soudan.
“Amen!” responded the poet.
“Amen!” creid out Madame Cordora.
“Amen!” concluded Montego and the Council. “Amen!”
“Thank God for this interchange of sentiments!” exclaimed Blake. “Thank God! A word more and I have done. In regard to the justice of our course: if we are to consult our oppressors our very assemblage is in violation of the laws of God; because they tell us that the powers that be are ordained of God; hence our Council sitting contrary to the will of these powers, therefore must be against the ordinance of God. Do you see it?”
“We do, we do!” responded many voices.
“And we want no more of their gospel neither,” cried out Gofer Gondolier to the amusement of the entire assemblage.
“I rise simply to observe,” said Madame Cordora, “that I and the other female members of the Council are satisfied and that henceforth we are willing to go and do our own way, and let our oppressors go and do theirs.”
“Then, by God’s help we must succeed,” said Blake.
Oh Great Jehovah, God of Love!
Thou monarch of the earth and sky,
Canst thou from thy great throne above
Look down with an unpitying eye!
See Africa’s sons and daughters toll,
Day after day, year after year,
Upon this blood bemoistened soil,
And to their cries turn a deaf ear?
Canst thou the white oppressor bless,
With verdant hills and fruitful plains,
Regardless of the slave’s distress–
Unmindful of the blackman’s chains?
How long, O Lord! ere thou wilt speak
In thy Almighty thundering voice,
To bid the oppressors fetters break,
And Ethiopia’s sons rejoice?
How long shall Slavery’s iron grip,
And prejudices guilty hand,
Send forth like bloodhounds from the slip
Foul persecutions o’er the land?
How long shall puny mortals dare
To violate Thy just decree,
And force Thy fellow men to wear
The galling chains by land and sea?
Hasten, Oh Lord! the glorious time
When everywhere beneath the skies,
From every land and every clime
Peons to Liberty shall rise!
When the bright sun of Liberty
Shall shine o’er each despotic land;
And all mankind from bondage free,
Adore the wonders of thy hand.
“I do not wish to be troublesome,” interrupted Madame Cordora, rising to her feet, “but I must here ask another explanation. Engaged as we all are in a common cause for liberty and equality, I would not have a difference to be made at the start. The poet in his prayer spoke of Ethiopia’s sons; are not some of us left out in that supplication, as I am sure, although identified together, wea re not all Ethiopians.”
“No,” rejoined Placido, “we are not; but necessarily implied in the term, and cannot exist without it.”
“How so; I’m sure I cannot understand you!” replied the Madame with surprise.
“I’ll explain,” said Placido. “I hold that colored persons, whatever the complexion, can only obtain an equality with whites by the descendants of Africa of unmixed blood.”
“You surprise me, Señor Placido! I certainly cannot comprehend you. That is a positive admission that the mixed bloods are inferior to the pure-blooded descendants of Africa. I did no expect it to come to this, I think the acknowledgement of an equality of classes is sufficient for any purpose, without having to regard ourselves as inferiors–just what we are all contending against.”
“I see you do not understand my position, Madame Cordora; let me make it plain to you,” further explained the poet. “The whites assert the natural inferiority of the African as a race: upon this they premise their objections, not only to the blacks, but all who have any affinity with them. You see this position taken by the high Court of America, which delcares that persons having African blood in their veins have no rights that white men are bound to respect. Now how are the mixed bloods ever to rise? The thing is plain; it requires no explanation. The instant that an equality of the blacks with the whites is admitted, we being the descendants of the two, must be acknowledged the equals of both. Is not this clear?”
“I certainly see it, Señor Placido, as I never saw it before, and you have given me a greater idea of the relation we sustain to the African race, than I ever had before; and the same certainly obtains in regard to Africa as a country, and her people as a nation or nations.”
“Of course it does. Heretofore that country has been regarded as desolate–unadapted to useful cultivation or domestic animals, and consequently, the inhabitants savage, lazy, idle, and incapable of the higher civilization and only fit for bondmen, contributing nothing to the civilized world but that which is extorted from them as slaves. Instead of this, let us prove, not only that the African race is now the principal producer of the greater part of the luxuries of enlightened countries, as various fruits, rice, sugar, coffee, chocolate, cocoa, spices, and tobacco; but that in Africa their native land, they are among the most industrious people in the world, highly cultivating the lands, and that ere long they and their country must hold the balance of commercial power by supplying as they now do as foreign bondmen in strange lands, the greatest staple commodities in demand, as rice, coffee, sugar, and especially cotton, from their own native shores, the most extensive native territory, climate, soil, and greatest number of (almost the only natural producers) inhabitants in the universe; and that race and country will at once rise to the first magnitude of importance in the estimation of the greatest nations on earth, from their dependence upon them for the greatest staples from which is derived their national wealth.”
“How surprising! What a different requisition this places us in to the whites. And are there really hopes of Africa becoming a great country, Colonel Montego?”
