Monday, November 14, 2011

Joana - Black is Beautiful

[From Stedman's Narrative of a Five Year's Expedition against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam, 1838.]


'I first saw Joanna at the house of a Mr. Demelly, where I daily breakfasted. She was about fifteen years of age, and a remarkable favorite with his lady. Rather taller than the middle size, she had the most elegant shape nature can exhibit, and moved her well formed limbs with unusual gracefulness. Her face was full of native modesty, and the most distinguished sweetness. Her eyes, as black as ebony, were large, and full of expression, bespeaking the goodness of her heart. A beautiful tinge of vermillion glowed through her dark cheeks, when she was gazed upon. Her nose was perfectly well formed, and rather small. Her lips, a little prominent, discovered, when she spoke, two regular rows of teeth as white as mountain snow. Her hair was dark brown, inclining to black, forming a beautiful globe of small ringlets, ornamented with flowers and gold spangles. Round her neck, arms, and ancles, she wore gold chains, rings and medals. A shawl of India muslin was thrown negligently over her polished shoulders; and a skirt of rich chintz completed her apparel. In her delicate hand she carried a beaver hat, ornamented with a band of silver. The figure and appearance of this charming creature could not but attract my particular attention; as they did, indeed, that of all who beheld her. With much surprise, I inquired of Mrs. Demelly who this girl was, that appeared so much distinguished above others of her color in the colony.

'The lady replied, 'she is, sir, the daughter of a highly respectable gentleman, named Kruythoff. He had five children by a black woman, called Cery, the slave of a Mr. D. B. on his estate Fauconberg.

"'A few years since, Mr. Kruythoff offered more than a thousand pounds sterling to Mr. D. B., to obtain manumission for his offspring. This being inhumanly refused, it had such an effect upon his spirits that he became frantic, and died in that melancholy state soon after; leaving in slavery, at the discretion of a tyrant, two boys, and three fine girls, of which the one before us is the eldest. The gold ornaments which seem to surprise you, are the gift of her faithful mother, who is a most deserving woman, and of some consequence among her caste. She attended Mr. Kruythoff to the last moment, with the most exemplary affection; and she received the gold ornaments in token of gratitude from him, a short time before he expired. Since that time, Mr. D. B. has driven all his best negroes to the woods, by his injustice and severity. He has been obliged to fly the colony, leaving his estate and stock to the disposal of his creditors. One of the slaves, who escaped from him and joined the rebel negroes, has by his industry, been able to protect Cery and her children. He is a samboe, (A samboe is the offspring of a mulatto and a negro.) and his name is Jolycoeur. He has become the first of Baron's captains; and you may chance to meet him in the rebel camp, breathing revenge against the Christians. Mrs. D. B. is still in Surinam, being arrested for her husband's debts, till Fauconberg shall be sold by execution to pay them. This lady now lodges at my house, attended by the unfortunate Joanna, whom she treats with peculiar tenderness and distinction.'

"The tears glistened in Joanna's eyes, during this recital. Having thanked Mrs. Demelly, I returned to my lodging in a state of sadness and stupefaction. To some people this relation may seem trifling and romantic; it is nevertheless a genuine account; and for that reason I flatter myself that there are some, to whom it will not prove uninteresting.

"When I reflected how continually my ears were stunned with the clang of the whip, and the dismal yell of the wretched negroes, on whom it was exercised from morning till night; when I considered that this might be the fate of the unfortunate mulatto I have been describing, I could not but execrate the barbarity of Mr. D. B. in having withheld her from the protection of an affectionate parent. I became melancholy with these reflections. In order to counter-balance, though in a very small degree, the general calamity of the miserable slaves who surrounded me, I began to take more delight in the prattling of my poor negro boy, Quacco, than in all the fashionable conversation of the polite inhabitants of this colony. But my spirits were depressed; and in the space of twenty-four hours I was very ill indeed; when a cordial, a few preserved tamarinds, and a basket of fine oranges, were sent by an unknown person. This first contributed to my relief; and losing about twelve ounces of blood, I recovered so far, that on the fifth I was able to accompany Capt. Macneyl, who gave me a pressing invitation to his beautiful coffee plantation, on Matapaca Creek.


