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Historical Notes St Vincent and the Grenadines

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First Impressions

“I beheld the West Indies for the first time, when, at sun-rise, on the last day of December 1820, we anchored in the lonely bay of Calliaqua in the island of St.Vincent…It was Sunday morning, and a novel spectacle soon awaited me. I saw, for the first time, bands of negroes proceeding from the different estates, some with baskets and others with wooden trays on their heads, carrying the surplus produce of their provision grounds to market.{{more}}

Accustomed to a devout observance of the Sabbath day, I could feel little pleasure in gazing on a scene which in other circumstances would have given me unfeigned pleasure…The few females we passed, were engaged in washing by the river side; for in this country, and generally I understand in these colonies, all the washing is performed with cold water, by the side of some running stream. The appearance of these women was disgusting; some of them, it is true, had apparently good clothes; but with one exception, the arms were drawn out of the sleeves, which with the body of the gown, hung down as useless appendages; while from the waist upwards, all was in a state of nudity…

The first evening we passed in a gentleman’s house at a short distance from our own; it was spent much in the same way as in England, drinking tea between seven and eight, and music filled up the remainder. The drawing room we sat in entered through the hall, and when the music began, I heard a noise in that direction. The lady of the house observing me turn round, said, ‘that is only the little negroes; they are dancing there; and are all extremely fond of it.’ I had every inclination to take a peep but I was afraid if they saw me, they would stop. I have since found by experience, however, that had I gone, it would have proved no such interruption, for negroes are not at any age at all abashed by the presence of a stranger. And thus passed the first twelve hours on shore in a West India colony…”

(Mrs Carmaichael, Domestic Manners and Social Conditions of the White, Coloured and Negro population of the West Indies.)

Mrs Carmaichael was the wife of a planter and came to the West Indies at a time when the fight against slavery was very much in the air. She tried to portray a picture of slavery as being very mild, in her attempt to answer some of the Abolitionists who were pointing to the terrible conditions in the colonies.

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