“Nay, Madame, not only ‘hopes’ but undoubted probabilities, and that too at no distant day. The foundation of all great nationalities depends as a basis upon three elementary principles: first, territorial domain; second, population; third, staple commodities as a source of national wealth. The territory must be extensive, population numerous, and the staple such as the world requires and must have; and if the productions be not natural, they must be artificial. This will be seen in the case of Great Britain, which being but a small island, extended her dominions by conquest, thus adding an immense population, and taking advantage of her coal, established manufactories to supply the world with fabrics, in addition to her natural mineral productions, also made available by art. Africa, to the contrary, has five thousand miles of latitude, and four thousand longitude, with two hundred millions of homogenous population, all of whom readily assimilate themselves to civilized customs, and their continent, as shown before, producing the greatest staples of wealth to the world. Do you now understand it, Madame Cordora?”
“Indeed I do, Señor Placido; and although I thought I had no prejudices, I never before felt as proud of my black as I did of my white blood. I can readily see that the blacks compose an important element in the commercial and social relations of the world. Thank God for even this night’s demonstrations, if we do no more. How sensibly I feel, that a people never entertain proper opinions of themselves until they begin to act for themselves.”
“This is true, Madame,” added Placido, “and I might call your attention further tot he fact that by a comparison of the races, you may find the Africans in all parts of the world, readily and willingly mingling among and adopting all the usages of civilized life, attaining wherever practicable, every position in society, while those of the others, except the Caucasians, seldom acquire any but their own native usages.”
“And these are really the people declared by American Laws, to ‘have no rights that a white is bound to respect’? Why have we so long submitted to them?” said the Madame with a burst of indignation, taking her seat amidst demonstrations of intense emotion.
“It is indeed a sad reflection,” said Blake, “to contrast the difference between British and American jurisprudence. How sublime the spectacle of the colossal stature (compared with the puppet figure of the Judge of the American Supreme Court), of the Lord Chief Justice when standing up declaring to the effect: that by the force of British intelligence, the purity of their morals, the splendor of their magnanimity, and aegis of the Magna Charta, the moment the foot of a slave touched British soil, he stood erect, disenthralled in the dignity of a freeman, by the irresistable genius of universal emancipation.”
“Let us then,” said Placido, “make ourselves respected.”
. . . “Freedom should ever be potent to repeal and annul the decees of oppression, and repel the oppressor. The instant a person is claimed as a slave, that moment he should strike down the claimant. The natural rights of man are the faculties of option, heaven bequeathed, and endowed by God, our common Father, as essential to our being, which alone distinguishes us from the brute. The authority of the slaveholder ceases the moemnt that the impulse of the slave demands his freedom, and by virtue of this divine attribute, every black is as free as the whites in Cuba, and I will resist this night, and henceforth every attempt at infringement on my inherent privileges.”
The consummation of conjugal union is the best security for political relations, and he who is incapable of negotiating to promote his own personal requirements might not be trustworthy as the agent of another’s interest; and the fitness for individuals for positions of public import, may not be misjudged by their doings in the private affairs of life.
“Behold the men of God!” reverently whispered Abyssa.
“Who made them men of GOd?” sarcastically asked Montego.
“Are they not God-fearing men?” innocently inquired the simple, religious African.
“To be ‘God-fearing’ is to do the will of God,” continued he, “and these men have neglected the letter of the law ‘Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them.’ These are the words of His divine injunction, every letter of which these men have neglected either to carry out themselves or to enforce. They are, in the stern language of the holy prophet, ‘dumb dogs and will not bark.’ Were they not, there never would have been occasion for the gathering, organization of the Council, nor such a meeting as we must have tomorrow evening at General Blacus’ residence.”
“Then they can’t marry us!” replied Abyssa, which provoked a general merriment from the company.
In this general good humor Gondolier heartily joined, and nodding his head significantly to one side, observed that it was the only good thing he believed they did do, and thought that the blacks might try them that time. The merriment was long continued.
Montego explained to Abyssa that the acts of the priests in performance of the marriage ceremony were right, because done in accordance with the law of God, and acknowledged by the laws of the land, but not more sacred than if performed by a civil magistrate, or any other person set apart by law for such purpose. He preferred the priests for the simple reason that he thought them better men than the magistrates. Hastening on they entered the church at a very early hour.
“Singular,” remarked Montego, “that there should be this morning such a large number of the blacks out, and comparatively so few of the whites.”
“Enough of them,” replied Gondolier, “to watch over us and keep us in our place. These few came out as our masters and overseers.”
“But seriously,” enquired Madame Montego, “I have always observed it. Why so many more of our people than the whites attend church?”
“Because,” replied Placido, “we are really more religiously inclined than they.”
“I have also often wondered why it was that we are so much more submissive than they,” resumed Madame Montego.
“Let us for the present defer this discussion,” prudentially admonished Placido, “and resume it on tomorrow evening at the quartermaster’s residence.”
“Preceding all great undertakings,” said Blake, “Divine assistance should be invoked. Let us this night, as on former occasions, as the first step in so momentous an undertaking, ask the aid of heaven,” when they immediately fell upon their knees with their heads bowed low to the floor, burying their faces in the palms of their hands.
