One very cool historical document is titled “Narrative of a Five Years Expedition against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam.” It was written in 1790 by John Gabriel Stedman and has been called “one of the richest, most vivid accounts ever written of a flourishing slave society”... that society being the Dutch colony of Suriname in South America.
Stedman, half Scottish and half Dutch, was a soldier who volunteered to serve in Suriname, fighting bands of runaway slaves for the benefit of white landowners.
Stedman kept a diary. He also began having sex with slave women. His writings express sympathy for the cruelly abused slaves... and mocking scorn for the decadent slaveowners. Stedman’s “Narrative” was used in Europe to bolster the abolitionist cause.
Here are observations that Stedman wrote on June 20, 1775.
JOHN GABRIEL STEDMAN: Did ever I describe the dress and manner of living of these West India nabobs? If not, here it is.
A planter in Surinam... gets out of his hammock with the rising sun, about 6 o’clock in the morning.
He makes his appearance under the piazza of his house, where his coffee is ready waiting on him... 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. Having made his bows at several yards distance, with the deepest respect, he informs His Greatness what work was done the day before, what Negroes deserted, died, fell sick, recovered, were bought or born, and above all things which of them neglected their work, affected sickness, had been drunk or absent, etc.
These [slaves] are generally presented, being secured by the 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 their naked bodies, by long hempen whips that cut round at every lash, and crack like a pistol. During which they alternately repeat Dankee, Massera – “Thank you, Master” – while he stalks up and down with his overseer, affecting not so much as to hear their cries.
When they are sufficiently mangled, they are immediately untied and ordered to return to their work without even a dressing. ...
A superannuated matron makes her appearance with all the young Negro children of the estate, over whom she is governess. Being clean washed in the river, they 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 saunters out in his morning dress, which consists of a pair of the finest holland trousers, white silk stockings, and red or yellow morocco slippers, the neck of his shirt open and nothing over it except a loose-flowing nightgown of the finest India chintz.
On his head is a cotton night cap, as thin as a cobweb, and over that an enormous beaver hat, to keep covered his meager visage from the sun... .
To give a better idea of this fine gentleman, I here represent him to the reader with a pipe in his check – which almost everywhere keeps him company – and receiving a glass of Madeira and water from a female quadroon slave to refresh him during his walk.
Having loitered about his estate, or sometimes rode on horseback to his fields to view his increasing stores, he returns about 8 o’clock when, if he goes abroad, he dresses. But if not, remains just as he is.
Should the first take place, having only exchanged his trousers for a pair of thin linen or silk breeches, he sits down. 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 wig, or shaves him; and a third is fanning him to keep off the gnats or mosquitoes. ...
Then, under the shade of an umbrella carried by a black boy, he is conducted to his barge, which is waiting him with six or eight oarsmen, well provided with fruit, wine and water, and tobacco... .
But should this nabob remain on his estate, in that case he remains as he is and goes to breakfast about 10 o’clock, for which a table is spread in the large hall, provided with a bacon ham, hung beef, fowls, or pigeons broiled hot from the gridiron; plantains and sweet cassavas, roasted; bread, butter, cheese, etc., to which he drinks strong-beer... and a glass of Madeira... 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 picked out.
And this is called breaking the poor gentleman’s fast.
After this he takes a book, plays at chess or billards, entertains himself with music, etc., till the heat of the day forces him to return to his cotton hammock to enjoy his Meridian nap.... during which time he is fanned by a couple of his black attendants to keep him cool.