CHAP. XIX. The Troops march to Barbacoeba, in the River Cottica— Frenzy Fever—Gratitude in an English Sailor—Descrip|tion of the Government of Surinam—Some Account of the Emigrant Americans during the late War—Scene of unprecedented Generosity.
THE rainy season being again approaching,* Colonel Fourgeoud, having selected all the remaining healthy people, who now amounted to but one hundred and eighty in number, on the 3d of July, 1775, pro|ceeded on his march for Barbacoeba, in the river Cottica; which spot he appointed for the general rendezvous, previous to the grand attack on the rebels. Of this party I had the honour to be one: but on the surgeon's de|claring that I should run the hazard of losing my foot if I marched in the woods, I was ordered to remain at Magdenberg, with liberty, if I soon recovered, to join Fourgeoud, and make the best of my way to Barbacoeba. My limb, indeed, was now so swelled, and my wound so black with the mortification, that an amputation was dreaded by Mr. Knollaert, Fourgeoud's surgeon, and I could not even stand without excruciating pain.—I shall bear the mark of it as long as I live.
During this confinement I received daily presents from Philander and the other negroes, as I was always kind to Page 66 them. Among these was a dish of mountain-cabbage. This is the most esteemed of all the various sorts which grow, as I have mentioned formerly, on the different species of palm-trees; this tree grows sometimes near fifty feet high, the trunk of a brown colour, hard, ligneous, divided into short joints, and pithy within, like the elder: it is thick in proportion, streight and tapering like the mast of a ship; near the top the tree assumes a fluted form and a green colour, occasioned by the husky tegument that forms the branches; which, near the summit, diverge in a horizontal di|rection, like the crown of a pine-apple or ananas. These branches are covered over on both sides with strong pinnated leaves about three feet long, of a deep green colour, and sharp pointed, but folded and confusedly in|termixed, not gracefully drooping like those of the mani|cole or cocoa-nut trees. The seed is inclosed in a brown|ish kind of spatha, that arises from the center of the branches, and hanging downwards consists of small roundish nuts, not unlike a bunch of dried grapes, but much longer in proportion to their circumference. If the cabbage is wanted, the whole tree must be cut down, when it is divested first of its branches, and next of that fluted green husky tegument that forms them; after this the heart or cabbage is taken out, white, and about two or three feet long: it is as thick as a man's arm, and round like a polished ivory cylinder; it is composed of a kind of tender longitudinal white flakes, like silk ribbands, ready Page 67 to form the succeeding green tegument, but so close that they form a crisp solid body. This, when eaten raw, is in taste something like the kernel of an almond, but is more tender and more delicious; when cut in pieces and boiled, it eats like cauliflower: it may be also peeled in the above-mentioned long thin flakes, and then it makes an excellent sallad; but too much of it, whether eaten raw or dressed, is unwholesome, as it is apt to occasion a diarrhoea. It is in the cavity, after the cabbage is removed from it, that a black beetle deposits its spawn, from which the palm-tree worms are produced, which feed on the remaining tender substance when it begins to rot, till they acquire the size already mentioned; though those in the manicole tree, and other trees of the palm species, grow not so large, are less sweet, and are also differently shaped.
The maureecee tree, by the French called latanie, is certainly the tallest of all the palm-tree species; or, in|deed, of any species in the forest of Guiana. And I can aver, that I have seen some of these trees whose lofty summits appeared to rise no less than a hundred feet from the surface of the earth, while the circumference of their trunks was about ten or twelve feet where thickest; the trunk of this tree is largest at about one-fourth of its height from the root, whence it tapers not only upwards but downwards also: this singularity has perhaps escaped all other writers. It is of a light brown or grey-colour, and divided in joints all the way upwards to its branches, when (but at a great height, and near the top) it diverges in long Page 68 green arched branches, naked till near their extremity, when these again diverge or digitate in long broad leaves of a pale green colour, and disposed in an orbicular man|ner with great regularity, not unlike sun-beams, or a lady's fan expanded. As the young branches spring up from the centre at the summit, the old ones fade at the bottom and hang downwards, shrivelled and dangling in the wind. From the heart of the green leaves the In|dians draw out long white fibres or threads, as they do from the silk-grass plant: these, being equally strong, serve as cords when twisted to string their bows, to make nets, or to be used as threads; from the middle of the branches appears the seed, hanging down also in the form of a large rope of onions. I have seen many prints re|presenting palm-trees, but I must take the liberty to say that most of them are impositions on the public, having either been executed from fancy, or from a very bad description; but I can assure my readers, that all those which I represent were taken from nature, and on the spot: I speak of the cocoa-nut tree, the manicola, the mountain-cabbage, and the maureecee trees, whose branches and leaves are all extremely different from each other; and I have not confounded the species, as they are in too many publications. The two first the reader has already seen; and the two others I now offer to his view, where A is the trunk of the mountain-cabbage-tree; B one of its branches, separated from the rest, and C the seed or husky spatha inclosing it; D is the trunk of the maureecee-tree, and E one of its branches dropping Page [unnumbered]
Having thus far dwelt on the palm-tree species, I must once more return to domestic occurrences.