In this position they remained in silent prayer for half an hour, when silence was broken by Abyssa Gondolier, the captive woman of Soudan, in the following unique supplication, which emanating from any other source could hardly be approved of:
“Make bare thine all conquering; uncover thy impenetrable shield; sway thy matchless scepter; put our enemies to flight before Thee that not one have courage to stand, and at every stroke of the weapon may they fall as dead men before us! Look down we beseech Thee upon us, the least protected, by reason of our weakness, of Thy humble children. We have been captured, torn from friends and home, sold and scattered among strangers in a strange land; yea, to and fro the earth. Sorely oppressed, mocked and ridiculed, refused and denied a common humanity, and not even permitted to serve the same God at the same time and place, in the same way and manner as themselves. Change, O change, we beseech Thee, this state of things! Give us success in this, our most important undertaking and hour of trial, and enable us we beseech Thee to go forth and conquer even unto a mighty conquest!”
“Amen!” responded the Council in conclusion, rising to their seats.
Though simple in manner and language, and humble in source, yet so earnest and impressive was this prayer, that many of the principal persons present were moved with deep emotions of sympathy. Sensibly touched witht he unexpected scenes around her, the simple, good-hearted Abyssa wept aloud, clasping her hands exclaiming–
“O Lord, look down on one of the least of these thy despised children, and protect he from harm!”
“Ef he don’t I will!” exclaimed Gofer, her husband, who, until then, stood outside of the door, but now entered the room with his terrible weapon glittering in his hands, eyes flashing and teeth gnashing for vengeance on his oppressors.
“Thank God,” said Blake, “for this prospect! It much reminds one of the singular days of miserable happiness spent at times while in bondage, agonizing together in our religious meetings in the huts of the slave quarters of Mississippi and other plantations. But bright as we at times, from our faith and dependence on God, then considered our prospects, there is here a much brighter and happier one in view. When faith and hope were our only dependence, expecting God to do everything for us, and we nothing for ourselves, now with the same faith and hope and dependence on God we have learned and know what He requires at our hands, and stand ready in obedience to this divine command to do it. Let us then, for God’s sake, profit by this knowledge, self-reliance, with faith and dependence on God. What is now before the Council; God has been praised–what comes next?”
Yes; strike again that sounding string,
And let the wildest numbers roll;
Thy song of fiercest passion sing,
It breathes responsive to my soul!
A soul whose gentlest hours were nursed
In stern adversity’s dark way,
And o’er whose pathway never burst
One gleam of hope’s enlivening ray.
If thou wilt soothe my burning brain,
Sing not to me of joy and gladness;
‘Twill but increase the raging pain,
And turn the fever into madness!
Sing not to me of landscapes bright,
Of fragrant flowers and fruitful trees,
Of azure skies and mellow light,
Of whisperings of the gentle breeze.
But tell me of the tempest roaring
Across the angry foaming deep,
Of torrents from the mountains pouring
Down precipices dark and deep.
Sing of the lightning’s lurid flash,
The ocean’s roar, the howling storm,
The earthquake’s shock, the thunder’s crash,
Where ghastly terrors teeming swarm.
Sing of the battle’s deadly strife,
The ruthless march of war and pillage;
The awful waste of human life,
The plunder’d town, the burning village
Of streets with human gore made red,
Of priests under the altar slain,
The scenes of rapine, woe and dread,
That fill the warrior’s horrid train.
Thy song may then an echo wake,
Deep in this soul, long crush’d and sad,
The direful impressions shake,
Which threaten now to drive me mad.
Their justification of the issue made was on the fundamental basis of original priority, claiming that the western world had been originally peopled and possessed by the Indians–a colored race–and a part of the continent in Central America by a pure black race. This they urged gave them an indisputable right with every admixture of blood, to an equal, if not superior, claim to an inheritance of the Western Hemisphere.
The colored race, they averred, were by nature adapted to the tropical regions of this part of the world as to all other similar climates, it being a scientific fact that they increased and progressed whilst the whites decreased and continually retrograded, their offspring becoming enervated and imbecile. These were facts worthy of consideration, which three hundred years had indisputably tested. The whites in these regions were there by intrusion, idly consumers subsisting by imposition; whilst the blacks, the legitimate inhabitants, were the industrious laborers and producers of the staple commodities and real wealth of these places. They had inherited those regions by birth, paid for the soil by toil, irrigated it with their sweat, enriched it with their blood, nothing remaining to be done but by a dependence in Divine aid, a reliance in their own ability, and strength of their own arms, but to claim and take possession.
“On this island,” said Blake, “we are the many and the oppressors few; consequently, they have no moral right to hold rule over us, whilst we have the moral right and physical power to prevent them. Whatever we determine shall be, will be. What say you, brethren, shall we rise against our oppressors and strike for liberty, or will we remain in degradation and bondage, entailing upon unborn millions of our progeny the insufferable miseries which our fathers endured and bequeathed to us?”
“Liberty! Liberty or death!” was the frantic response of every voice.
“Then,” concluded he, “freedom is ours!”
On God and our own strength rely,
And dare be faithful though we die;
But trusting in the aid of Heaven,
And willing with unfaltering arm,
The utmost power which God has given–
Conscious that the Almighty power
Will nerve the faithful soul with might,
Whatever storms around may lower,
Who boldly strikes for the true and right.
