Kate lived on the plantation of her masters, Henry and Helen Moss on Crooked Island. Kate was a slave. She was a house slave. She was accused of theft, insubordination and insolence for refusing to mend her clothes. This angered the Moss’s. They ordered severe punishment for the insolence. Kate was shackled, locked in the stocks, to stand in a bent over manner, for 17 long days and nights. On the 22nd of July 1826, she was confined to the stocks. Kate remained there, until 8th August 1826, without intermission.

As an old English instrument of torture, used for witches, criminals and traitors, the stocks were made specifically so that no one could not sit up or lie down at will. The stocks were meant to break the will and the backs of those confined to them.

The only time Kate was removed from the instrument of torture, was to be beaten.

Day after day, Kate had red pepper rubbed in her eyes to stop her from sleeping. She was beaten repeatedly by the overseers, under strict orders from her masters. Over the days, she was further flogged by the under-driver, another overseer and even her own father, who inflicted 24 lashes on Kate as she stood shackled in the stocks.

After the 17 days and nights, when she didn’t seem to respond to more flogging, it was decided she no longer could be a slave in the house. Under orders from her masters, Kate was taken out of the stocks and sent to fields to labour as further punishment. In the early morning, of the 18th day, weak, broken, dehydrated and wracked with fever, Kate could barely stand, let alone work.

In the cotton fields, she was ordered to be flogged again for not weeding and planting. The overseers’s stick rained heavy blows on the girl, as she fell for the last time, onto the dry dirt of Crooked Island.

Among the weeds in the field, Kate died just a couple of hours later, just as the sun was highest in the sky, at noon.

It was however, after her death that the final, and harshest of blows, were delivered by Governor Lewis Grant. Grant was Governor of the Bahamas for eight years, between 1821 to 1829.

Grant, as it happened, was away from the Colony during the crime in Crooked Island and trial in Nassau. When he returned, the aristocracy of the Bahamas, the finest families petitioned Governor Lewis Grant to have the conviction and fine charged by the Courts on the cruel slaveowners, Henry and Helen Moss to be overturned. Grant wasted no time and wrote to London to have it done.

Kate, the slave, had been cruelly mistreated and killed, only received small justice with the five months prison sentence and the mulct, the 300£ fine handed down upon her master and mistress. Then Governor Grant comes back to town and tries to have it all remitted. He tries to have the good name of Henry and Helen Moss returned by appealing to the highest level, the King of England.

In the official communications between Downing Street in London and Governor of the Bahamas, General Lewis Grant, Kate was titled as a domestic slave.

The story, all but hidden in time, was reported in an anti-slavery publication in England in 1829. The anti-slavery movement condemned Governor Grant for his interference in the course of justice. By the time hidden story of cruelty was published in 1829, Governor Grant had been promoted. He was now Governor of Trinidad.

Grants Town in Nassau, was named in his honour.


A Complication of Atrocities

The Cruelty to Kate explained


What a complication of atrocities! Mr Huskisson is disposed to think that the Grand Jury were justified in refusing to put Mr and Mrs Moss on their trial for the murder of this poor slave; and, legally speaking, he may be right; at least, it would doubtless require very clear and decisive testimony to sanction him in impeaching the verdict of a Grand Jury.

But speaking morally, Mr and Mrs Moores, we conceive stand convicted of the guilt of more than ten ordinary murders, if the deliberate malignity of the transaction be duly estimated. The details of the evidence, which are summed up with singular clearness and ability by Mr Huskisson, will be found to add to the impression of their guilt; and when we consider that the culprits were among the aristocracy of the Bahamas, to whose “highly respectable character” not only many of that aristocracy (including nine Members of the Legislative Assembly), but the King’s representative, General Grant himself, bear the strongest testimony, we have exhibited to us a state of society of which happily it is difficult for those who have never visited a slave colony, to form an adequate idea.