I have said that all the officers and most of the privates who had lately been stationed at the Hope, had died, or were sent up dangerously ill, while I had escaped the contagion. But, alas! now it became my turn, having only had a reprieve, and no more: for on the 9th I was seized with the same burning fever that had carried off the rest; and even my black boy Quaco was very ill.
On the 14th, necessity forced me to give up the com|mand to another officer, and depart from this inhospitable spot on my way to Paramaribo: I could however reach no farther than Goet Accoord, and there, on the 15th, all expected my death; when an old negro woman found means to make me partake of some butter-milk boiled with some barley and melasses, which was the first food Page 70 I had tasted since I was taken ill. This certainly did me infinite service; and the day following I was again able to be transported: the black boy also was much better.
The evening of the 15th I reached Fauconberg, where I was met by a packet of six or eight letters from different friends, accompanied with presents of hung-beef, bul|locks tongues, Madeira, porter, rum, and two gallons of excellent shrub, besides a fine bacon ham, and a beautiful pointer; both the last from the identical Charles Mac|donald, the English sailor, which he had brought me from Virginia, in return for the little civility I had for|merly shewn him so unexpectedly at the Hope. This mark of the poor fellow's gratitude and generosity, the true characteristics of a British tar, gave me greater plea|sure than all the things I received put together. But still I must except two letters, the one from Mr. Lude at Amster|dam, and the other from Mr. de Graav, his administrator at Paramaribo, acquainting me finally, and to my heart-felt satisfaction, that the amiable Joanna and the little boy were at my disposal, but at no less a price than two thousand florins, amounting, with other expences, to near two hundred pounds sterling, a sum which I was totally unable to raise. I already owed the sum of fifty pounds, that I had borrowed for the black boy Quaco's redemption; but Joanna was to me invaluable, and though appraised at one-twentieth part of the whole estate, which had been sold for forty thousand florins, no Page [unnumbered]
View of Magdenbergh, on Tempate Creek.
View of Calays & the Creek Casaweenica.
Solomon well observes,
I cannot leave the river Comewina without presenting the reader with a view of Magdenberg, from the Tem|patee; and a peep at Calais, from the Hope, at the mouth of the Cosaweenica Creek.
Being now in a comfortable lodging at Mr. de la Mare's, and attended by so good a creature as Joanna, I reco|vered apace; and on the 25th was so well, that I was able to walk out for the first time, when I dined with Mrs. Gode|froy, Page 72 Mr. de Graav not being in town to concert matters relative to the emancipation of Joanna, who had now once more literally saved my life. At this table there was never wanting all the wholesome and refreshing nourish|ment that I stood in need of, with the best of fruits and wines. Among the articles conducive to the restoration of health, are reckoned in this country all the different kinds of pepper which it affords, and the no less effica|cious acid of limes. Among the first are the cica pepper, the lattacaca, and the dago-peepee, as they are called in Surinam; for the negroes name each thing from the re|semblance it bears to another: but these are known in Europe by the names of Cayenne, Pimento, and Capsi|cum. The first is properly called Cayenne from the French settlement of that name in Guiana; but the name cica or chica is derived from its round shape and size, re|sembling the insect called chiga or chigoè, already de|scribed; the next resembles rats excrements, &c. All the above species, besides some others, grow on low green shrubs, they all equally excoriate the mouth, have all the same fiery qualities, and when ripe are of a scarlet or ra|ther a blood colour. The Europeans seldom eat any thing without it; but the blacks, and especially the In|dians, swallow it I might say by handfuls, not only as a relish, but as a remedy in almost every disease.