“I have but little to say,” said Blake, rising. “You know my errand among you; you know my sentiments. I am for war–war upon the whites. ‘I come to bring deliverance to the captive and freedom to the bond.’ Your destiny is my destiny; the end of one will be the end of all. On last Sabbath, a day of rest, joy and gladness to the whites, I was solemnly and sadly impressed with our wretched condition. While passing through the great cemetery amidst the busy throng of smiling faces and anxious countenances of the whites; the soul-impressing odors of the flowers and inspiring song of birds; the sound of the unfettered rolling sand on the beach and untrammeled winds of heaven; and then beheld the costly ornaments and embellished tombs erected at the expense of unrequitted toil, sweat and blood wrung from our brother slave still laboring on in misery, inexpressible suffering and wailing, though Sabbath it be, sending up to heaven in whispers of broken accents, prayers for deliverance, all in the sight of these happy throngs and costly catacombs–I could not suppress the emotion which swelled my breast, nor control my feelings when I cursed their bones as they lie mouldering in their graves. May God forgive me for the wickedness, as my conscience admonished and rebukes me. In contemplation of our condition, my heart is sorrowful to sadness. But my determination is fixed; I will never leave you. An overwhelming power of our oppressors or some stern adversity, breathren, may force you to forsake me, but even then will I not leave you. I will take me to the mountains, and there in the dreary seclusion of the wilderness, though alone, will I stand firmly in defense of our cause. Buckle on your armor then, and stand ready for the fight! Finally, brethren, I may eventually go down to a disappointed and untimely, but never to a coward’s or a traitor’s grave! God’s will be done.”
Again summoning the council to a solemn seclusion, the Chief at length addressed them, reminding them that it was the last opportunity they have for a regular meeting in secluion. The time, he impressed them, was fast elapsing, and Nature being exact and regular in all her fixed laws, suspended nor altered them to suit no person, circumstance, nor thing. That the time to strike was fast verging upon them, from which, like the approach of the evening shadow of the hilltops, there was no escape. It would overtake them whether or not they desired it, though in accordance with its own economy, would be harmless and unfelt in its action and progress. This period was familiar and regular action of nature which suggested the occasion and proffered the auspices.
“Glorious circumstance!” exclaimed the Chief, a regular daily visitant, whose hints and suggestions they never, until recently, been comprehended. “No longer shall they be neglected, but eagerly accepted of, as sixty or ninety days hence, at most, will verify our appreciation of them. Nature, after all, in uncorrupted purity, is the best and most reliable friend of man.
Equality of rights in Nature’s plan,
To follow nature is the march of man.
Then let us determine to be ready, permitting nothing outside of an interposition of Divine Providence to interfere with our progress. Whenever an emergency demands it, I shall call a special council in seclusion; until then, let confidence, the most implicit, govern and control all of your actions toward each other, when a united effort must crown our portentous struggle with success. And may God protect us, and defend the right!”
Whilst the Captain General in fearful suspense was pondering with much embarrassment, and devising schemes to extricate himself from the difficulty of an almost fatal error committed by a stupid blunder, a timely relief was ordered by a note received from the minister for Foreign Affairs in Great Britain, politely suggesting that the immediate and unconditional release of H.B.M. Consul for the port of Havana was desirable, concluding with that affability for which the distinguished nobleman who then occupied the Foreign Office, and other British statesmen, are remarkable. This was opportune, proving a most fortunate and happy pretext for an honorable escape from the fiery ordeal which awaited them by the terrible displeasure of England.
The gentleman at once proceeded to relate the facts that some thirty miles in the interior from Matanzas, the wife of a respectable planter had doubtless from impressions made upon her mind by the reality, become a maniac, making the most startling disclosures. An insurrection was to have commenced on their own plantation, she having been a party to the scheme. Talking incessantly, she raved and screamed, frequently startled, calling for a black chief to protect her. When to dispel the phantom a black girl child had to be placed in her bed, with the assurance that it was the child of the Negro chief sent in advance of him, when she immediately became quiet and apparently reconciled. She had imagined herself in a horrible seclusion or cave surrounded by black serpents, when being attacked by a huge monstrous serpent, was only protected from death by the timely interposition of one of those divine black spirits.
The Count was a proud and haughty Castilian, and the planters near Matanzas generally being Americans, a restless, dissatisfied class, ever plotting schemes to keep up excitement in the island, thereby having continual cause for complaint; he hated them as only a member of the Cortez Council could do a colonial “patriot,” as the American party termed themselves.
For this contempt, however, the country paid dearly, as they made it the immediate cause of dissatisfaction and complaint against the administration of Count Alcora, and also the home government.
They complained that the Creoles had not the right of franchise, being ineligible to positions of honor the council being selected by the Captain General, and all the offices of consequence being filled by persons directly from Spain–persons whose every relation was foreign to the interest of society and detrimental to the progress of the colony. Spain, they insisted, was a foreign country, having no right to rule them. They were Creoles, and of right ought to be their own rulers.
To these complaints the Captain General, as also Spain, paid a deaf ear, replying that in general these “Creole” statements originated in the principal commercial cities in the United States, by such spectators as frequent the exchanges in Dock, Wall and State streets, backed by the brokerages of Baltimore, Richmond, Charleston and New Orleans. They had openly declared that Cuba and Porto Rico must cease to be Spanish Colonies, and become territories of the United States.
