A Narrative of Events, since the First of August, 1834, by James Williams, an Apprenticed Labourer in Jamaica [NOOK Book]


This book brings back into print, for the first time since the 1830s, a text that was central to the transatlantic campaign to fully abolish slavery in Britain’s colonies. James Williams, an eighteen-year-old Jamaican “apprentice” (former slave), came to Britain in 1837 at the instigation of the abolitionist Joseph Sturge. The Narrative he produced there, one of very few autobiographical texts by Caribbean slaves or former slaves, became one of the most powerful abolitionist tools for effecting the immediate end ...
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A Narrative of Events, since the First of August, 1834, by James Williams, an Apprenticed Labourer in Jamaica

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This book brings back into print, for the first time since the 1830s, a text that was central to the transatlantic campaign to fully abolish slavery in Britain’s colonies. James Williams, an eighteen-year-old Jamaican “apprentice” (former slave), came to Britain in 1837 at the instigation of the abolitionist Joseph Sturge. The Narrative he produced there, one of very few autobiographical texts by Caribbean slaves or former slaves, became one of the most powerful abolitionist tools for effecting the immediate end to the system of apprenticeship that had replaced slavery.
Describing the hard working conditions on plantations and the harsh treatment of apprentices unjustly incarcerated, Williams argues that apprenticeship actually worsened the conditions of Jamaican ex-slaves: former owners, no longer legally permitted to directly punish their workers, used the Jamaican legal system as a punitive lever against them. Williams’s story documents the collaboration of local magistrates in this practice, wherein apprentices were routinely jailed and beaten for both real and imaginary infractions of the apprenticeship regulations.
In addition to the complete text of Williams’s original Narrative, this fully annotated edition includes nineteenth-century responses to the controversy from the British and Jamaican press, as well as extensive testimony from the Commission of Enquiry that heard evidence regarding the Narrative’s claims. These fascinating and revealing documents constitute the largest extant body of direct testimony by Caribbean slaves or apprentices.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“This is simply a fabulous compilation of materials. Paton carefully addresses an impressive range of historical and literary contexts that allow the contemporary reader to fully appreciate the importance of Williams’s narrative.”—Sandra Gunning, author of Race, Rape, and Lynching: The Red Record of American Literature, 1890–1912

“Williams’s narrative contributes a distinctive dimension to our understanding of the development of ‘Black Atlantic’ writing. His is a rare account of a slave’s transition to freedom under the conditions of the British emancipation program in Jamaica. The rich historical and social texture provided by Paton enhances this striking narrative’s import.”—William L. Andrews, coeditor of The Civitas Anthology of African American Slave Narratives

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822383208
  • Publisher: Duke University Press
  • Publication date: 7/2/2001
  • Series: a John Hope Franklin Center Book
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Diana Paton is a Lecturer in the Department of History at the University of


Diana Paton is Lecturer in History at the University of Newcastle, England.

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Read an Excerpt

A Narrative of Events - CL

By James Williams

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2001 James Williams
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780822326588

Chapter One


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 beforetime; 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 mackerel,-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.

Soon after 1st August, massa tried to get me and many otherspunished; he brought us up before Dr. Palmer, but none of us been doing nothing wrong, and magistrate give we right.

After that, Mr. Senior sent me with letter to Captain Connor, to get punished, but magistrate send me back-he would not punish me, till he try me; when I carry letter back to massa, he surprise to see me come back, he been expect Captain Connor would put me in workhouse. Capt. Connor did not come to Penshurst; he left the parish. Massa didn't tell me what charge he have against me.

When Dr. Thompson come to the parish, him call one Thursday, and said he would come back next Thursday, and hold court Friday a narrative of events morning. He come Thursday afternoon, and get dinner, and sleep at Penshurst, and after breakfast, all we apprentices called up. Massa try eight of we, and Dr. Thompson flog every one; there was five man, and three boys: them flog the boys with switches, but the men flog with the cat. One of the men was the old driver, Edward Lawrence; Massa say he did not make the people take in the pimento crop clean; he is quite old-head quite white-haven't got one black hair in it, but Dr. Thompson ordered him to be flogged; not one of the people been doing any thing wrong; all flog for trifling, foolish thing, just to please the massa.