(The Morning Chronicle, England Saturday 25, April 1829)

It appears that the Governor, General Grant, was absent from the colony when these crimes were perpetrated, and the authors of them were brought to trial. Mr President Munnings was then acting as his substitute. This gentleman, whom we greatly honour for his conduct on this occasion, transmitted to Earl BathHurst on the 5th of April, 1827, the following account of the matter:-

“Henry Moss, Esq. of Crooked Island, having been accused of excessive cruelty to a negro slave, by confining her for the period of 17 days and nights in the stocks, without intermission, by giving her, while in that situation, tasks which she was unable to perform, and by causing her to be repeatedly flogged for this nonperformance of such tasks; and after releasing from the stocks, by having send her to labour in the fields, before she had recovered from the effects of her confinement, and by having caused her to be flogged in the fields (and the girl having died in the fields on the morning after she received one of those floggings); and Mr Henry Moss, jointly with his wife Helen, having been accused of rubbing red pepper (capsicum) upon the eyes of this girl—- the Attorney General preferred a bill of indictment against Mr Moss and his wife for murder. The Grand Jury having returned ‘Not Found’ upon this bill the Attorney General preferred to other bills for misdemeanours, one against Mr Moss, the other against Mr Moss and his wife.

Both these bills were found by the Grand Jury and after a very full and patient investigation of the circumstances of the case before the Petit Jury, doing a trial upwards of sixteen hours’ duration, a verdict of Guilty was returned upon both indictments. “The court sentenced Mr and Mrs Moss to imprisonment in the common goal at Nassau, for five calendar months; and Mr Moss to the payment of a fine of 300£ over and besides the cost of the prosecution.

“I have been solicited to remit or to shorten the term of Mrs. Moss’s imprisonment, but I shall in no degree whatever alter the sentence of the general court, by the extension of mercy to those by whom it appears none was exercised.”

(The Morning Chronicle, England Saturday 25, April 1829)

In a few weeks General Grant returned to the Bahamas and resumed his command. He was immediately applied to “by the most respectable inhabitants of the town and colony,” to remit the sentence of Mr. and Mrs. Moss; and he lost no time in applying to Lord Bathhurst in a letter dated 18th May, 1827, to authorise such remission.

“The unfortunate Henry and Helen Moss”, he tells his Lordship, “are rather to be pitied for the untoward melancholy occurrence which has taken place;” he therefore hastens to prevent the impression the bare mention of the case might make on his Lordship’s mind.

In a letter of a later date (3d July, 1827), he recurs with much solicitude to the subject. Some extracts from that letter have already appeared in the admiral dispatch of Mr Huskisson, who held the Colonial Seals when it arrived. It expresses a strong sense of the respectability of Mr. and Mrs. Moss, and of the general kindness to their slaves, and refers to the high estimation in which they are held by “all who are visited Mr Moss and partaken of his hospitality.” Nay, “Mr. Moss, and especially Mrs. Moss, have never been otherwise than favourably spoken of in every respect, including that of his slave management.”

The Governor, in short, is most anxious that “persons of their respectability might be spared from imprisonment;” and, at least, that Lord Bathhurst will allow him to “relinquish the mulct” less they should be “held cruel and oppressive beyond others,” and also in order, in some degree, “to remove the impression of their being deemed a habitually and notoriously cruel.”

But he adds—and the addition is most significative of colonial feelings on such subjects— “Notwithstanding their being in goal, they are visited by the most respectable persons in the place, and by all who knew them before. This would not be the case even here, if it was the public opinion that the treatment of Mr Moss’s slaves in general was unduly severe!”

(The Morning Chronicle, England Saturday 25, April 1829)

CRUELTIES PERPETRATED BY HENRY AND HELEN MOSS, ON A FEMALE NEGRO SLAVE IN THE BAHAMAS

[FROM THE ANTI SLAVERY MONTHLY REPORTER FOR APRIL]

The nature of this transaction will best appear from the following dispatch of Mr. Secretary Huskisson to the Governor, General Grant, dated Downing Street, 28th September, 1827:-

“I have received your dispatch of the 3rd July last, transmitting the minutes of evidence on the trial of Henry and Helen Moss, suggesting certain considerations in their favour, and recommending the remittal of the fine which formed a part of their sentence.