The limes grow on beautiful trees like lemons, but the leaf and the fruit are much smaller; they are rather a brighter yellow than the lemons, have a sine thin shell, Page 73 and are extremely full of the richest acid that I know, which has a particularly fine flavour, and is a great bles|sing to the sick soldiers and sailors in this colony, who have them for the trouble of gathering; so that it is not uncommon to see the tars employing their leisure time in picking and carrying large hampers full to their vessels. In Surinam there are whole hedges of lime-trees, and all round Paramaribo they grow wild. It is much to be la|mented that, among other articles of luxury, this fruit cannot be transported to Europe; but whole casks of this juice are frequently sent over, and they are also pickled and preserved in large jars by the inhabitants.
At the dessert, among many other excellent fruits, I observed one which is here called the mammee apple: it grows on a tree about the size of an orange-tree, with a grey-coloured bark; the wood is whitish, and coarse; the leaf very thick, polished, and of a triangular form, without sibres. This fruit is nearly round, and is about five or six inches in diameter, covered with a rusty coarse skin: the pulp has the colour and consistency of a carrot, enclosing two large stones with bitter kernels, but the fruit is of a de|licious taste, sweet mixed with acid, and a smell superior in fragrance to almost any other fruit in the colony. There were also nuts of two species, usually called pistachios, and by the negroes pinda; one kind of them resembles small chesnuts, and these grow in bunches on a tree. The others are produced by a shrub, and grow under ground; both have sweet oily kernels: of the last there are two Page 74 in one pod; they are agreeable eating raw, but still better when roasted in hot ashes. To illustrate the above de|scriptions, I present the reader with the plate annexed, where A is a sprig of limes in full ripeness; B, the Cay|enne or cica pepper; C, the pimento pepper or lattacaca; D, the capsicum called dago-peepee; E, the mammee apple when it is fully ripe; F, the leaf above, of a beauti|ful green; G, the leaf below, of a yellowish green; H, the pistachio nut in the husk; I, the ground pistachio in its dried state; K, one of the kernels belonging to the latter.
The whole of the above were taken from nature, though upon a small scale; yet I flatter myself they will be found more perfect copies of the originals than some of Mad. Me|rian's, with all their boasted reputation.—I cannot dismiss this subject without a few other remarks on the incorrect|ness of this lady's drawings. For instance, her leaf of the lime-tree is evidently too round; and if by her palisade branch, in plate XI. she means the manicole-tree, I must declare I never discovered such a leaf among the many thousands I have helped to cut down. Her cotton twig, and especially the pod containing the cotton, are also no true representation of those which are produced in Su|rinam.
In another place she declares, that grapes are common in Guiana—which I also must contradict; for it is well known, that no thin-skinned fruit can ever come to perfection in a tropical climate, such as grapes, cherries, currants, Page [unnumbered]
From the above observations, I take the liberty to say, that allowing Mad. Merian due praise for her beautiful and valuable performance upon the whole, she has still fallen into very notable mistakes. To correct them is a duty incumbent on future observers; nor does it by any means imply a general censure on the elegant work in ques|tion, nor can it appear extraordinary that it should contain some errors, when we consider that it is above an hundred years ago since she presented her discoveries to the world. In the course of so many years therefore mankind, by long experience and continued investigation, have become more enlightened, and are more accurately informed.
Being now once more at Paramaribo, it may not be im|proper to divert our attention for a while from the ani|mal and vegetable productions to the government of this fine colony; a topic which, I am persuaded, some of my readers have long since expected; but not having had a previous opportunity of gratifying their curiosity, I will no longer delay the necessary information, though to some the detail may appear dry and unentertaining.
I have already mentioned the nature of the charter, and stated, that at present two-thirds of Surinam belong to the town of Amsterdam, and one-third to the West India Company: also, that the judicial power is exercised by several different courts of judicature.—I shall now proceed to describe them in their proper order, as deli|vered Page 76 to me by the governor Mr. Nepveu. The court of policy and criminal justice claims the first rank in the order of precedence—this consists of thirteen members, chosen by the votes of the inhabitants, and each member continues for life. Of this court the governor is president, and the commandant or deputy governor first counsellor. The acting officers are therefore
- The governor.
