A most important question has been posed to Bahamianology.com – “What was slavery like in other British colonies and around the Caribbean as a whole?” In terms of comparative research into the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the fates of millions of negroes transported from the African coast, to the West Indies, it is the seminal question.

As the stories are uncovered, Bahamianology.com will post them. They don’t make for easy intellectual consumption. These are stories which assault the mind and cause the heart to ache with pain over the past. Readers can decide for themselves exactly what this time was for all involved.

What can easily be said however, is that history reveals a confused world during the hundreds of years in which negroes were dragged from Africa, to destinations known and unknown. Coming into the early 1800s, in England, divisions grew between proponents of slavery, and those seeking its abolition. As negro populations grew, outpacing that of whites, and as the world read with fear and horror the news of slave revolution in Haiti, Britain breathed slowly. Cautiously.

Who was the Negro?

Who was the Slave?

And Who Was Black?

For surely these were three things, this trinity, embodied in one being, was easily separated in the minds of whites depending on whose presence they stood.


This particular story is from the island of Tortola, part of the British Virgin Islands. It is a compelling tale of immense brutality towards a slave named Prosper, but also of British retributive justice towards the slave owner, which was almost unheard of given the time, the year 1811, the slavery years.


1811 TORTOLA – THE TRIAL AND EXECUTION OF THE HONOURABLE ARTHUR WILLIAM HODGE, ESQ. FOR THE MURDER OF HIS NEGRO SLAVE PROSPER

If someone would have told the Honourable Arthur William Hodge, Esq., graduate of Oriel College, Oxford, a Gentleman Commoner, Lawyer and one described as possessing substantial elegant manners, that he would leave this life with his head in the hangman’s noose, over the death a mere negro slave, he would have never believed it. But that’s exactly what happened.

Arthur William Hodge Esq., was an absentee slave owner who had decided to settle his plantation, on the island of Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands, in order to ensure its success. But when he got there, Hodge apparently left all of his British manners back in England. As highly educated as he was, Hodge felt himself superior to the whites he found there on Tortola, and almost a god to the negro slaves he owned. Hodge became abusive beyond all measure and reason.

A man thrice married, he was labelled a disgrace, in the British newspapers. The only saving grace it was said that his wives died before witnessing the level The Honourable Arthur Hodge had fallen to. His children would have to shoulder the burden of his disgrace in society.

(The Chester Courant, Chester England, Tuesday 16 July, 1811)


PROSPER – THE SLAVE COMMANDED TO WATCH MASSA’S MANGO LEST IT FALL FROM THE TREE

In May 1811, on the island of Tortola, the slave Prosper ran with all his might to the hut of a free negro woman named Pareen Georges. He was desperate. He begged Pareen, a washerwoman, for six shillings to pay to his master Arthur Hodge. Prosper had been tasked with watching a mango which hung on his master’s tree. He was to let nothing happen to Massa’s mango. Most of all, Prosper was not to let it fall to the ground. But it did fall.

Prosper was only able to get 3 shillings from Pareen Georges. He gave it to Hodges.

But 3 shillings was not 6 shillings.

Prosper was tied to a tree and flogged for almost an hour. Some 100 lashes tore into the boy’s body. The Honourable Arthur William Hodge, Esq., graduate of Oriel College, Oxford, the man of immense good manners and being the Gentleman that he was, whipped Prosper himself.

Hodge told Prosper that if he didn’t bring the other 3 shillings by the next day, he would be whipped even more.

The next day came. Prosper did not have Massa Hodge’s three shillings for the mango that he let fall from the tree.

Hodge had Prosper tied to the tree again. Massa doubled the thong of the whip in order that it would tear larger pieces of flesh from Prosper body. More impact with less effort.

Hodge set to whipping Prosper over the same open wounds from the day before.

It wasn’t long before Prosper’s head fell back. No moans or wails could be heard from him, who was now barely human, but more just strips of hanging flesh. Prosper was dragged to the sick house and chained to two other negro slaves.

The sick house was nothing more than a filthy hot boarded up hut where slaves were chained to the dirt ground. Either they recovered from the beatings or whatever disease had inflicted them, or they died in chains.

After five days, unable to take the stench of Prosper’s rotting flesh, while he still drew laboured breaths, the two slaves chained to him, broke away. Prosper crawled out of the sick house into his hut and there he locked himself inside for fear that Massa Hodge would come looking for his 3 shillings.

When Prosper was found, not a piece of black flesh could be seen. The maggots had eaten him before he even died.

(The Chester Courant, Chester England, Tuesday 16 July, 1811)


THE TRIAL AND HANGING OF THE HONOURABLE ARTHUR WILLIAM HODGE, ESQ.

There is something interesting to note here. A white man, a Gentleman, was hung for the murder of a slave, during slavery. For this to happen, Arthur Hodge, Esq., despite his high education, must have been hated by the whites on Tortola. And equally, Hodge must have been a sadist. Hodge must have committed acts of such depravity that even slave owners, during slavery, in the British colonies, were appalled. There must have also been a fear of slave uprising. Something was happening within the British colonies at that time for a man like Hodge to be hung in the public square, like a common nobody, over the death of a nobody slave.

Hodge was charged with the murder of Prosper and six other counts of crimes.