"On my return, I took an early opportunity to inquire of Mrs. Demelly what was become of the amiable Joanna. She informed me that Mrs. D. B. had escaped to Holland; and that the young mulatto was now at the house of her own aunt, a free woman whence she hourly expected to be sent to the estate Fauconberg, friendless, and at the mercy of any unprincipled overseer appointed by the creditors. I flew in search of the poor girl, and found her bathed in tears. When I expressed my compassion, she gave me such a look--ah! such a look! that I determined to protect her from every insult, cost me what it would. Reader, let my youth and extreme sensibility plead my excuse.

Yet surely my feelings will be forgiven, except by those few who approve of the prudent conduct of Mr. Inkle toward the unfortunate and much injured Yarico, at Barbadoes.

"I next went to my friend, Mr. Lolkens, who happened to be the administrator of Fauconberg estate, and intimated to him my strange determination of purchasing Joanna, and giving her a good education. Having looked at me in silence, until he recovered from his surprise, he proposed an interview; the beautiful slave, accompanied by a female relation, was accordingly brought trembling into my presence.


"Reader, if the story of Lavinia ever afforded you pleasure, do not reject this account of Joanna with contempt. It now proved to be she who had privately sent me the oranges and cordial, in March, when I was nearly expiring; and she modestly acknowledged that 'it was in token of gratitude for the pity I had expressed concerning her sad situation.' Yet, with singular delicacy, she rejected every proposal of becoming mine upon any terms. She said, that if I soon returned to Europe, she must either be parted from me forever, or accompany me to a land where the inferiority of her condition must prove a great disadvantage to her benefactor and to herself; and in either of these cases, she should be most miserable.

"Joanna returned to her aunt's house, firmly persisting in these sentiments. I could only request Mr. Lolkens to afford her all the protection in his power; and that she might, at least for some time, be allowed to live separate from the other slaves, and remain in Paramaribo. In this request he kindly indulged me.

"Notwithstanding my resolution of living retired, I was again drawn into the vortex of dissipation; and I did not escape without the punishment I deserved. I was suddenly seized with a dreadful fever; and such was its violence, that in a few days I was entirely given over. In this situation, I lay in my hammock until the seventeenth, with only a soldier and my black boy to attend me, and without any other friend. Sickness being universal among the new comers to this country, neglect was an inevitable consequence, even among the nearest acquaintance. The inhabitants of the colony, it is true, not only supply the sick with a variety of cordials at the same time, but they crowd into his apartment, prescribing, insisting, bewailing, and lamenting, friend and stranger, without exception. This continues until the patient becomes delirious and expires. Such must inevitably have been my case, between the two extremes of neglect and importunity, had it not been for the happy intervention of poor Joanna, who one morning entered my apartment, with one of her sisters, to my unspeakable surprise and joy. She told me she had heard of my forlorn situation; and if I still entertained for her the same good opinion I had formerly expressed, her only request was that she might be permitted to wait upon me till I recovered. I gratefully accepted the offer; and by her unwearied care and attention, I had the good fortune to regain my health so far, that in a few days I was able to take an airing in Mr. Kennedy's carriage.

"Till this time, I had been chiefly Joanna's friend; but now I began to feel that I was her captive. I renewed my wild proposals of purchasing, educating, and transporting her to Europe; but though these offers were made with the most perfect sincerity, she once more rejected them, with the following humble declaration:

"'I am born a low, contemptible slave. Were you to treat me with too much attention, you must degrade yourself with all your friends and relations. The purchase of my freedom is apparently impossible; it certainly will prove difficult and expensive. Yet though I am a slave, I hope I have a soul not inferior to Europeans. I do not blush to avow the great regard I have for one, who has distinguished me so much above others of my unhappy birth. You have, sir, pitied me; and now, independent of every other thought, I have pride in throwing myself at your feet, till fate shall part us, or my conduct become such as to give you cause to banish me from your presence.'

"She uttered this with a timid, downcast look, and the tears fell fast upon her heaving bosom, while she held her companion by the hand.

