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‘Servants and Negroes’
From the Journal of Jasper Danckhaerts, December of 1679


Fully half of Jasper’s 20 pages of journalism concerning Maryland was devoted to being lost and out of transportation. At one point he has to talk a slave owner into letting his servant work as a paid guide for Jasper. Some of the inhabitants are kind, particularly the Dutch. All of them are poor, even the owners of the largest plantations. Some plantations are actually abandoned. Flocks of birds are massive and so loud that the travelers cannot sleep for their noise.

Once back among “the right sort of people” meaning Dutch and Swedish folk who knew how to work first and drink later, rather than the savage English living drunk among their clapboard shacks, Jasper penned a brief history and socioeconomic survey of Maryland, from which the following quotes are taken, the titles and emphasis are mine:

From page 121

“Mr. Commegys was from Vianen [South Holland] and had had a Dutch woman for a wife, who had taught her children to speak the Dutch language; they therefore had a kind disposition towards Hollanders. After her death he married an English woman, and he had himself learned many of the English maxims, although it was against his feelings; for we were sensible that he dared not work for us with an open heart. He told us he would rather live at the Cape of Good Hope than here. "How is that," said I, "when there is such good land here?" "True," he replied, "but if you knew the people here as well as I do, you would be able to understand why."

From pages 133-37

Tax Base

“As to the present government of Maryland, it remains firm upon the old footing, and is confined within the limits before mentioned. All of Maryland that we have seen, is high land, with few or no meadows, but possessing such a rich and fertile soil, as persons living there assured me that they had raised tobacco off the same piece of land for thirty consecutive years. The inhabitants, who are generally English, are mostly engaged in this production. It is their chief staple, and the money with which they must purchase every thing they require, which is brought to them from other English possessions in Europe, Africa and America. There is, nevertheless, sometimes a great want of these necessaries, owing to the tobacco market being low, or the shipments being prevented by some change of affairs in some quarter, particularly in Europe, or indeed to both causes, as was the case at this time, whereby there sometimes arises a great scarcity of such articles as are most necessary, as we saw when there. So large a quantity of tobacco is raised in Maryland and Virginia, that it is one of the greatest sources of revenue to the crown by reason of the taxes which it yields.”

“In addition to what the tobacco itself pays on exportation, which produces a very large sum, every hundred acres of land, whether cultivated or not, has to pay one hundred pounds of tobacco a year, and every person [1] between sixteen and sixty years of age must pay three shillings a year. All animals are free of taxation, and so are all productions except tobacco.”

Economy and Agriculture

“Servants and negroes are chiefly employed in the culture of tobacco, who are brought from other places to be sold to the highest bidders, the servants for a term of years only, but the negroes forever, and may be sold by their masters to other planters as many times as their masters choose, that is, the servants until their term is fulfilled, and the negroes for life. These men, one with another, each make, after they are able to work, from 2,500 pounds to 3,000 pounds and even 3,500 pounds of tobacco a year, and some of the masters and their wives who pass their lives here in wretchedness, [2] do the same. The servants and negroes after they have worn themselves down the whole day, and come home to rest, have yet to grind and pound the grain, which is generally maize, for their masters and all their families as well as themselves, and all the negroes, to eat.

“Tobacco is the only production in which the planters employ themselves, as if there were nothing else in the world to plant but that, and while the land is capable of yielding all the productions that can be raised anywhere, so far as the climate of the place allows.” [3]

“As to articles of food, the only bread they have is that made of Turkish wheat or maize, and that is miserable. They plant this grain for that purpose everywhere. It yields well, not a hundred, but five or six hundred for one; but it takes up much space, as it is planted far apart like vines in France. This grain, when it is to be used for men or for similar purposes, has to be first soaked, before it is ground or pounded, because the grains being large and very hard, cannot be broken under the small stones of their light hand-mills; and then it is left so coarse it must be sifted. They take the finest for bread, and the other for different kinds of groats, which, when it is cooked, is called sapaen or homina. The meal intended for bread is kneaded moist without leaven or yeast, salt or grease, and generally comes out of the oven so that it will hardly hold together, and so blue and moist that it is as heavy as dough; yet the best of it when cut and roasted, tastes almost like warm white bread, at least it then seemed to us so. This corn is also the only provender for all their animals, be it horses, oxen, cows, hogs, or fowls, which generally run in the woods to get their food, but are fed a little of this, mornings and evenings during the winter when there is little to be had in the woods; though they are not fed too much, for the wretchedness, if not cruelty, of such living, affects both man and beast.”

“This is said not without reason, for a master having a sick servant, and there are many so, and observing from his declining condition, he would finally die, and that there was no probability of his enjoying any more service from him, made him, sick and languishing as he was, dig his own grave, in which he was to be laid a few days afterwards, in order not to busy any of the others with it, they having their hands full in attending to the tobacco.” 4

“A few vegetables are planted, but they are of the coarsest kinds and are cultivated in the coarsest manner, without knowledge or care, and they are, therefore, not properly raised, and do not amount to much as regards the production, and still less as to their use. Some have begun to plant orchards, which all bear very well, but are not properly cultivated. The fruit is for the greater part pressed, and makes good cider, of which the largest portion becomes soured and spoiled through their ignorance or negligence, either from not putting it into good casks, or from not taking proper care of the liquor afterwards. Sheep they have none, although they have what is requisite for them if they chose. It is matter of conjecture whether you will find any milk or butter even in summer; we have not found any there at this season of the year.