The overseer, the manager of the Hodge estate gave testimony.

Stephen M’Keogh, a white man, who had lived as manager on the Mr Hodges estate, deposed, that he saw the deceased Prosper after he had been so severely flogged; that he could put his finger in his side; he saw him some days before his death in a cruel state; he could not go near him for the blue flies.

Mr Hodge had told witness, whilst he was in his employ, that if the work of the estate was not done, he was satisfied if he heard the whip.

After the witnesses were called for the prosecution, the defence Counsel called witnesses to attest to the good character of Arthur Hodge. This unfortunately backfired as more horrific revelations were laid before the court.

Hodge had poured boiling water down the throat of his cook. From these injuries, the cook, Margaret, died.

(The Chester Courant, Chester England, Tuesday 16 July, 1811)


The Honourable Arthur William Hodge Addresses The Court In His Defence

Before the jury retired, the prisoner addressed them as follows:– “Gentleman, As bad as I have been represented, or as bad as you may think me, I assure you, that I feel support in my affliction from entertaining a proper sense of religion. As all men are subject to wrong, I cannot but say that that principle is likewise inherent in me. I acknowledge myself guilty in regard to many of my slaves; but I call God to witness my innocence in respect of the murder of Prosper.

I am sensible that the country thirsts for my blood, and I am ready to sacrifice it.”

(The Chester Courant, Chester England, Tuesday 16 July, 1811)


HODGE WAS HUNG IN FRONT OF THOUSANDS ON MAY 16, 1811

Prosper was not the first of Hodge’s slaves who had been beaten to death. There were six other charges of a similar nature which was really what the Honourable Gentleman was hung for. Hodge was simply bad for business and that is why even the whites on Tortola turned against him. There was punishment and then there was cruelty. Maybe twenty or even ten years prior, what Hodge had done would have been nothing. But moving into the early 1800s, negro populations began to increase. Soon, the ratio of negroes to whites, in some places, in the British colonies, was more than a 100 to 1.

Hodge was defiant to the end and held that he was justified in his actions because the whole lot of his slaves were just unruly and insubordinate. Hodge blamed the slaves themselves for running away after they were whipped. He maintained that they caused their own deaths by letting their wounds be exposed.

As Hodge’s body swung from the rope, it was said that some in the crowd rather indecently expressed exultation. In other words, they cheered.


The Jury, after deliberation, brought in a verdict of Guilty. There was six other indictments on similar charges against the Prisoner.

After as well as previous to his condemnation, and to the last moment of his life, Mr Hodge persisted in his innocence of the crime which he was about to suffer.

He knowledge that he had been a cruel master (which, as he afterwards said, was all he meant in his admission to the Jury of his guilt in regards to others of his slaves): that he had repeatedly flogged his negroes; that they had then run away, when, by their own neglect, and the consequent exposure of their wounds, the death of some of them had possibly ensued. He denied all intention of causing the death of anyone, and pleaded the unruly and insubordinate disposition of his whole gang is the motive for his severity. These were the sentiments in which she died.

(The Chester Courant, Chester England, Tuesday 16 July, 1811)


ENGLAND 1811 – The Prince Regent supports the Governor’s Actions in Tortola

By 1811, King George III, was permanently incapacitated by mental illness. His son, George, Prince of Wales, ruled England, as Prince Regent.

When news of Hodge reached England, the trial and execution was welcomed. Hodge had been suspected of having murdered five of his slaves, not including Prosper, which pushed the colony of Tortola to a state of near anarchy.

News of the execution was ordered printed by the House of Commons.

Some papers relating to the above atrocious murder have just been printed by order of the House of Commons. They consist of a correspondence between Governor Elliott and the Earl of Liverpool. By this it appears the Governor Elliot had been hitherto prevented from enquiring into the business of Mr Huggins, at Nevis, by the atrocious murder committed by Mr Hodge. The Governor encloses the depositions of the witnesses were examined at trial. The deposition of Mr Robertson states, that he has every reason to suspect Mr Hodge of having murdered five of his slaves!

Governor Elliott then mentions the proceedings he had thought proper to adopt; given an account of the trial and conviction of Mr Hodge.

The majority of the petit jury recommended him to mercy; but it is none of the judges seconded the recommendation.

From the period of his condemnation to his execution, Governor Elliott thought it expedient to proclaim martial law, and to embody the militia: no disturbance, however, took place.

However, the Governor added, that “the state of irritation, nay, I had almost said, of anarchy, in which I have found this colony, rendered the above measures indispensable for the preservation of tranquillity, and for ensuring the due execution of the sentence against Arthur Hodge. Indeed, it is but too probable, that without my presence, in a conjuncture so replete, with party animosity, unpleasant occurrences might have ensued.”

The Earl of Liverpool, in a letter to the Governor, approves highly of his conduct, and conclude by saying, “that the Regent cannot receive from the Council and Assembly of the Virgin Islands a more flattering assurance of their regard to the wishes of their Sovereign, and of the interest they feel in supporting the honour of the British name, than their anxious endeavours to ameliorate the condition of the class of beings, who is bitter and dependent lot entitles them to every protection and support.”

(The Caledonian Mercury, Edinburgh, Scotland, Saturday 13 July 1811)

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