The Aftermath of the Fire of 1776
Selection from Samuel Augustus Mathew The Lying Hero, or an answer to J. B. Moreton’s Manners and Customs in the West Indies (St. Eustatius, Edward L. Low and Co for the author, 1793), pp.58-60



At the great fire in 1776, it was supposed a number of robberies had been committed by the Negroes during the confusion the inhabitants were in, while endeavouring to save what they could from the flames: in consequence of which between thirty and forty, (of which I was one,) rode to the different estates in search of the thieves and what goods we could find: the goods recovered were very inconsiderable and scarcely worth the trouble; but every house we searched was opened to us by the negro who occupied it; they began with opening their principal box, chest or trunk, and after removing their burial cloaths, which were the first things in view, they desired we would search for what we suspected; upon examining the first box we discovered a bag of money, we imagined it was gold, and concluded from thence that it was stolen; but upon the old stocking being open which it proved to be, found half dollars, quarter dollars, pistreens, bits, half bits and black dogs to the amount of thirty odd pounds, from the appearance of the money it was evident it had lain a considerable time; upon being asked how he came by it, he readily answered, from his stock and ground, and further said his burying money was there also; he then drew out a bundle of cloth as it appeared to be, and after taking off about twenty pieces of old rag produced fifteen silver dollars which he said he had for many years laid by for the above purpose, the whole of which was to spent at his funeral, and the other money was to be divided among his children; not satisfied with this, we desired the Manager should be called; he corroborated every circumstance the negro advanced, and further said that during our search we would be astonished to see what monies the negroes in the different plantations had laid by, and jocularly observed they were greater economists than he was, for he could not lay by anything.  

We found upon examination that he had not exaggerated in his account of their accumulated wealth, as most of them had from one to twenty Johannasses and had turned one hundred pounds; tis’ very remarkable that not a negro upon the different plantations expressed the smallest desire, although many were asked, of purchasing their freedom, this is plain proof that the field negroes in the West Indies were, and considered themselves happy


 
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