Friday, April 8, 2011


A Narrative of Events, since the First of August, 1834

By James Williams, an Apprenticed Labourer in Jamaica

I AM about eighteen years old. I was a slave belonging to Mr. Senior and his sister, and was brought up at the place where they live, called Penshurst, in Saint Ann's parish, in Jamaica.

I have been very ill treated by Mr. Senior and the magistrates since the new law come in. Apprentices get a great deal more punishment now than they did when they was slaves; the master take spite, and do all he can to hurt them before the free come;--I have heard my master say, "Those English devils say we to be free, but if we is to free, he will pretty well weaken we, before the six and the four years done; we shall be no use to ourselves afterwards."

Apprentices a great deal worse off for provision than before-time; magistrate take away their day, and give to the property; massa give we no salt allowance, and no allowance at Christmas; since the new law begin, he only give them two mackarel,--that was one time when them going out to job.

When I was a slave, I never flogged,--I sometimes was switched, but not badly; but since the new law begin, I have been flogged seven times, and put in the house of correction four times.


Then they handcuff me to a woman belonging to Little-field, to send to the workhouse; she have little child carrying on her back, and basket on her head, and when she want to give pickaniny suck, she obliged to rest it on one hand to keep it to the breast, and keep walking on; police don't stop to make her suckle the child. When we get to the workhouse, that same evening they give me the fifteen lashes; the flogging
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was quite severe and cut my back badly; Then they put collar and chain upon my neck, and chain me to another man. Next morning they put me on the tread-mill along with the others: At first, not knowing how to dance it, I cut all my shin with the steps; they did not flog me then--the driver shewed me how to step, and I catch the step by next day; But them flog all the rest that could not step the mill, flogged them most dreadful.
There was one old woman with grey head, belong to Mr. Wallace, of Farm, and she could not dance the mill at all: she hang by the two wrists which was strapped to the bar, and the driver kept on flogging her;--she get more than all the rest, her clothes cut off with the Cat--the shoulder strap cut with it, and her shift hang down over that side-- then they flog upon that shoulder and cut it up very bad; but all the flogging couldn't make she dance the mill, and when she come down all her back covered with blood. They keep on putting her on the mill for a week, and flog her every time, but when they see she could not dance it, they stop putting her on; if they no been stop, they would have kill her.

There was about thirty people in the workhouse that time, mostly men; nearly all have to dance the tread-mill morning and evening; six or eight on the tread-mill one time, and when them done, another spell go on, till them all done; every one strap to the bar over head, by the two wrists, quite tight; and if the people not able to catch the step, them hang by the two wrist, and the mill-steps keep on batter their legs and knees, and the driver with the cat keep on flog them all the time till them catch the step.

The women was obliged to tie up their clothes, to keep them from tread upon them, while they dance the mill; them have to tie them up so as only to reach down to the knee, and half expose themself; and the man have to roll up their trowsers above the knee, then the driver can flog their legs with the cat, if them don't dance good; and when they flog the legs till they all cut up, them turn to the back and flog away; but if the person not able to dance yet, them stop the mill, and make him drop his shirt from one shoulder, so as to get at his bare back with the Cat. The boatswain
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flog the people as hard as he can lay it on--man and woman all alike. One day while I was in, two young woman was sent in from Moneague side, to dance the mill, and put in dungeon, but not to work in penal gang; them don't know how to dance the mill, and driver flog, them very bad; they didn't tie up their clothes high enough, so their foot catch upon the clothes when them tread the mill and tear them;--And then between the Cat and the Mill--them flog them so severe,--they cut away most of their clothes, and left them in a manner naked; and the driver was bragging afterwards that he see all their nakedness.

Dancing tread-mill is very hard work, it knock the people up-- the sweat run all down from them--the steps all wash up with the sweat that drop from the people, just the same as if you throw water on the steps.

One boatswain have to regulate the pole* of the mill, and make it go fast or slow, as him like; sometimes them make it go very fast, and then the people can't catch the step at all--then the other boatswain flogging away and cutting the people's legs and backs without mercy. The people bawl and cry so dreadful, you could hear them a mile off; the same going on every time the mill is about; driver keep the Cat always going while the people can't step.

When them come off the mill, you see all their foot cut up behind with the Cat, and all the skin bruise off the shin with the mill-steps, and them have to go down to the sea-side to wash away the blood.

After all done dance the mill, them put chain and collar on again, and chain two, three, and sometime four together, and turn we out to work penal gang--send us to different estate to work--to dig cane-hole, make fence, clean pasture, and dig up heavy roots, and sometimes to drag cart to bring big stone from mountain-side, about two or three miles from the bay; have to drag cart up steep hill. About ten o'clock they give we breakfast,--one quart of corn boiled up with a little salt; sometime they give we a shad between two or three of we.

They keep us at work till between four and five o'clock, then take us back to the workhouse--take the chains off we all, and make us go upon the mill again, same fashion as in the morning. After that them put us into the bar-room--put the chain and collar on again, and our foot in the shackle-bar, to sleep so till morning. All the woman put into one room, and all the man in another; them that have any of the breakfast left from morning, them eat it after lock up, but them that eat all the allowance at breakfast, must starve till morning.

We keep on so every day till Sunday. Sunday the women sent to Mr. Drake's yard,* to clean it--and half the man go cut grass for his horses, and the other half carry water for the workhouse. After that they have to grind all the hoes, and the bills, and the axes, ready for Monday. Them work we all with the chains on, on Sunday, but they don't put us on tread-mill that day.

When the nine days done, them send me home; I so weak I hardly able to reach home; when I get there, Mr. Senior put me in the dungeon, and keep me there for four days and nights; he give me four little bananas and a piece of pumpkin with a little dry salt, and a pint of water. Magistrate didn't order me to be locked up in the day, only at night, but massa do it of his own will.

Then I begg'd massa to let me out, and I would do whatever I can to please him, and he do so, and order me to get bundle of wood and keep watch every night, instead of going to the dungeon.

After coming out of workhouse I never feel well, and about three weeks after, I got quite sick with fever and head-ache, and pain in the stomach; almost dead with the sickness. Massa told me one day, another punishment like that, and it will just do for me--it would kill me quite. Dr. Tucker pay good attention to me, and at last I get over it.

After this, it was long time before they punish me again,

* Mr. Drake is supervisor of the house of correction at St. Ann's Bay.

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