- The commandant.
- The fiscal.
- The town clerk; and
- Nine counsellors.
The court of civil justice consists also of thirteen mem|bers, but these are chosen by the above court only, and are renewed every four years. The governor is also pre|sident here, and the officers of this court are
- The governor.
- The fiscal.
- The town-clerk; and
- Ten counsellors.
The next is the subaltern college, consisting of eleven members, chosen also by the governor and court of policy; Page 77 and, like the other, renewed every four years, the town-clerk excepted, who sits for life. The members are select|ed from the late counsellors of justice, and are
- The deputy president.
- The town-clerk; and
- Nine counsellors.
Besides these, there is an orphan and insolvent debtors college, consisting of
- The commissaries.
- The town-clerk.
- The book-keeper.
- The treasurer; and
- A sworn secretary.
- The office of importation and exportation duties.
- The office of excise and small imposts.
- The office for head-money, or poll-tax.
- The office for public sales and vendues.
- The office for re-taking negro deserters, &c.
- The secretary to his excellency the governor.
- The commissaries of the victualling-offices.
- Four inspectors of the exportation of sugars.
- One inspector of the melasses hogsheads.
- One supervisor of all the North American vessels.
- Two public auctioneers.
- Two serjeants or messengers of the court.
- Two sworn land-surveyors.
- Three measurers of the squared timber.
- One inspector of the black cattle, &c.
- One sworn overseer of weights and measures.
- Three Low-Dutch clergymen.
- One French clergyman.
- One Lutheran clergyman.
- Three public schoolmasters, &c.
The militia consists of eleven companies, with one captain, one lieutenant, one second lieutenant, one en|sign, one secretary, and one cashier each. The captains are generally the sworn appraisers of the estates for sale on the different rivers, where they chance to have their department.
These are the principal functionaries in the govern|ment of Surinam; which is not originally upon a bad establishment, were it not depraved by sordid avarice, to the great detriment of this beautiful settlement in gene|ral, and to that of its inhabitants in particular. The Page 79 colony, by proper management, might be made a garden of Eden, not only for the European settlers, but also for their African domestics. It would not indeed be diffi|cult to suggest improvements, nor even to carry them into effect. What has occurred to me upon the subject, I will candidly state on another occasion; and I have no doubt but a little attention even to one single point would be productive of the happiest consequences. Thus, if I cannot on the spot, like the good Samaritan, pour the balm into the wound of any one sufferer, at least I can leave the prescription, which, if properly applied, would, I am per|suaded, afford relief to the complaints of thousands.
I have undertaken the unpleasing task of shewing how, by the desperate means of blood, the colony was frequently saved from total annihilation. How much more glorious would it be for those who have it in their power not only to save the colony of Surinam, but many other valuable West India settlements, by the help of a WELL-PLANNED INSTITUTION OF GENERAL AND IMPARTIAL JUSTICE, and the laudable example of humanity and benevolence!
Thus much for the political government of Surinam; which I will not leave without transcribing its motto, so very contrary to what they profess, being
On the 30th I met the poor sailor, Charles Macdonald, and having just bought thirty gallons of Grenada rum, I gave him a handsome return for his bacon ham and his dog, besides a fine cork-screw (mother-of-pearl set in silver) as a keep-sake, he being to sail the day following for Virginia, on board the Peggy, Captain Lewis, who, at my recommendation, promised to make him his mate. As I am speaking of dogs, I must make two general re|marks on these animals in Guiana, viz. that in this quarter of the world they lose the faculty, or at least the habit, of barking; and it is a known fact, that the native dogs never bark at all. In this country, it is observed also, that dogs are never seized with the hydrophobia, at least I never remember to have seen or heard of a mad dog in Surinam: and this is the more singular, as that dreadful distemper is generally attributed in other countries to the intense heat of the Caniculares or dog-days, as that appel|lation sufficiently indicates. The Indians or natives of Gui|ana all keep dogs, which they use in hunting; they are of a dirty white colour, meagre, and small, with short hair, a sharp muzzle, and erect ears: all these are very dexte|rous in finding game; but they possess all the mis|chievous qualities of the terrier. I ought not to forget that if the American dogs do not bark, their howl is very loud; on this account my Virginian dog was so trouble|some, Page 81 that he got his brains knocked out by the neigh|bours within a fortnight after he was in my possession.