"From that moment this excellent creature was mine; nor had I ever any cause to repent of the step I had taken.

"I cannot omit to record, that having purchased for her bridal presents, to the value of twenty guineas, I was greatly astonished to see all my gold returned upon my table. The charming Joanna had carried every article back to the merchants, who had cheerfully restored the money.

"'Your generous intentions toward me are sufficient, sir,' said she; 'allow me to say that I consider any superfluous expense on my account as a diminution of that good opinion, which I hope you now, and ever will, entertain concerning my disinterested disposition.'

"Such was the language of a slave, who had simple nature only for her instructor. The purity of her sentiments requires no comments of mine; I respected them, and resolved to improve them by every care.

"Regard for her superior virtues, gratitude for her particular attention to me, and the pleasure of introducing to the world a character so estimable, rising from a situation usually so hopeless and degraded--these considerations embolden me to risk the censure of my readers, by intruding this subject upon their attention. If my apology be accepted even by a few, I shall not feel inclined to complain.
"In the evening, I visited Mr. Demelly and his lady, who congratulated me on my recovery; and, strange as it may appear to many of my readers, they, with a smile, wished me joy of what they were pleased to call my conquest. One lady assured me that I was censured by some, applauded by many, but she believed in her heart envied by all.

"Many of our respectable friends sanctioned the wedding by their presence; and I was as happy as any bridegroom ever was.

"Thus concludes a chapter, which, methinks I hear many of my readers whisper, had better never had a beginning."

Not long after his marriage, Capt. Stedman was ordered on a distant and hazardous expedition. He commemorates his parting with Joanna in a paraphrase, which does not contrast very favorably with the vigorous simplicity of his prose, or with the spirit and gracefulness of his numerous drawings:
'Now my mulatto cast a mournful look,
Hung on my hand, and then dejected spoke;
Her bosom labor'd with a boding sigh,
And the big tear stood trembling in her eye.'
The affectionate young wife was left under the protection of her mother and aunt, with directions that she should attend school during the absence of her husband.

The campaign was wearisome and fruitless; for the rebel negroes, as cunning as they were courageous, continually eluded pursuit; while the European troops sunk rapidly under manifold sufferings and a burning climate. They were in such a state of starvation, disease and despair, that the slaves (who had been induced, by the offer of freedom, to enlist against their own people) sighed deeply when they looked upon them, and said, 'Oh! poty backera!' 'Oh! poor Europeans!'

Their spirits were sustained by the hopes of being soon recalled. Captain Stedman says:

"All seemed to revive when they saw me receive a letter from Colonel Fourgeoud; for we all expected to be relieved from our horrid situation: But what was our surprise and distress, to find that we were ordered to remain on this forlorn station! The men declared they were sacrificed to no manner of purpose. By the distribution of some tamarinds, oranges, lemons, and Madeira wine, sent by my best friend, at Paramaribo, I was enabled to afford them a temporary relief; but the next day we were as much distressed as ever.

"On the ninth, we marched to the port called Devil's Harwar, leaving ten men behind, some with agues, some stung blind, and some with their feet full of the tormenting insects called chigoes. After indescribable sufferings we arrived, covered with mud and blood. I was rejoiced to find Lieutenant Colonel Westerloo had arrived and taken command; I hoped at last to meet with some relief. Having ceded to him my written orders, I plunged into the steam to bathe and swim. I found myself greatly refreshed by this, as well as by receiving a quantity of fine fruit, wine, and sugar, from my Joanna. The surgeons declared that I must soon die, unless I were allowed an opportunity to recruit my health. A consultation was held; and at last, not without great difficulties, a boat was ordered to row me down to Paramaribo. Resting on the shoulder of a negro, I walked to the water-side, followed by my black boy Quacco, and stepping into the boat left the dismal spot where I had buried so many brave fellows.

"At two o'clock in the morning I arrived, extremely ill. Having no house of my own, I was hospitably received by Mr. De la Marre, a merchant, who immediately sent for poor Joanna to come and attend me. I soon found myself in an elegant, well-furnished apartment, encouraged by the physician, caressed by friends, and supported by the care and attention of my incomparable mulatto.