“These persons have been found guilty of a misdemeanour for their cruelty to their slave Kate; and those facts of the case which are proved beyond dispute, appear to be as follows:-

“Kate was a domestic slave, and is stated to have been guilty of theft; she is also accused of disobedience, and refusing to mend her clothes and do her work, and this was the more immediate cause of her punishment. On the 22nd of July, 1826, she was confined in the stocks, and she was not released till the 8th of August following, being a period of 17 days. The stocks were so constructed, that she could not sit up and lie down at pleasure, and she remained in them day and night. During this period she was flogged repeatedly, one of the overseers thinks about six times, and red pepper was rubbed upon her eyes to prevent her sleeping. Tasks were given her which, in the opinion of the same overseer, she was incapable of performing; sometimes because they were beyond her powers, at other times because she could not see to do them on account of the red pepper having been rubbed in her eyes: and she was flogged for failing to accomplish these tasked. A violent distemper had been prevalent on the plantation during the summer. It is in evidence, that on one of the days of Kate’s confinement she complained of fever, and that one of the floggings which she received was the day after she had made this complaint. When she was taken out of the stocks she appeared to be cramped, and was then again flogged. The very day of her release she was sent to field-labour (though heretofore a house servant), and on the evening of the third day ensuing, was brought before her owners as being ill and refusing to work, and she then complained of having fever. They were of the opinion that she had none then, but gave directions to the driver if she should be ill to bring her to them for medicines in the morning. The driver took her to the negro-house, and again flogged her; this time, apparently, without orders from her owners to do so.

In the morning, at 7 o’clock, she was taken to work in the field, where she died at noon.

(The Morning Chronicle, England Saturday 25, April 1829)

Margaret Murray – First witness at trial of Henry and Helen Moss

“The facts of the case are, thus far, incontrovertibly established; and I deeply lament, that, heinous as the offences are which this narrative exhibits, I can discover no material palliation of them amongst the other circumstances detailed in the evidence.

“Margaret Murray, the first witness, states that she passed the day of the 23rd of July with Mr and Mrs Moss: she understood from Mrs Moss that Kate had been put in the stocks and flogged on the preceding day, and in the course of this day (the 23d), she heard Mr and Mrs Moss three several times give orders for having her punished, and she ‘heard her cry out three several times, as if she had had three distinct floggings.’ She states that the directions to flog were given to Mr Spencer (Mr. Moss’s nephew and overseer), and she heard Spencer say, on the third order being given to flog, ‘Good God! uncle, what I flog again?’ And that ‘Mr. Moss insisted on his order being obeyed.’ She adds, that two other slaves (whom she names) were confined in the same building, and flogged at the same time.

“Now, from the evidence given by the other witnesses, there can be little doubt that this witness was mistaken in assigning the date of the 23rd of July to the circumstances which she relates and these circumstances belong to the date of the 28th of May, when, also, she was present, and when much of what she states is also stated by the overseer, Spencer, to have taken place. These circumstances do not appear, therefore, to form any part of the offence upon which the entitlement was founded. But they are, nevertheless, such circumstances as I cannot but bear in mind, when I come to consider the weight due to the evidence in favour of the character of the parties for humanity.

(The Morning Chronicle, England Saturday 25, April 1829)

Delancy – Second witness

Delancy, second witness, is one of the overseers on the plantation, and one of those who were employed in the infliction of the punishments. He states, in his cross examination, that Kate was ‘not very severely flogged.’ He had stated, however, in a former part of the same examination, that when he saw her flogged, that ‘he cannot say whether any of the pepper got into her eyes’; whereas he had previously deposed that ‘he thought she could not see to do either of her tasks after her eyes were peppered.’

“It is to be remarked, with respect to the severity of the flogging, that this witness has stated, that the under driver, who flogged Kate when taken out of the stocks, desisted at the entreaty of a man named John Wylly; he does not know whether John Wylly interfered in consequence of the girls debilitated state or not;’ — but it does not appear that there was any motive, except a sense of the cruelty with which she was treated, which could have induced him to interfere.

(The Morning Chronicle, England Saturday 25, April 1829)

Spencer – Third witness

Spencer, the third witness, is a nephew of Mr Moss, and also overseer on the plantation. Mr Forbes, the Magistrate, before whom the examinations were taking which lead to the committal of the Mosses, has deposed, that he had some difficulty in getting Spencer to give evidence, having told him, that if he would not answer the questions he put, he should be obliged to send him to the Attorney-General. This circumstance, and the relationship between Spencer and Moss, detract in some degree from the value of Spencer’s evidence on some points, although I perceive no reason to impute to him any intentional want of veracity. Spencer corroborates the Delancy’s statement in all the more material circumstances, but there are some variations, and something is added by Spencer.