About this period several American families arrived at Paramaribo, on account of the war which broke out be|tween the mother country and her colonies. For many of these I felt very much; and must ever declare, that no people could have a better heart or greater friendship for a British individual than they had for me, which they shewed on many different occasions.
On the 3d of August, Mr. de Graav being arrived in town, having finally settled affairs with Mr. Lolkens, the late administrator of Fauconberg, I now thought proper to take the first opportunity of settling matters with him, by proposing him to give me credit till I should have it in my power to pay the money for which Joanna and my Johnny had been sold to me, and which I was deter|mined to save out of my pay, if I should exist on bread, salt, and water: though even then this debt could not be discharged in less time than two or three years. Provi|dence however interfered, and at this moment sent that excellent woman, Mrs. Godefroy, to my assistance: for no sooner was she acquainted with my difficult and anxious situation, than she sent for me to dine with her, when she addressed me in the following terms:
Seeing me thunder-struck, and gazing upon her in a state of stupefaction, without the power of speaking, she continued, with a divine benignity:
I was no sooner returned home, than I acquainted Joanna with all that had happened; who, bursting into tears, called out, "Gado sa bresse da woma!"— "God will bless this woman!" and insisted that she herself should be mortgaged to Mrs. Godefroy till every farthing should be paid: she indeed was very anxious to see the emancipation of her boy, but till that was done, she absolutely refused to accept of her own freedom. I shall not here endeavour to paint the contest which I sustained between affection and duty, but bluntly say that I yielded to the wish of this so charm|ing creature, and whose sentiments endeared her to me still more. Thus I instantly drew up a paper, declaring my Joanna, according to her desire, from this day to be the property of Mrs. Godefroy, till the last farthing of the money she lent me should be repaid; and, on the follow|ing day, with the consent of her relations *, I conducted her to Mrs. Godefroy's house, where, throwing herself at the feet of that incomparable woman, Joanna herself put the paper into her hands; but this lady having raised her up, no sooner had read the contents, than she ex|claimed,
Mr. de Graav, on counting the money, addressed me in the following terms:—
Having thanked my disinterested friend with an affec|tionate shake by the hand, I immediately returned the Page 85 two hundred florins to Mrs. Godefroy, and all were happy. I must not omit, as a farther proof of Mrs. Gode|froy's humane character, that on hearing of the dejected situation of the sick at Magdenberg, she at this time sent them a present of a whole barge-load of fruit, vegeta|bles, and refreshments of every kind that the colony could afford, for their relief.
On the 7th of April, matters being thus far settled, I wrote a letter to Mr. Lude, at Amsterdam, to give him in|telligence, and to thank him for having parted with the most valuable property of his estate; and my ancle being now pretty well recovered, I also wrote to Colonel Four|geoud, that I should have the honour to join him in a few days. This letter I directed to Barbacoeba, for there he still continued, while the intrepid and active militia captain, Stoeleman, was beating up the woods with a few rangers at another quarter, and who this day sent in four captive rebel negroes to Paramaribo *.
On the 10th, finding myself sufficiently recovered, and ready once more to enter the forest, I bade farewell to my sweet family and friends, leaving the first still at Mr. de la Mare's, at their request; and cheerfully set off with a tent|boat on my fifth campaign, in the hopes of accompany|ing Fourgeoud; who, having assembled all his remaining forces, and made the necessary arrangements to attack Page 86 the enemy, was now determined to march in a very few days.
On the 14th I arrived with a boat at Barbacoeba, in the upper part of the river Cottica, where formerly I was when I killed the aboma snake. I found here the old gentleman (who civilly welcomed me) ready to start the following day. I never saw the troops in such fine spi|rits, or so eager for service; which proceeded from differ|ent motives, as I had said before, some in the hopes of plunder, some from revenge on the rebels, and some from a wish to see the war at an end; while I believe in my soul, that others were tired of existence by con|tinual illness and hard service; and heartily wished for a glorious end of all their miseries—as nothing can be more wretched than a soldier's or a sailor's life, perpe|tually soaking in the wet or scorching in the sun, sur|rounded by an unbounded forest, and in a tropical climate.