“They bestow all their time and care in producing tobacco; each cask or hogshead, as they call it, of which pays two English shillings on exportation, and on its arrival in England, two pence a pound, besides the fees for weighing and other expenses here, and freight and other charges beyond sea. When, therefore, tobacco only brings four or five pence, there is little or nothing left for the owner. The lives of the planters in Maryland and Virginia are very godless and profane. They listen neither to God nor his commandments, and have neither church nor cloister. Sometimes there is some one who is called a minister, who does not as elsewhere, serve in one place, for in all Virginia and Maryland there is not a city or a village—but travels for profit, and for that purpose visits the plantations through the country, and there addresses the people; but I know of no public assemblages being held in these places; you hear often that these ministers are worse than anybody else, yea, are an abomination.

“When the ships arrive with goods, and especially with liquors, such as wine and brandy, they attract everybody, that is, masters, to them, who then indulge so abominably together, that they keep nothing for the rest of the year, yea, do not go away as long as there is any left, or bring anything home with them which might be useful to them in their subsequent necessities. It must therefore go hard with the household, and it is a wonder if there be a single drop left for the future. They squander so much in this way, that they keep no tobacco to buy a shoe or a stocking for their children, which sometimes causes great misery.

“While they take so little care for provisions, and are otherwise so reckless, the Lord some times punishes them with insects, flies, and worms, or with intemperate seasons, causing great famine, as happened a few years ago in the time of the last Dutch war with the English, when the Lord sent so many weevils that all their grain was eaten up as well as almost all the other productions of the field, by reason of which such a great famine was caused that many persons died of starvation, and a mother killed her own child and ate it, and then went to her neighbors, calling upon them to come and see what she had done, and showing them the remains of her child, whereupon she was arrested and condemned to be hung. When she sat or stood on the scaffold, she cried out to the people, in the presence of the governor, that she was now going to God, where she would render an account, and would declare before him that what she had done she did in the mere delirium of hunger, for which the governor alone should bear the giult; inasmuch as this famine was caused by the weevils, a visitation from God, because he, the governor, undertook in the preceding summer an expedition against the Dutch residing on the South River, who maintained themselves in such a good posture of defense, that he could accomplish but little ; when he went to the Hoere-kill on the west side of that river, not far from the sea, where also he was not able to do much; but as the people subsisted there only by cultivating wheat, and had at this time a fine and abundant harvest in the fields—and from such harvests the people of Maryland generally, and under such circumstances as these particularly, were fed—he set fire to it, and all their other fruits, whether of the trees or the field ; whereby he committed two great sins at the same time, namely, against God and his goodness, and against his neighbors, the Dutch, who lost it, and the English who needed it; and had caused more misery to the English in his own country, than to the Dutch in the enemy's country. This wretched woman protesting these words substantially against the governor, before Heaven and in the hearing of every one, was then swung up.”

Notes

-1. This means that chattel are taxed, which further means that the vicious drunks who owned a slave who was not productive would best be served by setting him free in the winter woods or beating or working him to death. None of which were ever prosecuted as crimes, even though there were laws on the books prohibiting starvation of Servants and limiting their beatings. This law also made child servants very valuable as they were not taxed and were held to 21 or 31 years of age, and among Africans for life.

-2. The history of slave narratives in America supports the tendency of wealthy slave owners being kind to their human property and poor slave owners tending towards extreme cruelty. As Maryland’s first poet pointed out [THE SOTWEED FACTOR or A VOYAGE TO MARYLAND A SATYR by Ebenezer Cooke, 1667-1732] that plantation which had inherited the abundance of the Chesapeake Bay, hatchery to a quarter of the world’s oceans, once squandering this pristine place for tobacco, became a place of legendary low cruelty, making it no surprise that its principal city, Baltimore, would come to renown as the most dangerous place in America from 2015-19.

-3. The few score negroes that existed in Maryland at this time were vastly outnumbered by the other servants. However, Jasper’s contacts with the leading men of the region exposed him to a larger percentage of negroes than was usual among the normal plantation owner, who could not afford these human luxuries.

-4. This digging of one’s own grave, is stated as a general practice, not a single incident of cruelty, as I had previously reported it from second hand sources as having been witnessed by Jasper in New York, once gain making Plantation America even worse than the most pessimistic suppositions.

Sources from 1913 Notes

Virginia and Maryland, As it is Planted and Inhabited this present Year 1670 Surveyed and Exactly Dravme by the Only Labour and Endeavour of Augustin Herrman Bohemiensis. It was engraved by Faithorne. Only one copy is now known, that in the British Museum. A facsimile was lately published by Mr. P. Lee Phillips (Washington, 1911).

Augustine Herrman, born in Prague in 1608, seems to have resided at New Amsterdam most of the time from 1633 to 1659. In the latter year he was sent on an embassy into Maryland. His journal of that embassy is printed in Narratives of Early Maryland, in this series, pp. 309-333.

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Add Comment
Jeremy BenthamMay 5, 2019 8:35 AM UTC

“Compare Holland with Russia; you see only marshy and sterile islands in the former, which rise from the center of the ocean: a small republic which is only 48 miles length by 40 wide. But this small body is the very nerve-center of the region: immense people live in it, and these industrious people are both powerful and rich. They shook the yoke of the Spanish domination, which was then the most formidable monarchy of Europe. The trade of this republic extends to the ends of the world; and new trade appears almost immediately; it can maintain in times of war an army fifty thousand men, without counting a many and well maintained fleet.”

― Frederick the Great, “Anti-Machiavel” 1740

Hmmm...It does make you wonder what conditions in the state would be like today had Maryland been originally settled by the Dutch.