When them try me, massa said, that one Friday I was going all round the house with big stone in my hand, looking for him and his sister, to knock them down. I was mending stone wall round the house by massa's order; I was only a half-grown boy that time. I told magistrate, I never do such thing, and offer to bring evidence about it; he refuse to hear me or my witness; would not let me speak; he sentence me to get 39 lashes; eight policemen was present, but magistrate make constable flog at first; them flog the old driver first, and me next; my back all cut up and cover with blood,-could not put on my shirt-but massa say, constable not flogging half hard enough, that my back not cut at all;-then the magistrate make one of the police take the cat to flog the other three men, and him flog most unmerciful. It was Henry James, Thomas Brown, and Adam Brown that the police flog. Henry James was an old African; he had been put to watch large corn-piece -no fence round it-so the cattle got in and eat some of the corn-he couldn't help it, but the magistrate flog him for it. After the flogging, he got quite sick, and began coughing blood; he went to the hot-house, but got no attention, them say him not sick. He go to Capt. Dillon to complain about it; magistrate give him paper to carry to massa, to warn him to court on Thursday; that day them go to Brown's Town, Capt. Dillon and a new magistrate, Mr. Rawlinson, was there. Capt. Dillon say that him don't think Henry James was sick; he told him to go back, and come next Thursday, and he would have doctor to examine him; the old man said he did not know whether he should live till Thursday. He walk away, but before he get out of the town, he drop down dead-all the place cover with blood that he puke up. He was quite well before the flogging, and always said it was the flogging bring on the sickness.

Same day Henry James dead, Massa carry me and Adam Brown before magistrate; he said I did not turn out sheep till nine o'clock on Wednesday morning; I told magistrate the sheep was kept in to be dressed, and I was eating my breakfast before dressing them; but Capt. Dillon sentence me and Adam Brown to lock up in the dungeon at Knapdale for ten days and nights; place was cold and damp, and quite dark-a little bit of a cell, hardly big enough for me to lie full length; them give me a pint of water and two little cocoa or plantain a day;-hardly able to stand up when we come out, we was so weak; massa and misses said we no punish half enough; massa order we straight to our work, and refuse to let we go get something to eat.

The week after we let out of dungeon, Mr. Rawlinson come to Penshurst, and tell some of the people he not done with me yet about the sheep; we only put in dungeon for warning, and he would come back next Thursday, and try we again for it; he did come Thursday about four o'clock, and send call us; when we come, him and massa and misses was at dinner-we sent in say we come-them said, Never mind till morning. We know this magistrate come to punish we for nothing, so we go over to Capt. Dillon at Southampton to complain; he write paper next morning to police-station, and policeman take us home. Mr. Rawlinson gone already, and Misses said he left order that we to lock up every night, and keep at work in day-time, till he come back-but police say no, Capt. Dillon order that we not to punish till he try we himself on Thursday, at Brown's Town;-Them took us there, but Capt. Dillon did not come, but send paper for the other magistrate to try it, and said them couldn't try us for the same thing again. Mr. Rawlinson said it was not the same thing; Mr. Senior said, No, we had been insolent to him; we call constable to give evidence, and he said we not insolent; Then magistrate say to Mr. Senior, "you mean insolence by manner." Massa answer, "Yes, that is what I mean, insolence by manner." It was magistrate self that put massa up to say this;-Then the magistrate sentence us to get twenty lashes apiece, which was given in front of court-house by police; the punishment was very severe-both of us fainted after it-we lie down on the ground for an hour after it, not able to move; A free man in the place sent some rum and camphor to bring we round. We went home that night, and went into hospital-them would hardly receive us, we stop there that night and Friday, lock up all day and night, and no feeding; Saturday morning massa turned both of us out-we back all sore, quite raw, and we not able to stoop.