All this did the Spaniards hear and know with a degree of tolerance, patience and forbearance worthy of a cause having higher claims upon their magnanimity. But the Captain General and true loyalists were becoming impatient, who with his Executive Council were maturing a decisive course toward them.
It was now in January, the sixth day of the month, on the occasion of “El Dia de los Reyes,” or King’s Day,” at Havana, to witness and enjoy which, many of all classes, both strangers and residents, white and black, had come from different parts of the island to the city.
Should the disaffected party persist in their seditious indications on this occasion, the Captain General intended at the head of an army of Negroes to put the rebels to a merciless sword.
The demonstration consisted of a festival–physical, mental and religious–by the native Africans in Cuba, in honor of one of their monarchs; being identical, but more systematic, grand and imposing with the “Congo Dance,” formerly observed every Sabbath among the slaves in New Orleans.
I am indebted for the following description of the grand Negro festival to a popular American literary periodical, given by an eyewitness to the exhibition:
“For the week preceding the sixth of january, the native African servants of Havana are in a state of intense excitement. Their masters and mistresses are begged fore very spare feather, flower, but of tinsel, ribbon, or finery of any description whatever; their pocket money is spent on the conventional trash consecrated to the occasion; and every leisure moment is consecrated to preparing for that great day on which they may at least fancy for a few hours that they are free. In all the year, this is the only day the black can call his own; the law gives it to him, and no master has the right to refuse his slave permission to go out for the whole day. At last the important day arrives; the dawn is ushered in by salvos of artillery from Moro Castle–the Negroes pour out of the city gates in crowds to assemble at the places where they are to dress–dainty dressing rooms are they–and the delicate ear is agonized by sounds proceeding from the musical instruments of Africa. They generally assemble according to their tribes. The Gazas, the Lucumis, the Congoes, and Mandigos, etc., in separate parties. One party ordinarily consists of from ten to twenty. These are about half a dozen of principal actors, and the rest hang around and are ready to do any extra dancing or shaking that may be required. Women there are too, in plenty–their dresses ‘low in the neck and high in the arms,’ covered with gay ribbons and tinsel flowers–that dance all day long for the pure love of the fun, joining first one party and then another, constant to none, and therefore have no right to a portion of the money collected.
“Their place of rendezvous on the King’s Day being the grand square or Plaza de San Francisco, called after the chuch and convent of that name.
“There are three principal personages that appear, with but slight variation of costume, in every group, no matter to what tribe it belongs. They are always chiefs, princes or prophets, or if these elevated individuals are not sufficiently numerous to head the numberless parties, the highest in rank is always chosen to wear the regal African paraphernalia . . . The king is dressed in a network of red cord, through the interstices of which glisten oddly enough square inches of the royal black skin. Round his waist is an immense hoop, with a thick drapery of horsetails with every color of the rainbow, with many hues not found therein.
“Another has a hideous mask surmounted by horns. He is the prophet of the tribe, and is sometimes supposed to be gifted with magical powers–a full belief in charms being a part of the Negro’s native creed. . . . This Obesh or Jumbo butts with horns, yells, and performs various antics that impress deeply the surrounding Negroes. If a white person pretends to be alarmed at the unearthly sounds or sights, it is, of course, a great triumph.
“Around the feet of the principal performers are fastened branches of horsehair, that divide the mind between Mercury and a bantam cock.
“Placing themselves in the attitudes of kangaroos, they go through a series of shuffling, screwing, and shaking that utterly defies any description. It cannot be called dancing, for Sorocco would disown it; neither can it be called convulsions, for the doctors would pronounce them perfectly healthy. St. Vitus himself would be puzzled what to call it, though he could not be gratified at the favor of his votaries.
“All day long they keep up a movement of some kind, either dancing or waltzing to an almost incredible degree. The parties roam all over the city, stopping in front of the principal houses, or before the windows in which they see ladies and children. They have also their favorite corners, and there they will go through with fifteen or twenty minutes violent agitation, during which the perspiration pours off their faces, and one unaccustomed to the sight is momentarily expecting to see them fall exhausted to the ground, perhaps never to rise again. The only stoppage, however, is when that elaborately dressed personage with a cane, so beruffled and beringed, hands round the box to the spectators for “pesetas” and “medios.” He is the steward of the party, and after all is done, he produces the money which pays for the room in which they hold their ball at night–all night indeed, for they keep it up till morning.
“Large sums of money are often collected in this way; and gold occasionally finds its way in; but the Negro improvidence of character makes it of very little consequences whether they have much or little. . . .
“The inside of the hall is extraordinary, but not pleasing. A piece of parchment stretched over a hollow log beaten with bones, or a box or gourd filled with beans or stones, rattled out of all time, comprise their instruments. The songs are quite in keeping with the instruments and performers. On this day they are allowed to use their own language and their own songs, a privilege denied them on other days, lest they might lay plans for a general rising.
