1825 Grenada Consolidated Slave Act

The 1825 Consolidated Slave Act of Grenada is an example of one of the many pieces of legislation enacted in the Caribbean during the last years of slavery (roughly 1823 to 1833), with the intention of modifying the slave system to ‘ameliorate’ the condition of enslaved people. During this period there were two Orders-in-Council, one in 1824 and the other in 1831, which affected the Crown Colonies under direct British control such as Trinidad. Other colonies were intended to use these orders as the basis for their legislation. Legislative colonies (those with their own Houses of Assembly, such as Jamaica, Barbados, Antigua and other longstanding colonies) carried out some of these changes, but usually slowly and with much protest.

Grenada’s House of Assembly adopted a new Consolidated Slave Act in 1825, in response to the 1824 Order-in-Council. It included a clause (clause 35) which made obeah illegal. The clause uses similar, and in some elements identical, language to that of the clause against obeah in the 1760 Jamaican Act, which had been transmitted largely unchanged in more recent Jamaican legislation.   For example, the Jamaican 1760 law states that obeah practitioners were ‘pretending to have Communication with the Devil and other evil spirits, whereby the weak and superstitious are deluded into a Belief of their having full Power to exempt them whilst under their Protection from any Evils that might otherwise happen’. The equivalent clause of the Grenadian law likewise states that they were  ‘pretending to have communication with the Devil and other evil spirits whereby the weak and superstitious are deluded into belief of their having full power to exempt them whilst under their protection from many evils that may happen.’

Pierre, or his representatives, directly referred to this clause of the 1825 Act in his petition, arguing that the acts that he was accused of did not contravene its terms. He argued that

he ought not to have been so convicted and sentenced … because the giving or causing to be given any poison or poisonous drug pounded glass or other deleterious matter in the practice of Obeah with which your Petitioner was charged by the said Indictments is not punishable by the said Act

Pierre’s petition argued that the indictment against him was incorrect, because it did not specifically accuse him of ‘mixing or preparing’ of material in the practice of obeah, but only ‘giving’ it.

Folio showing Clause 35 of Grenada's Consolidated Slave Act, 1825. TNA CO103/12. Images reproduced courtesy of The National Archives, UK.

Folio showing Clause 35 of Grenada’s Consolidated Slave Act, 1825. TNA CO103/12. Image reproduced courtesy of The National Archives, UK.

An Act to consolidate all the Laws now in force relating to the Slave population for making more effectual provision for their maintenance and protection and for the admissibility of their testimony in certain cases

Clause 35 – And whereas it is absolutely necessary to use all practicable efforts to prevent the many mischiefs that may hereafter arise from the wicked persons going about under the appellation of Obeah men and women and pretending to have communication with the Devil and other evil spirits whereby the weak and superstitious are deluded into belief of their having full power to exempt them whilst under their protection from many evils that may happen. Be it therefore enacted that any person or persons whether free or slaves who shall pretend to use any art or mystery with the intent or so as to affect the life or health of any Slave or other person or who shall mix or prepare with an intent to give or be cause to be given any poison or poisonous or noxious drug pounded Glass or other deleterious matter in the practice of Obeah or otherwise although death may not ensue on the taking thereof or who shall have in his her or their possession any poisonous drugs pounded glass parrotts beaks Dogs Teeth Alligators teeth or other materials notoriously used in the practice of Obeah or witchcraft and in a state of evident preparation for carrying on such dangerous and nefarious practice or else shall be found at any meeting formed either for the purpose of administering unlawful oaths by drinking human blood mixed with rum Grave dirt or otherwise or for any other unlawful or dangerous purpose whatsoever such person or persons shall upon conviction thereof be deemed Guilty of Felony and shall suffer death transportation or such other punishment as the Court shall think proper to direct.

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