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Daily life of a Planter in Surinam

John Gabriel Stedman

From: John Gabriel Stedman's Narrative of a Five Years Expedition Against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam. Newly Transcribed from the Original 1790 Manuscript, Edited, and with an Introduction and Notes, by Richard and Sally Price. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 1988, pp. 363-366. 

John Gabriel Stedman (1744-1797), Scottish soldier and adventurer, fought against rebel slaves in Suriname, had a famous romance with the slave Joanna, and authored one of the most important books ever written about a slave society. A first-hand account of an eighteenth-century slave society, including graphic descriptions of the worlds of both masters and slaves, it also contains vivid depictions of exotic plants and animals, military campaigns, and romantic adventures. Illustrated by William Blake, Francesco Bartolozzi, and other famous engravers, Stedman’s work, first published in 1796 with a great many editorial changes, was quickly translated into a half-dozen languages and was published in over twenty-five editions. It was widelt used in the fight to abolish the slave trade and slavery. In 1988, Richard and Sally Price published a critical edition of Stedman’s recently discovered handwritten 1790 manuscript of the Narrative, the never-before-published book that Stedman actually wrote. A second edition of that book is now available from iUniverse. 

A Planter in Surinam When he Lives on his Estate /Which is But Seldom, they Preferring the Society of Paramaribo/ Gets out of his Hammock With the rising Sun, viz. about 6 OClock in the Morning, When he Makes his Appearance Under the Piazza of his House, Where his Coffee is ready Waiting on him, Which is Generally Uses with his Pipe in place of toast And Butter, And Where he is Attended by half a Dozen of the Finest Young Slaves both Male and Female of the plantation to Serve him. At this Sanctum Sanctorum he Next is Accoasted by his Overseer Who Regularly Every Morning Attends at his Levee, And having Made his Bows at Several Yards Distance, With the Deepest Respect, informs his Greatness What Work Was Done the day Before, What Negroes Deserted, Died, Fell Sick, Recover'd, Were bought, or Born, And Above All things Which of them Neglected their Work, Affected Sickness, had been Drunk, or Absent &c Who are Generally presented, being Secur'd by the Bastias or Negro Drivers, And instantly tied Up to the Beams of the Piazza, or a Tree, Without so Much as being heard, When the Flogging begins, Men, Women, or Children, Without Exception, on theyr Naked Bodies, by Long hempin Whips that Cut round at Every Lash, and Crack like a Pistol, During which they Alternately repeat Dankee Massera, /Thank you Master/ but While he Stalks up and Down With his Overseer, Affecting not so Much as to hear theyr Cries, till they are Sufficiently Mangled, When they are Emediately Untied and Order'd to Return to theyr Work. Without Even a Dressing––This Ceremony over, the Dressy Negro /a black Surgeon/ Comes to Make his Report, Who being Dismissed With a hearty Curse, Makes her Appearance a Superannuated Matron, With All the Young Negro Children of the Estate, Over Whom She is Governess, Who being Clean Washed in the River, Clap their hands, and Cheer in Chorus, When they are Sent Away to Breakfast And the Levee Ends with a Low Bow from the Overseer—Now his Worship Sa[u]nters Out in his Morning Dress Which Consists in a pair of the Finest holland Trowsers, White Silk Stockings, and red or Yellow Morocco Slippers, the Neck of his Shirt open & Nothing Over it, A Loose flowing Night-Gown of the Finest India Chintz Excepted—on his head is a Cotton Night Cap, As thin as a Cobweb, and Over that an Enormous Beaver Hat, to Keep Coverd his Meagre Visage from the Sun, Which is Already the Colour of Mahogany, While his Whole Carcase Seldom Weigh'd above 8, or 10 Stone, being Generally Exausted to the Climate and Dicipation, And to Give a better idea of this fine Gentleman, I here Represent him to the Reader, With a pipe in his Cheek /Which Almost Every Where keeps him Company/ And receiving a