Ch. 5: A Flying Visit To Hayti

Being at this age a man of an enterprising turn of mind and inclined to be somewhat of an adventurer, or, as some of my readers will say, only extending an acquired habit, I was ready to enter upon any new enterprise that might hold out inducements for benefiting my condition or the advancement of the human family. For the purpose of furthering those ambitious ideas I sought the fraternity of the best and most popular societies as a means to carry out that end.

Coming thus far in my history there is a portion of my life that is connected with a foreign land, and I can not refrain from adding it here. In the year 1859, Mr. James Redpath went to Hayti, and while there made arrangements to emigrate as many colored people from the United States to that island as he could induce. He returned to this country and through his influence a large number of persons became interested in the emigration scheme, that during that year he sent two or three vessel loads of human freight to the foreign isle. Early in the following year he sent more from New York, Providence and Boston. He succeeded in making arrangements so that all emigrants should be landed free of charge. He also further arranged with the Haytian government that such emigrants arriving in their country should receive sixteen days’ provisions from the time of landing. I heard so much about this country and the prospects it held out to such enterprisers, and the possibility of soon becoming well-to-do there that I concluded there might be a possible chance for me to enjoy a part of its wealthy production. Time and heresay increased the desire, and I finally thought of going to see the land of milk and honey for myself. I wrote to Mr. Redpath, the agent, informing him of my intentions, and also stating that I preferred to pay my own expenses. His answer came stating that my application and wishes were accepted. No time was wasted in making the necessary preparations for the voyage. May 14th, 1860, found me with an anxious number standing on Liverpool wharf, Boston, Mass., waiting to embark on the schooner Pearl, commanded by captain Porter. Our vessel was not of sufficient capacity to accommodate the number about to go. There were seventy-five emigrants, five cabin passengers, including myself, and a crew consisting of five; too large a number to be assigned to a small schooner. About 5 P. M., we sailed out of the harbor in search of southern islands and southern wealth.

That night we experienced a very severe gale, lasting the whole night. The next morning, Sunday, found us in much sadness. It revealed the horrors of the previous night. Not in the rented sails or strained ropes, but its deadly effects upon a human creature. Among the number that embarked with us the day previous was a young lady full of bright anticipations and apparently hale and hearty, going to seek a living in a foreign land, now lying before us cold and lifeless. The howling winds, the raging billows and the rolling vessel during the night proved a monster too strong for her. Overpowered with exhaustion and fright of being a castaway upon the ocean deep, she falls a victim to death. Others became severely ill and were made speechless for a time from the ordeal of that night. I considered myself to be one of the fortunate ones in not experiencing any sickness or fear. During the gale our two small boats and galley were washed away from the deck. Sunday was a beautiful day, all that could be desired to raise our hopes and quell our fears of the return or approach of another such storm. During the voyage of four weeks and four days after the Saturday night’s storm nothing eventful occurred; all was pleasant and cheerful. As is always customary for travelers seeking for homes in distant lands, speculation and expectation were the chief subjects of conversation.

When the land of our destination was reached, and owing to the lateness of the day, the captain was prevented from having the vessel securely moored to the pier that night, consequently our anchorage had to be about half a mile from the shore. As we were not in a sheltering harbor, we became exposed to the gales. As the angry elements united to bid us farewell from Massachusetts shores, so apparently they had agreed to welcome us to Haytian lands; for that night the winds became exceedingly angry, tossing and forcing our craft before it with such pressure that our fears and anxieties of safety were greatly increased. At last the increasing power of the gale caused the chain to part; but fortunately the wind blew from the shore and we were driven to sea. If the wind had been blowing from a different direction, it is probable that the schooner and all on board would have been lost that night. It took us two days to return and cast a second anchor and prepare for landing.

When we went ashore the natives received us very hospitably, which made us feel that we were not intruders, but welcome aliens. The weather was so exceedingly hot that it seemed impossible for living creatures to exist there. Of course we just arrived from a northern climate, and would consequently feel the change more readily than one who had become accustomed to it. On inquiry I learned that the death rate averaged from three to four per day. This was not very pleasing information to be made known to those who came seeking a permanent home. At a place called St. Marks there were settled about five hundred persons that had emigrated to Hayti at different times. The natives were mostly of Roman Catholic persuasion. Sunday with them was a great day. I suppose it might have been termed a weekly holiday; and they seemed to have an order of exercises for the day, and it was somewhat after the following order: first they would turn out by thousands, have a military drill; second, they would all go to church and perform their religious services; third, then would follow a dance. The rest of the day was then spent in all kinds of amusements. These exercises seemed significant to their habits and customs. The drill indicative to their war-like habits, the church the respect, if not the piety for the Deity; the dance as tokens of victory achieved, ending the day with diversion to fill out the time.