Ten days after the flogging at Brown's Town, Mr. Rawlinson come again to Penshurst on the Monday, and slept there. Next morning massa brought me up, and said that after the last punishment, when we got home, I did not turn out the horses and cows that night. I told magistrate I was sick with the flogging, and went to the hot-house, but Mr. Rawlinson order me twenty-five lashes for it; Mr. Senior said, Let it be done on the place-magistrate said yes, and ordered constable, William Dalling, to do it. I begged magistrate not to flog me again, as the other flogging not well yet, but no use, he wouldn't hear me, but rode away from the place. Massa said he have no Cat, but he would find some switches to do it with; I was flogged with lancewood switches upon the old flogging-it tear off all the old scabs, and I not able to lie down on my back for two or three weeks after-was made to work with my back all sore.

About a month after the last flogging, massa said to me one day, that he would send for magistrate, and oblige him to do his duty, that all the gates in the pasture was down, and I never told him, and that I took up too much time to get in two turn of food for the horses; I said I couldn't do more than I was doing, I had too many things to do-first thing in the morning I had to blow shell, then to go to pasture and get in milking cow, and to milk them-then had to look over the sheep and cows, and all the stock, and to dress them that have sores-then to get them altogether, and give to one little boy to take them to pasture; at nine o'clock go to breakfast for half an hour, then have to go mend gaps in the stone wall, after that have to take two asses and a bill, to cut bread-nut fruit for the horses-had to climb the high trees to cut the bread-nut-then to chop it up, and load the two asses and take it home, and to come back for another load:-This finish between four and five, and by that time the little boy bring in all the cattle. I have to look over them and to turn them into different pastures, then have to go and get a bundle of wood for a watch-fire, and after that to supper the horses in the stable at night; they don't allow me to go to negro-houses -obliged to keep watch all night, sleeping in the kitchen, and to answer to all call; Massa said I was only four years apprentice, and don't entitle to any time-that only one day in a fortnight due to me to work my ground and feed myself.

Massa never give me food; he allow me every other Sunday to work my ground, and sometimes he let me change it for anotherday. Magistrate say that was all the time the law allow.

As to the gates being down, massa go through them every day himself and see it, but he say I ought to have told him, and he will make magistrate punish me for it, him swear vengeance against me.

Mr. Rawlinson come on a Friday evening, and I was to have take next day for my day; but massa send me word that me not take the day, as he want to bring me before the magistrate; I was frightened and didn't go next morning: Then I heard that magistrate said as I take the day against orders, when him and me meet he would settle it: I was quite frightened when I heard this, and I go away to Spanish Town to see the governor-but didn't see him, as he was up in the mountain: I go back to St. Ann's, and hide in the woods about Penshurst and Knapsdale; I stop about seven weeks, and then go back to Spanish Town; I went to Mr. Ramsay, and he gave me paper to Mr. Emery, the captain of police, at St. Ann's-I met him on the road-he took me and put me in dungeon at Carlton-was kept there from Wednesday till Friday morning, then policemen came and took me to Brown's Town, and put me in cage till next day; then Mr. Rawlinson had me handcuffed and sent me to Penshurst, and put me in dungeon ten days before he try me.

On the eleventh day Mr. Rawlinson came and slept there that night; next morning he had me brought out, and asked me about the running away, and I told him I go away because I was frightened when I hear how him and massa threaten me; then he sentence me to St. Ann's Bay workhouse, for nine days, to get fifteen lashes in going in-to dance the treadmill morning and evening, and work in the penal gang: and after I come back from the punishment, I must lock up every night in dungeon till he visit the property again, and I have to pay fifty days out of my own time for the time I been runaway.

Then they handcuff me to a woman belonging to Little-field, to send to the workhouse; she have a 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 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 treadmill 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 show 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, belonging 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 bar over head, by the two wrists, quite tight; and if the people not able to catch the step, then 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 flog the people as hard as he can lay it on-man and woman all alike.

One day, while I was in, two young women 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 hard; they didn't tie up their clothes high enough, so that 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 all run 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 they 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 canehole, 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.


Excerpted from A Narrative of Events - CL by James Williams Copyright © 2001 by James Williams. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Editor's Acknowledgments
A Note on the Text
A Narrative of Events, since the First of August, 1834, by James Williams, an Apprenticed Labourer in Jamaica 1
A Report of Evidence Taken at Brown's-town and St. Ann's Bay in the Parish of St. Ann's, under a Commission from His Excellency Sir Lionel Smith, Governor of Jamaica 45
Additional Documents 95
Bibliography 131
Index 139
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