Schoolmasters bending negro boys over desks to get a whacking and old white men from America, telling their wives that they have mysterious appointments, only to be found in Grants Town, in the arms of some dusky beauty.
Sounds like present day Bahamas doesn’t it!
Incredibly, it was the Bahamas, of 1884.
In a series of articles written in 1884, by a New York Times reporter, going only by the initials W. D., we get a glimpse of the Nassau that was.
Corporal Punishment, better known as, A Typical Bahamian Upbringing
Beating negro children is practically a national institution. Physical punishment, for the negro in general, has roots which run deeper than most care to imagine or acknowledge. It is a habit handed down from parent to child, often some would say, in lieu of material inheritance. This is how the practice has been perpetuated, through the generations, without much consideration, save for efficiency.
What was practiced in negro homes, followed these children to school. As the various religious denominations began pouring in, church schools opened. These could be particularly brutal. Colonial government schools and various private institutions of learning opened. Schoolmasters and teachers would beat negro children, with a ferocity and a regularity, which made the practice seem almost like an expected teaching code of practice.
From the psychosocial, to the historical, to the biblical, to the colonial, to the ethnographical, to the legacy of punishment during slavery— the practice of corporal punishment, on the negro child, rests in a curious aged old way of thinking for the Bahamian.
Depiction of Cat Island school children 1912
(The Chicago Tribune, 26 May, 1912)
Of Old White Men and Dusky Grants Town Beauties 1884
Not surprising. Not surprising at all. Apparently men came to the Bahamas, in the late 1800s, for more than just sun and sea. White Americans used to called Bahama negroes every derogatory name in the book. But at night, well… the men couldn’t resist the sweet offerings of the young negro ladies in Grants Town.
After dinner, after making sure the genteel wife was securely engrossed with her third hand of Bridge, many an American winter tourist apparently found himself wandering Over-The-Hill, in the bush, into the negro area of Grants Town.
With crisp American dollars burning a hole in his pocket, the taste for cheap booze on his lips and knowing the willing arms of negro girls were waiting, you can just imagine uptight Lord Stuffy Pants practically whipping the horse himself to get to Grants Town.
To get away from the wife at night, the men would pretend to have sudden appointments, which took hours and hours to complete.
“To walk down Bay Street very early in the morning and take a stand near the market, when coloured men and women and boys and girls are pouring in from all directions with trays of vegetables and fruits on their heads, is to learn a lesson about the productiveness of Nassau soil.
It is almost a shame, too, to say that these people never work, when they are up at daylight, picking and preparing the things in their gardens, and then spend half the day trying to sell them. Here comes a woman with a load that must be sold before she will have enough money to buy the few things she needs—- a little sugar, perhaps, or perhaps some flour, or the stuff for cheap dress.
Her load is not burdensome. Judging by the majority of loads I saw carried in, it will be safe to inventory her entire stock after this fashion: Six oranges, a dozen bananas, perhaps a dozen sapodillas, two coconuts, a small measure of ripe tomatoes, a bunch of lettuce, a bunch of radishes. Her tray is about two feet wide by three feet long, with a rim around it to keep things from rolling off—-just like all the market trays.
Think not that as she walks along with her load on her head she puts up a hand to keep it in place, for she does not. She would scorn to touch it. When she is ready to start, arrayed if she can afford such luxuries in a bright red dress with a blue or green scarf around your neck, she puts a little yellow pad between her head and the tray, slips her feet into a pair of something that pass for shoes, leaving the heel turned down, and the way she goes, shuffle, shuffle, a regular double shuffle, the scraping of her shoes on the rocky road to be heard blocks away.
She is a motherly creature, the elderly Nassau darky woman, with a good accumulation of fat, always panting for breath when she moves, always clad in gay colours—– the living picture of the common idea of an old-fashioned Virginia nurse or cook.
She could not help being clever and kind, such a looking woman. But among her own species she maintains her authority and dignity. I was in a store one day making some trifling purchase, when one of these motherly creatures came sailing down the street, gayer in colours that a peacock. Three or four half-dressed yellow youngsters were amusing themselves with some empty boxes on the opposite curbstone.
Madam stopped and went over to them.
“Hyar, wat’s you young ‘uns adoin’ hyar?” said she.
“Yo’ ma’ms don’ want you fooling like dat roun’ the streets. You go ‘long home now, yo’ hyar?”
The youngsters did not wait a minute to enquire what had happened, but started right off, and madam continued her promenade. It struck me at the time, and I am still of the opinion that it would be worth something handsome to see the exact counterpart of that woman go up to a party of young shavers in New York and try to drive them home!
Nassau kids are better bred. One reason of it, I suppose, is because the elders don’t spare the rod and spoil the child. The strap is an important factor in the bringing up of a Nassau darky, well administered by papa and mama, or by pretty much anybody who thinks he deserves it.
