Slave overseer’s diary notes on a summer of depraved torture

Overseer punishing a slave. A book illustration c. 1830 (via Wikimedia.)

26 May 1756

On 26 May 1756 in Jamaica, plantation overseer Thomas Thistlewood, who was unusual in keeping meticulous notes on the punishments he meted out to the slaves under his care, noted in his diary the depraved punishment given to a hungry slave, Derby, who was seen eating sugar cane.  Thistlewood ordered that he be ‘well flogged and pickled, then made Hector shit in his mouth.’   Two months later, on 23 July, he punished Port Royal, a recaptured runaway, in the same manner.

‘Gave him a moderate whipping, pickled him well, made Hector shit in his mouth, immediately put in a gag whilst his mouth was full and made him wear it 4 or 5 hours.’1

During the following few days he inflicted the same twisted torture technique twice on a female slave, Phillis, and had another two errant slaves, Punch and Quacoo, flogged ‘and then washed and rubbed in salt pickle, lime juice and bird pepper.’ He ‘also whipped Hector for losing his hoe [and] made New Negro Joe piss in his eyes and mouth etc.’2  Throughout that summer, he continued to keep scrupulous records in his diary of similarly extreme perverted punishments.  Some might wonder why Thistlewood’s slaves did not rebel, but it should be born in mind that they knew they and their families would face almost certain death if they tried.

FOOTNOTE

  1. Thomas Thistlewood’s Diary cited in James Walvin, The Trader, The Owner, The Slave: Parallel Lives in the Age of Slavery, Jonathan Cape, London, 1988, p. 131.

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