“As it is the sights, the sounds, the savage shrieks, the uncouth yells suggest very uncomfortable thoughts of Negro insurrection. One cannot help thinking of the menace of the Spanish Government taht Cuba shall be either Spanish or African, and when we see these savages in their play more like wild animals than human beings, the idea what their rage would probably be, makes the boldest shudder. It would be easy on King’s Day for the Negroes to free themselves, or at least to make the streets of Havana run with blood, if they only knew their power; Heaven be praised that they do not, for who can count the lives that would be lost in such a fearful struggle?
“The whites of Havana are rejoiced when the day is over. Apart from a certain uneasy feeling of distrust which the government shares, for it doubles it guard everywhere, the cessation of all business, and the circumstance that the streets are not safe after an early morning hour, make one such day quite enough for a year. The tintamarre is such, that the head must indeed be strong that escapes a furious aching by nightfall. To a stranger the first few hours are amusing enough in their novelty, but he speedily wearies of the scene, and is not apt to wish for a repitition of it.
“In 1849, Roncall, the Captain General then in power, took advantage of the Dia de los Reyes to give the Creoles of Cuba a specific hunt of what they might expect from the government if they gave any alarming degree of aid to the revolutionary operations of General Lopez. He prolonged for three days the privilege of the day to the Lucumis, the most warlike of the tribes of the African slaves in Cuba. The hint was well understood, and many a Creole family shuddered and trembled within doors at the fearful illustration thus exhibited under their eyes of the standing threat that Cuba must be Spanish or African.
“As night comes on all the scattered patries begin to crowd back again to their starting places; they replace the paint and feathers they have danced off, and repair the ravages of the day. Let it be remembered that all this dancing has been done under a tropical sun, and that the January of Cuba is sometimes like our June, or even July. All is then wound up by a ball. The money derived from the sale of licenses for Negro balls forms no contemptible item in the income of the Queen Mother Christiana.”
On the evening of “King’s Day” the disaffected whites sought by device to aggravate a tendency to insubordination of the blacks, hoping thereby to destroy confidence in them and turn the suspicions and rigor of the Captain General from themselves to the Negroes.
To accomplish their designs, no act however derogatory to manhood and justice, equity and honor, was too atrocious for them to perpetrate.
During the African ball this evening, a party of rebels called at a restaurateur, where getting among them a stupid, demented slave whom for hours they kept stimulated with spirits, then aroused to a state of intense excitement by dreadful tales of horror, they placed him in a close carriage, had him taken tot he door of the hall in which the ball was held, and when at the height of their amusement he was ushered into the hall crying, “Blood, blood, blood! Rise, Negroes, rise!” when being soon forced out he continued thus to scream in the street.
Soon was the city in the greatest consternation; the streets in a few minutes filled with troops, and the National Guards were seen in every direction. The sound of the bugle, rattling and ringing of arms, hasty dashing forth and back of expert horsemen, made the scene one of portentous warning.
The frantic black was shot as he ran through the street; fell bleeding, and arrested, the ball immediately surrounded, the inmates arrested and confined in Moro Castle. Arrests were continued during the night, with reports the most extravagant. And although the free black and colored inhabitants were generally safe in their own houses, but few enjoyed sleep that evening.
Few people in the world lead such a life as the white inhabitants of Cuba, and those of the South now comprising the “Southern Confederacy of America.” A dreamy existence of the most fearful apprehensions, of dread, horror and dismay; suspicion and distrust, jealousy and envy continually pervade the community; and Havana, New Orleans, Charleston or Richmond may be thrown into consternation by an idle expression of the most trifling or ordinary ignorant black. A sleeping wake or waking sleep, a living death or tormented life is that of the Cuban and American slaveholder. For them there is no safety. A criminal in the midst of a powder bin with a red-hot pigot of iron in his hand, which he is compelled to hold and char the living flesh to save his life, or let it fall to relieve him from torture, and thereby incur instantaneous destruction, nor the inhabitants of a house on the brow of a volcano could not exist in greater torment than these most unhappy people.
Of the two classes of these communities, the master and slave, the blacks have everything to hope for and nothing to fear, since let what may take place their redemption from bondage is inevitable. They must and will be free; whilst the whites have everything to fear and nothing to hope for, “God is just, and his justice will not sleep forever.”
The severe ordeal through which the rebel party had recently passed tended only to awaken in them against the balcks feelings of the bitterest resentment. Smarting as they were by the wound, still bleeding from the disappointment lately received under trying circumstances, they determined on taking a stand in which, could they not succeed in attaining political equality with the Castilians, at least would enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that they stood above the Negroes. This superiority, they were satisfied, was not to be attained by the elevation of themselves but by putting the Negroes down.
For weeks subsequent to the evening of the last King’s Day, the blacks had to withstand the most trying difficulties. Every place of public entertainment, saloon, hotel, coach, cabin passage or what not–the greater part of which being controlled by Americans–were closed against Negroes and mulattoes.
On enetering the public market, did a white but appear at a shamble or a stand, though the black was first, he must await the serving of the white, and at his or her bidding, stand back at a “respectful” distance; and on passing along the sidewalk, at the command of a white, every black man was compelled to uncover his head, and leave the pavement for the street. The rule applied to the sidewalks was afterwards restricted upon both sexes. On entering shops and storehouses their hats had always to be raised, and females on entering such places were subject to the coarsest of treatment.
