Wednesday, February 02, 2011

"Mr. Wilberforce, make we free!"

Back when I was in high school, I was a big fan of Matthew G. Lewis's 1796 Gothic novel The Monk:
"The Monk" is Matthew Gregory Lewis's 1796 novel which is the tale of a monk who is tempted by carnal desire and led down a ruinous path of ungodliness. Ambrosio, a pious, well-respected monk in Spain, is lustfully tempted by his pupil, Matilda, a woman who has disguised herself as a monk. Having satisfied himself with her, he is overcome with carnal desire for the innocent Antonia. With the help of Matilda, who is actually Satan in disguise, Ambrosio seduces Antonia, a seduction that would ultimately lead to his downfall. Recognized as one of the first novels of the gothic genre, "The Monk" is a classic tale of the tragic ruin that may befall one tempted by desire.
I was therefore surprised and delighted to see "Monk" Lewis turn up in 1816 Jamaica as a witness to the connection between abolitionist agitation and slave revolt in the Caribbean. The following is from Edward Bartlett Rugemer's The Problem of Emancipation: The Caribbean Roots of the American Civil War:
But the planters had a point [that abolitionist agitation was responsible for slave rebellions]. In 1816 the absentee planter and gothic novelist "Monk" Lewis traveled to Jamaica to visit the sugar plantation he had recently inherited. In the journal he kept during his travels, published in 1834, Lewis recorded the following song, which an overseer had found upon the mysterious "King of the Eboes," who was arrested for plotting a rebellion.

"Oh me good friend, Mr. Wilberforce, make we free!
God Almighty thank ye! God Almighty thank ye!
God Almighty make we free!
Buckra in this country no make we free!
What negro for to do? What negro for to do?
Take force with force! Take force with force!"

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