Glass of Madeira and Watter, from a female Quaderoon Slave to Refresh him During his Walk— Having Loitred About his Estate, or Sometimes rode a horseback to his fields, to View his Encreasing Stores, he returns About Eight OClock, When, if he Goes Abroad, he Dresses, but if not, remains just as he is—Should the first take place, having Only Exchang'd his Trowsers for a Pair of thin Linnen or Silk Breeches, he Sits Down and holding out one Foot After Another, Like a horse going to be Shod, A Negro Boy puts on his Stockings And Shoes, Which he also Buckles &', While Another Dresses his hair, his Wigg, or Shaves him; and a third is fanning him to keep off the gnatts or Musqueto's—Having now Shifted, he puts on a Very thin Coat and Waistcoat All White, when Under the Shade of an Umbrella Carried by a Black boy, he is Conducted to his Barge Which is Waiting him With 6 or 8 Oars, Well provided With fruit, Wine, And Watter, and Tobacco, by his Overseer, And who no Sooner has Seen him Depart than he Resumes the Command With a Vengeance—but Should this Nabob Remain on his Estate, in that Case he remains as he is, And Goes to Breakfast About ten OClock, for which A Table is Spread in the large hall, Provided With a Bacon ham, hung-Beef, fowls, or pigeons broil'd hot from the Gridiron; plantains, & Sweet-Cassavas, roasted; Bread, Butter, Cheese &c to Which he Drinks Strong-Beer, such as Ale, & Porter And a Glass of Madeira Ranish to Mozel wine And while the Cringing Overseer Sits at the further end keeping his Proper Distance, both being Served by the most beautiful Slaves that Could ever be pick'd out; And this is Call'd Breaking the Poor Gentlemans fast. After this he takes a Book, Plays at Chess, or Billards—Entertains himself With Musick &', till the heat of the Day forces him to Return to his Cotton-hammock to enjoy his Meridian nap With Which he would no More Dispense than a Spaniard With his Siesto, and in Which he rocks to and fro, like a Performer on the Slack rope, till he falls Asleep, Without Either bed or Covering, & during Which time he is fan'd by a Couple of his black Attendants, to keep him Cool &c— About 3 OClock he Awakes by Natural instinct When having Washed, And Perform'd himself he sits Down to Dinner, Attended as at Breakfast by his Deputy Governor And Sable pages, Where nothing is Wanting that the World Can Afford, in a Western Climate, of Meat, fowls, Venisons—fish, Vegetables, Fruits &c. While the Most exquisite Wines are often Squander'd Away in Profusion; After this a Cup of Strong Coffee, and A Liqueur finish the repast. at 6 OClock he is Again Waited on by his Overseer, Attended as in the Morning by Negro Drivers, and Prisoners, When the flogging once more having Continued for some time, and the Necessary Orders being Given for the Next Days Work, the Assembly is Dismissed, and the Eveining Spent With weak punch, Sangaree, Cards and Tobacco—His Worship, Generally begins to Yawn About 10 or 11 OClock—When he Withdraws, And being Undressed by his sooty pages, he retires to rest, where he passes the Night in the Arms of one or other of his Sable Sultanas, for he Always keeps a Seraglio, till about 6 OClock in the Morning When he Again is Reparing to his piazza Walk, Where his Pipe and Coffee are waiting his Commands, And Where /With the Rising Sun/ he begins his Round of Dicipation like a little king, Despotick, Absolute And Without Controlle, And Which Cannot but have the Greater Relish to a Man, Who in his Own Country viz. Europe was ten to one a—Nothing.

Catégorie : Daily lives of caribbean people under colonialism

Pour citer l'article : (2013). "Daily life of a Planter in Surinam" in Cruse & Rhiney (Eds.), Caribbean Atlas, http://www.caribbean-atlas.com/en/themes/waves-of-colonization-and-control-in-the-caribbean/daily-lives-of-caribbean-people-under-colonialism/daily-life-of-a-planter-in-surinam.html.


John Gabriel Stedman's Narrative of a Five Years Expedition Against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam. Newly Transcribed from the Original 1790 Manuscript, Edited, and with an Introduction and Notes, by Richard and Sally Price. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 1988, pp. 363-366.