Every day brought to the ears of the unhappy blacks fresh news of some new outrage, but as yet this had not been extended to the better class among them. They were doomed, however, to enjoy but a short respite of this kind, as one evening the whole population was thrown into a ferment of feverish consternation.
How long, O gracious God! how long
Shall power lord it over right?
The feeble trampled by the strong
Remain in Slavery’s gloomy night!
On entering his study, where sat in waiting Blake, Montego, Antonio, Blacus, and Gofer Gondolier, the mutilated and crippled bard exclaimed:
“At last has it come! At last has it come!” falling exhausted upon his couch.
“Good heavens! Placido, what is the matter?” cried Blacus, to which there was no reply.
“My God! What is the matter?” exclaimed Montego.
“Enough’s the matter!” interposed Gondolier. “These devils of ‘patriots’ as they call themselves, have been murdering him as sure’s you’re born, just as they’ll do the whole of us if we don’t begin first.”
“Gondolier, I’m surprised!” replied Montego. “And–”
“So am I,” interrupted he. “General, pardon me–but I do hate them reptiles so!”
“You are wrong, Gondolier. We should not ‘hate’ our fellow man, as God made us all,” admonished Montego.
“I don’t care if he did, General; they hate us, an’ I’ll do them as they do us. They don’t care if God did make us: they don’t treat us any better on that account,” rejoined Gondolier.
“They don’t all hate us; there are some good ones among them, as well as other people.”
“Good ones, hey! I don’t know where you’d find them; I’m sure it wouldn’t be among the whites of Cuba. But we’re neglecting our murdered brother there, disputing about them serpents which the Scriptures told us long ago should have their heads mashed,” said Gondolier.
“Never mind, he dozes now,” admonished Montego in a whisper, looking round at the couch where lay the bleeding poet.
“We must know something more about this,” said Gondolier, “find out who these devils is that have been beating out his brains.”
Justin Pampo, the black surgeon, was called in, who, on examination, pronounced a serious contusion of the cheek, with slight concussion of the brain. On recovering sufficiently to relate his grievances, a thrill of terror and almost irrepressible indignation were manifestly felt.
“This is certainly a serious state of affairs; and that, too, withut a medium of redress,” said the surgeon.
“Yes,” replied Gondolier, “and we ought to by this time be able to redress our grievances. Some men are born to command and othes to obey; and it is well that this is the case, else I might be a commander; and ef I was, I might command when orders should not be given.”
“This is your failing, Gondolier,” said Montego; “and one good reason why you should not hold command. I want no better under-officer, as orders received would be strictly executed.”
“Yes, General, I know my ‘failing,’ and it’s useless to talk to me about ‘policy’ and nonsense when a bloodhound is tearing out my vitals. ‘Discretion’ at such a time. Give me a revolver, knife, club, brickbat, or anything with which to defend myself, and I’ll put a varment to flight. If a tiger, hyena, or any other wild beast should attack you, ought you to take its life immediately, or stop to argue the best method of getting rid of danger? ‘Self-preservation is nature’s first law’; an old truth my grandmammy taught me many years ago when a child sitting in the chimbly corner. I haven’t forgot it yet,” rejoined Gondolier starting from his seat toward the door.
“I am now satisfied that we must do something,” concluded Montego.
The consternation succeeding the spread of this intelligence was indescrible. Females who heretofore held up their heads as ladies of the first rank in society, lost their personal pride and seemingly self-respect, and might thenceforth be seen with dejected spirits, downcast countenances, shying along, giving the entire sidewalk at the approach of every white, frequently going into the street. Men of position and means had also begun to lose their spirits, and children cowered at the sight of a white child.
Among the restrictions in the new Negro laws, the blacks, without regard to age or sex, were compelled to salute all white children, by the appellation of “master” and “mistress.” Though the people generally despaired, their leaders were firm; and the maltreatment of one of the ablest and best men among them had well nigh cost the whites in exchange for the proud edifices of their extensive city, a smouldering heap of ruins. Succeeding this despair there was a reaction. A new vigor seemed ever to actuate, and a new impulse given to these faithful men and women determined to be free.
“I will not submit–I will never submit to the base and degrading restrictions! I’ll die first!” indignantly exclaimed Madame Montego as she sat with other ladies at the bedside of the disabled and suffering Placido.
“We will not,” replied Madame Carmino. “We are Creoles, and, take our people generally, are the most numerous part of the population. I don’t see why we should be put down by a set of intruders.”
“We will not submit!” added Carolus Blacus. “This, ladies, you may depend upon.”
“Thank God,” exclaimed Madame Montego, “There is yet some hope!”
Blake during the whole of these scenes was grave and sober, having nothing to say; Montego was thoughtless with determined look, while Gondolier occasionally gave his head a significant nod to one side which all present comprehended.
That evening the seclusion met in Council against the most intense sensation. The bedside of Placido was visited by every member again and again, with sighs, tears, prayers and expressions of vengeance by Gofer Gondolier, who had no scruples in assuming to himself this particular duty of political dispensation. The Council sat the whole evning, the members dispersing after daylight the next morning.