The women do or are made to do the work of men at home and general laboring. They also had to do a part of military duty, such as keeping guard in defence of the country in times of peace as well as in war. The people are very small or generally of medium size, and of a general healthy appearance. I did not see any cripples among them. The women are not forced to do hard work because they are bad looking; for on the contrary they are handsome. Among the peculiarities of the people may be noticed the manner in which they slay animals for food. When an ox is to be prepared he is taken to the burying ground, and there it is beaten until all the blood is out of it. If it is a chicken they first pray over it. If it is a hog, its head is chopped off on a log of wood. These seemed to be the general methods of slaughtering.

The fertility of the island was of the highest order. It was so productive that cotton and all kinds of vegetables grew without any great degree of labor to cultivate. To encourage emigration, and to introduce foreign enterprises and customs into Hayti, the government had given to all emigrants the exclusive use of Artibinique River, and the lands surrounding it. This settlement was about five miles from St. Marks. Each emigrant was entitled to sixteen acres free. One day four others with myself hired horses, and rode out to see the situation and examine the land. As to the land everything seemed hopeful, but when we came to talk with some that had settled there, it was found that something more than good soil was needful to ensure safety and to produce grain. We were told that the winds at times were so terrific that houses were carried away before them, and it was almost impossible to keep oneself on the land during the gale.

After long and patient struggling of those hard determined toilers of the soil, the whole project proved a failure and had to be abandoned. Not only were the winds a barrier to their prospects, but the burning rays of the sun, was more than strangers could live under. At times (and that frequently) the thermometer would register 175° in the shade. During my stay there I was taken very ill, and at one time life was despaired of by those who went out with me. Some of those kind-hearted fellow travelers stood around my sick bed expecting every moment to see me breathe my last. While I was lying in this uncertain condition, one of the native women passing by my door took in the situation; for I was partially unconscious and my lips firmly closed, so I learned afterwards. She took the peel of an orange, (the white inner part) and poured boiling water on it, opened my mouth and poured it in. In less than ten minutes my lips began to move, and from that time a change for the better was manifested, and my restoration to health soon followed. I have great reason in commending the skill of that woman who saved my life, and my body from being buried beneath the burning sands of a tropical clime. I believed then and have since, in that illness my end was near, but restoration was possible, and it came by the hand of a Haytian doctress.

When recovering from this fit of sickness, one Sunday morning I took a walk out, slowly measuring my feeble steps, while my eyes roved from one object to another, and they were attracted to the various flags floating in the air, representing all, or nearly all the nations. The sight of them enlivened me and as I paused to view them closely there seemed to be one that surpassed them all for splendor; and that was the stars and stripes of America. Its grandeur was such that I felt a spirit of national pride for it, that I had never felt before.

After recovering from my sickness, I turned my thoughts more towards this emigration scheme determined to find out if it was good or evil, if there was anything in it or not for the good of my race. There was a large number that had been misled to emigrate there; they had no money to carry them there, and no means of procuring any to bring them back. If they had been required to pay their way out there, they could not have gone. After getting there they could not work or live, because they were not acclimated, and many died. With the knowledge of all this before me, what must be my conclusion? That it was misleading of the innocent by the false representation of a cunning plotter. To me it was false and evil to the race, and by me it was denounced. My conclusions were made and they were, if possible, to return home to Worcester, Mass., and so I informed my companions and others. As Captain Porter had not sailed for the north, but would do so on the latter part of July, I determined to be one of the number that his craft should convey home. Before leaving I had placed in my hands three hundred and twenty-five letters from the emigrants to be forwarded to their friends in different parts of America. They all went through the Post Office in Worcester to their destination. Their personal contents were not known to me, but my return and the expressions contained in these letters broke up Haytian emigration. When Mr. Redpath found out my determination to return, he persuaded and threatened against my leaving; and when he found his arguments were of no avail, he tried to buy me over to his cause, but it was all in vain, for I was determined that this scheme should be exposed and destroyed. To carry out this intention I published it in the Worcester daily papers showing that it was only a premature graveyard for the race. That out of the five thousand who emigrated there under the Redpath scheme, two-thirds fell victims to disease and death.

The superstitious would have said that the waiting and welcome gales were bad omens. Well they seemed so for the fury of the elements set their fury against it. The homeward voyage was not like the outward for we returned on the last day of August to the city of Boston, Mass., on peaceful seas and gentle winds, which characterized the whole passage.

When I arrived at my home, I returned thanks to the Lord for his mercy to me, sparing my life through the perils of the storm, from the perils of the heat, through the perils of sickness, and from the perils of death. I then made up my mind that Worcester should be my future home, and here I should dwell until the end of my days.


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