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Primary source material – Jean Baptiste Philip

Primary source material reproduced from Jean Baptiste Philip, An Address to the Right Hon. Earl Bathurst, His Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for the Colonies, Relative to the Claims which the Coloured Population of Trinidad have to the Same Civil and Political Privileges with their White Fellow-Subjects: By a Free Mulatto of the Island (London, 1824), pp.214-219.

Jean Baptiste Philip published ‘Free Mulatto’ in 1824 in response to the employment restrictions he faced in Trinidad because of his race. Written in the aftermath of the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804), which established the former French colony of St Domingue as the world’s first independent black republic, ‘Free Mulatto’ is regarded by many as one of the first pieces of Caribbean literature.

[…] The people of colour, notwithstanding, as a class, have long since emerged from the gloom of barbarism. They have become enlightened, have acquired property, and now can challenge an equal character of good breeding and respectability, among those who have enjoyed the paramount advantages of culture and education. Their inglorious descent cannot put aside their personal merit; they are not the only sons of slaves. Britain, the mistress of the waves, once saw her sons and daughters exposed for sale in the Roman market […]

It is not to be supposed, that every coloured man is fit to command armies, or to take a part in the affairs of the commonwealth; nor is every white one; but still there are many whose acquirements render them capable of filling numerous subordinate situations. I am not so blinded by my passion as to fancy that, in the aggregate, they could pretend to an equality with the whites of Europe, in points of morality and mental endowment. Where such palpable superiority of that class appears, every equitable breast must yield acquiescence to it; but then, let not that superiority be supposed inherent in the difference of complexion, but only to arise from the possession of superior understanding and virtue.

[…] Prejudice cannot long maintain its power: it may for a while stop the ebb of civilisation (nay it has done so for two hundred years back); but the mind will not be involved in perpetual darkness; it will finally break the bonds which have so long shackled it, and, springing from the gloom of obscurity, will expatiate freely in the regions of science, of sentiment, and of liberty. Perhaps it may not be irrelevant to the subject, to cast our eyes for a moment on the circumstances of St. Domingo. We there behold the human mind unfettered, and yielding to its bent; and although the coloured people and blacks there, are, as yet, in the dawn of their political life; I can still see some bright rays bursting on the horizon. They have taught a sad, a melancholy lesson to stupefied prejudice […] My Lord, I am no advocate for insubordination, rebellion, or massacre; my design, in reverting to the scenes in St. Domingo, is far from a wish to evince any exultation at the preludes to, or the issue of, that contest. I, myself, would not desire to see freedom obtained at the price of so much carnage, atrocity, and crime. But, again, the retrospect of that mournful period should present a lesson of moderation and equity; should humble the pride of despotism; should inculcate to legislators, that every branch of the public is equally entitled to justice; that no privileges should be accorded to a part which are inconsistent with the happiness and the prosperity of the whole […]

  1824  /  1800 - 1859  /  Last Updated March 29, 2019 by uncoveredproject  /