As Caesar grows too large to care much for the strap, the club and a horsewhip come gradually in to take its place.
Consequently, small boys in Nassau never become the nuisance that they do sometimes with us. In the schools they teach the boys arithmetic and your geography with a tamarind switch. Of course, the idea of thrashing a boy is very abhorrent to our sensitive organisations. We have only to look at the sweet little creatures to be found on any one evening in the neighbourhood, say, of Grand Street and the East River, and listen to the Chesterfield conversation to be convinced that what the New York small boy needs is Christian council and kind expostulation.
I only wonder that the Bahamas schoolmasters teach the coloured boys don’t use clubs instead of switches. The Bahama boy has his good points, but his forte is not “book larnin’.”
I have had some experience in that line, having undertaken and abandoned the task of teaching Mr Theophilus Alexander Sweeting the multiplication tables. A lesser degree of stupidity at arithmetic would have been exasperating; but when it reached the sublime height to which Theo carried it it became entertaining. I wish I could put on paper some experiences as a teacher before I gave it up for a bad job.
Theo had gone with more or less success through the two, three, four and five tables, but he stuck ingloriously on the sixth. I remember one of my last efforts. He had been over the six table three or four times, so as to have some little idea of it:
I – Now, Theo, begin it again. Six times one are six –
Theo – Six times one is six, six times two is twelve, six times three is thirty-seven.
I – No it’s not. Six times three is eighteen.
Theo – Six times three is eighteen, six times nine is forty.
I – Now don’t be stupid. What comes next after three?
I – Four; you ought to know that. Six times four is twenty-four, six times five is thirty, six times six is thirty-six.
Theo- Six times four is twenty-four, six times five is thirty, six times six is seventy-five–“
I – Hold on! You made that same mistake before. Six times six are thirty-six. Now say that over a dozen times, so that you’ll be sure to remember it. Six times six are thirty-six.
Keep saying it till I tell you to stop.
Theo goes slowly over it while I get a fresh light for my cigar. Then I take a new start, full of the importance of educating the untutored Moor.
I– Now, then, that’ll do. Begin at five, and go on. Six times five are thirty—“
Theo— Six times five are thirty, six times six is——six times six is, ( one finger in the mouth,) oh, six times—–(rolls both eyes two-thirds of the way around,) six times six is ninety.
[He jumps back about four feet]
The jump, of course, is to dodge the boot I throw at him. And we never got through that six table.
After some of our seances with it I did not quite know it myself, he had given me so many new ideas about it. When he used to tell me about how the schoolmaster in Nassau would double a boy over a desk and have two other boys holding, one by each arm, and then whack him. I used to sympathise with the boy.
But now I sympathise with the teacher—- thoroughly.
You will have no difficulty, of course, in seeing how this multiplication table business belongs with the subject I started out on—- Agriculture in Nassau. All the gardening there is done by darkies, and it was a darky was saying the multiplication table; the connection is quite simple.
The darkys come down to market with these loaded trays on their heads, and by the time that a few hundred of them have arrived and unloaded the market is well stocked with fruits and vegetables and business begins. A queer market it is, from my New York standpoint, where not a single wagon comes to bring anything for sale. Everything arrives on the heads of Negroes except the meat, fish, and the turtles. It is a large market, well provided with good things, and is open every day in the year except Sundays, from early morning till the middle of the afternoon.
I don’t know what Ponce de Leon was so far wrong in searching among the Bahamas for the fountain of perpetual youth. Perhaps his ideas of it were a trifle exaggerated, but it is here in Nassau, if it is anywhere in the world. Here old people grow young again; not in a minute, changing their gray hair for black and throwing away canes and glasses; gradually, by the balm in the air and grateful winter warming.
OLD WHITE MEN FROM AMERICA FREQUENT THE BARS AND DANCEHALLS IN GRANTS TOWN AT NIGHT TO MEET THE DUSKY BEAUTIES
I noticed last Winter that the elderly Northerners visited Nassau were far livelier and gayer than gentleman of their age usually are at home; that they had mysterious appointments to keep; and that they did not always reach home as early in the evening, as respectable and orderly old New Yorkers or not.
I have heard, indeed, (but it was probably a malicious slander,) that some of the patriarchal guests at the hotel passed frequent with evenings at a historical place somewhere down in Grantstown, known as “the DANCE HOUSE,” where certain of the dusky beauties of Nassau congregate every evening, and, like the original inhabitants of the island, dance all night.
Certainly the aged there grow young again in their instincts and habits and go knocking around in flannel shirts, building and fishing, driving and walking, as lively as any youngsters. The young, too, well younger and livelier. Flirting is a standard amusement in the hotel. The natives live and love just the same as when Christopher Columbus will about the original inhabitants of the Bahamas.