That day early in the afternoon Ambrosina Cordora, the daughter of Madame Montego, and Seraphina Blacus took a promenade through a portion of the Almeda. When in a thronged part of the thoroughfare, Ambrosina accidentally came against a lady with whom there was a gentleman. Politely bowing she made acknowledgements for the balk, which the lady acknowledged with a bow and passed on. The man, however, gave her a rude push with an oath and other hard language.
On returning she passed by a store (a fancy dry goods shop) in which sat the man whom she had encountered with the lady, who proved to be the proprietor of the shop. Snatching up a horsewhip, which seems to have been secured for the purpose, running out and seizing her by the breast of the dress rending it in tatters, he dealt upon her person over the arms, neck, head, and face the most cruel punishment, to the sad disfiguring of her features for the time. Her cries brought no white persons to her relief–the blacks dared not have attempted it.
With the clothes half torn from her person, the distressed young woman made as hasty retreat as possible to her home, rushing into the house, falling upon the neck of her mother with a screech, as that lady sat in the drawing room in conversation with a number of others, just then recounting their sufferings as a class.
“O! My God, my God!” screamed the mother. “What does all this mean?”
“I see it! I see!” exclaimed Madame Sebastian, “’tis but a continuance of the outrages commenced on Placido. O gracious Heavens, is there no remedy for this!”
“If this is the way we are to be treated,” said Maggie Blake, who was then residing in the Montego family, “for my own part I would rather be dead at once! O, must I again become a slave! Is there no mercy in Heaven for us!”
“O! This is dreadful, dreadful!” exclaimed Madame Blacus, wife of Carolus. “In God’s name what’s to become of us!”
“God only knows!” responded Madame Barbosa, throwing herself carelessly upon a sofa.
“Lord have mercy on us!” implored Abyssa Gondolier, clasping her hands, the tears streaming down her cheeks as she looked upon the tattered, torn, and abused beautiful girl, still clinging to the neck of her distressed mother. “Have mercy on–”
“Ef He don’t I will!” interrupted Gondolier who just entered in time to catch the exclamation of his wife, he having learned of the outrage previously in the streets.
“I wish I was dead, so I do!” sobbed the poor girl, amidst the most distressing weeping.
“Stop, Gondolier, don’t blaspheme! Remember upon whom we depend for aid,” interrupted Madame Montego as he stood with eyes fixed upon her maltreated child. “Offend not Him who gave us being.”
“Thank you, Madame, for the advice; I won’t! All honor and praise be to God! But we have a race of devils to deal with that would make an angel swear. Educated devils that’s capable of everything hellish under the name of religion, law, politics, social regulations, and the higher civilization; so that the helpless victim be of the black race. Curse them! I hate ’em! Let me into the streets and give me but half a chance and I’ll unjoint them faster than ever I did a roast pig for the palace dinner table.”
“Yes, Gondolier, I know your desires; but we must be prudent and use no rashness at such a time as this especially. ‘He that killeth with the sword, will be slain with the sword,’ remember,” admonished Madame Montego.
“Madame Montego, your gospel talking is very good,” replied Gondolier, “but the same book tells me, ‘whatsoever sheds man’s blood shall his blood be shed.’ As they shed the blood of our brother two days ago by dashing him on the pavement, and the blood of our sister here today by a horsewhip, I would like to shed theirs with a knife,” replied he.
“We must not exasperate, nor even aggravate the whites, Señor Gondolier,” remarked Madame Barbosa, “as we must guard against making bad worse.”
“I wish I was a man, I’d lay the city in ashes this night, so I would,” retorted Ambrosina.
“Stop, my child,” admonished the mother, “if you were a man suited to such an undertaking, you would have better sense than to attempt it at an improper time.”
“Yes, yes, my child, you must think of these things and not desire that which would only precipitate us into more trouble,” added Madame Blacus.
“One thing I do know, if our men do not decide on something in our favor, they will soon be called to look upon us in a state of concubinage; for such treatment as this will force every weak-minded woman to place herself under the care of those who are able to protect them from personal abuse. If they have no men of their associations who can, they must find those who will!–O, my God, the thought is enough to drive me distracted–I’ll destroy myself first!” said Ambrosina, startling every person present.
“You speak rationally, my child, regarding yourself, that is just what white men desire to do, drive colored women as a necessity to seek their protection that they may become the subjects of their lust. Do you die first before thinking of such a thing: and let what might come, before yielding to such degradation as that I would be one of the first to aid in laying the city in ashes!” replied the mother.
“What say you to this, General?” exclaimed Gondolier, pointing at the girl, who renewed her lamentations with those of her mother, as Montego, who hearing of the circumstance had hastened to the mansion and just entered the room.
“By yonder blue heavens, I’ll avenge this outrage!” said Montego, embracing the mother and daughter as they sat wailing.
“I thank God, then there is still some hope! My lot is cast with that of my race, whether for weal or woe,” exclaimed Ambrosina, with brightened countenance; when Gondolier, rejoicing as he left the room to spread among the blacks an authentic statement of the outrage:
“Woe be unto those devils of whites, I say!”