He says, that Kate would not perform the tasks given her; whilst from the Delancy’s evidence, it is to be inferred, that she was incapable of performing some of the tasks, from being unaccustomed to the species of work, and that, by the treatment which she received, she was incapacitated, more or less, and for some part of the time, from performing any work that required the use of her eyes.

“Spencer further deposes as follows:- He told her that if she would mend her clothes she would be forgiven; she replied she would not, and did not care whether she was let out of the stocks or not; he advised Kate to mend her clothes; she was insolent to him for doing so; it would not have occupied her more than two hours……… ‘Kate did not seem to mind the flogging.’ On this last statement I have to remark, that it is at variance with that of Delancy, who says, that when he saw her flogged, she appeared to feel it very much; at variance with the circumstance of Delancy, on an occasion when he was not present, distinguishing the number of lashes by her cries; with the circumstance of Wylly’s interference; with the fact, that except in one or two instances, she was taken out of the stocks and tied up to be flogged; and finally, with every natural possibility, which no testimony can be required to substantiate. With respect to the expressions used to Spencer regarding her indifference to her confinement, and her determination not to do what was required of her, they must be considered as evidence of an exasperated state of temper, not of insensibility to suffering; but I see no reason to discredit them, and they sufficiently proved that she persisted in insubordinate conduct.

“It is not the least deplorable feature in this case, that besides the floggings which the girl received, by orders of her owners, and at the hands of the overseers, other individuals appear to have been free to maltreat her at their pleasure. She was flogged with out orders, by the under-driver, the evening of before her death, and 24 lashes were inflicted by her own father whilst she was in the stocks. On this occasion, Mr. Moss is said to have stopped the infliction, but merely with the observation, that it was no use flogging her, and it was better to send her to work in the field.

(The Morning Chronicle, England Saturday 25, April 1829)

HOW DID IT ALL END? What was the final response of London to Governor Grant?

Downing Street dismissed the request for remittal of the sentence handed out to Mr. Henry Moss and Mrs. Helen Moss.

“With respect to the provocation which led to the offence, I must remark, that a series of cruelties which continued for 17 days, can admit no extenuation on the pretext of sudden anger. I am willing to believe that there was a determined resistance to authority on the part of the slave; but I can never admit that such resistance constitutes ‘a necessity’ for resorting to any extreme of severity, short of which, severity would be unavailing to subdue it. Where obstinant disobedience arises from an exasperated state of temper, the remedy is not to be found in severity treatment; for, in some cases, no degree of severity would be adequate to the purpose, and, in others, the degree of severity which would be adequate would be unjustifiable.

“One of the witnesses (Hepburn) states, he has frequently known Negroes to conceal their illness from sulkiness; and it appears by no means improbable, that in the present case the slave sacrificed her life in this manner to her feelings of resentment.

It is proper, in similar cases of insubordination, to resort to such treatment as will render the course taken by the disobedient slave ineligible to any who possess a temperate state of mind; and, whilst the example is thus rendered harmless to others, the irritated feelings of the slave must be allowed to wear out with time, until he shall become capable of choosing the course of conduct which is best for himself.

But when punishment is inflicted with a vindictive or intemperate feeling, it is justified by no offence whatever; and the infliction must be-attributed to such a feeling, when the punishment is not such as will reclaim the offender, and more than adequate to guard against the evil of the example.

“The cruelties committed by Henry and Helen Moss are, as I have said, incontrovertibly proved; that there was a provocation to them might have been believed without the evidence, for it could scarcely be in human nature to commit them from mere wantonness; but they are totally unjustified by any such provocation; they constitute an offence of an aggravated character, and for which I cannot consider the sentence of five months’ imprisonment, and fines amounting to 300£ to be by any means unduly severe.

I am, therefore, unable to advise his Majesty to remit any part of the sentence. And, with reference to that part of your dispatch of the 3rd of July, in which you “request my approbation to relinquish the mulct in order in some degree to remove the impression of their being habitually & notoriously cruel”, I can only say, that it is not in my power to remove the impression which may have been produced upon the public mind; but I sincerely hope that Henry and Helen Moss will, by their future conduct to their slaves, as for as in them lies, retrieve the character which they are said to have been borne heretofore.

(The Morning Chronicle, England Saturday 25, April 1829)

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