Selection from - Rev. James Ramsay, Essay on the Treatment and Conversion of African Slaves in the British Sugar Colonies (London: James Phillips, 1784)
A surgeon is generally employed by the yea to attend the sick slaves. His allowance per head varies from fourteen pence to three shillings; in a few instances it rises tp three shillings and six pence sterling, besides being paid for amputations. Some frugal planters trust to their own skill, and James’s powder and Ward’s pill’ and, then, for the most part a surgeon is only called to pronounce them past recovery.
The food of the sick is often musty, indigestible horse beans, sometimes maize, flour, or rice; sometimes, as a dainty, brown biscuit, on some plantations, the manager is allowed to get, now-and-then, a fowl, or a kid to make soup for them. Sometimes the owner sends the manager a cask of wine, a few glasses of which are supposed to be for the use of the sick. Where the manager is a married man, the sick often have a mess from his table, and caudle, tea, and other comfortable slops; and his wife superintends the conduct of the nurse and sees that the pregnant and lying-in women be properly taken care of. But the custom of employing married man on plantations is wearing fast out. (Pages 82-83)
We cannot pass over in silence the usual treatment of pregnant women and nurses. In almost every plantation they are fond of placing every negro who can wield an hoe in the field gang; so fond, that hardly any remonstrance from the surgeon can, in many cases, save a poor diseased wretch from the labour; though, if method prevailed, work may be found on the plantation equally necessary and [proportioned to every various degree of ability; and though one or two days attempts in the field be sure to lay them up in hospital for weeks.
At this work are pregnant women often kept during the last months of pregnancy, and hence suffer many an abortion; which some managers are unfeeling enough to express their joy at, because the woman on recovery, having no child to care for, will have no pretence for indulgence.
If after all, she carries her burden the full time, she must be delivered in a dark, damp, smoky hut, perhaps without a rag in which to wrap her child, except the manager has a wife to sympathize with her wants. Hence the frequent loss of negroe children by cramp ad convulsions within the month. A lying-in woman is allowed three, in some plantations four weeks for recovery. She then takes the field with her child, and hoe or bill. The infant is placed in the furrow, near her, generally exposed naked, or almost naked, to te sun and rain on a kid skin, or such rags as she can procure. Some very few people give nurses an extra allowance. In general, no other attention is paid to their condition, except perhaps to excuse them from picking grass. (page 88-89)
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