"My linen had been gnawed to dust by the cockroach, called cakreluce in Surinam; but Joanna's industry soon supplied me with a new stock.

"Before I had entirely recovered from my debilitated condition, I suddenly received the frightful tidings that the estate of Fauconberg, with the whole stock of slaves, was to be sold that very day for the benefit of creditors. I hastened to the slave-market. where I found my poor Joanna. After what I have related concerning the savage treatment universally bestowed upon the slaves, the reader may form some faint idea of my distress. I suffered all the horrors of the damned. Again and again, I bewailed the unworthy fortune that put it out of my power to become her proprietor. I imagined her ensuing dreadful situation. I fancied I saw her insulted, tortured, bowing under the weight of her chains, calling aloud for my assistance, and calling in vain. Misery almost deprived me of my senses. I was restored, in some degree, by the assurances of my friend, Mr. Lolkens, who providentially was appointed to continue administrator of the estate, during the absence of its new possessors, Messrs. Passelage and Son, of Amsterdam. This disinterested and steady friend took Joanna from the auction scene, brought her into my presence, and solemnly pledged himself to protect her and assist me, to the utmost of his power. In this promise he ever after nobly persevered."

Here follows the account of another distressing campaign, which I pass over entirely, because it is unconnected with the subject of the story. Capt. Stedman proceeds as follows:


"On the nineteenth, I reached L'Esperance, or The Hope, a valuable sugar plantation, on the beautiful river Comewina. Here the troops were lodged in temporary houses, built with the manicole tree. I became daily more charmed with my situation. I was at liberty to breathe freely; and my prospect of future contentment promised to reward me amply for past hardships and mortifications. The neighboring planters, for whose safety we were stationed at this post, plentifully supplied us with game, fish, fruit and vegetables.

"I had been here but a short time, when I was surprised by the waving of a white handkerchief from a tent-boat, that was rowing up the river; when, to augment my happiness, it unexpectedly proved to be my mulatto, accompanied by her aunt. They now preferred Fauconberg estate, four miles above The Hope, to a residence in town. I immediately accompanied them to that plantation. Here Joanna introduced me to a venerable old slave, her grandfather, who made me a present of half a dozen fowls. He was gray-headed and blind; he had been comfortably supported many years through the kind attention of his numerous offspring. He told me he was born in Africa; where he had once been treated with more respect than any of his Surinam masters ever were in their own country.

"Many of my readers will no doubt be surprised that I so often mention Joanna, and with so much respect. But I cannot speak with indifference of an object so deserving, and whose affectionate attachment to me was more than sufficient to counterbalance all my misfortunes. Her virtue, youth, and beauty, more and more gained my esteem; while the lowness of her origin increased, rather than diminished, my affection. What can I say further upon this subject? I will content myself with the consolation given by Horace to the Roman soldier:
'Let not my Phocius think it shame
For a fair slave to own his flame;
A slave could stern Achilles move,
And bend his haughty soul to love:
Ajax, invincible in arms,
Was captived by his captive's charms.'

"I have already said that I was happy at The Hope; but how was my felicity increased, when Mr. and Mrs. Lolkens came to visit me one evening, and not only gave me the address of Messrs. Passalage and Son, at Amsterdam, but even desired me to take Joanna to live with me at The Hope, where she could be more agreeably situated than cither at Fauconberg or Paramaribo. This arrangement was unquestionably most readily entered into by me. I immediately set the slaves to work to build a house of manicole trees, for the reception of my best friend. In the mean time I wrote to Messrs. Passalage and Son:


Being informed by Mr. Lolkens, administrator of the Fauconberg estate, that you are the present proprietors; being under great obligations to one of your slaves, named Joanna, who is the daughter of Mr. Kruythoff; and being grateful to her, particularly for her attendance upon me during dangerous illness, I request your permission to purchase her liberty without delay: which favor shall ever be gratefully acknowledged, and the money for her ransom immediately paid, by

Your most obedient servant,

Capt. in Col. Fourgeoud's Corps ot Marines

Joana - Black is Beautiful

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