Page:Incidents of travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan.djvu/33

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5
NEGRO SCHOOLS.

territory of Balize has been the subject of negociation and contest, and to this day the people of Central America claim it as their own. It has grown by the exportation of mahogany; but, as the trees in the neighbourhood have been almost all cut down, and Central America is so impoverished by wars that it offers but a poor market for British goods, the place is languishing, and will probably continue to dwindle away until the enterprise of her merchants discovers other channels of trade.

At this day it contains a population of six thousand, of which four thousand are blacks, who are employed by the merchants in gangs as mahogany cutters. Their condition was always better than that of plantation slaves; even before the act for the general abolition of slavery throughout the British dominions, they were actually free; and on the 31st of August, 1839, a year before the time appointed by the act, by a general meeting and agreement of proprietors, even the nominal yoke of bondage was removed.

The event was celebrated, says the Honduras Almanac, by religious ceremonies, processions, bands of music, and banners with devices: "The sons of Ham respect the memory of Wilberforce,"—"The Queen, God bless her,"—" M'Donald for ever, "—"Civil and religious liberty all over the world." Nelson Schaw, "a snowdrop of the first water," continues the Almanac, "advanced to his Excellency, Colonel M'Donald, and spoke as follows:—'On the part of my emancipated brothers and sisters, I venture to approach your Excellency, to entreat you to thank our most gracious Queen for all that she has done for us. We will pray for her; we will fight for her; and, if it be necessary, we will die for her. We thank your Excellency for all you have done for us.

God bless your Excellency, God bless her Excellency, Mrs. M'Donald, and all the Royal family! Come, my countrymen, hurrah! Dance, ye black rascals! the flag of England flies over your heads, and every rustle of its folds knocks the fetters off the limbs of the poor slave. Hubbabboo Cochalorum Gee!'"

The negro schools stand in the rear of the Government House, and the boys' department consisted of about two hundred, from three to fifteen years of age, and of every degree of tinge, from nearly white down to two little native Africans, bearing on their cheeks the scars of cuts made by their parents at home. These last were taken from on board a slave-ship captured by an English cruizer, brought into Balize, and, as provided for by the laws, on a drawing by lot, fell to the share of a citizen, who, entering into certain covenants for good treatment, is entitled to their services until they are twenty-one years old. Unfortunately, the master was not present, and I had no opportunity