View of Kingston and Port Royal, from Windsor Farm
Maria often calls Jamaica a “horrid country” but she also writes with an unparalleled lyricism about its landscape: “Mountains irregular in their shape and various in their verdure; some steep and rugged, others sloping gently, and presenting the thickest foliage, and the most varied tints of green, interspersed with the gardens of little settlements, some of which are tottering on the very brinks of precipices, others just peep out from the midst of cocoa-nut trees and bamboos, the latter looking really like large plumes of green feathers. The buildings are like little Chinese pavilions, and have a most picturesque effect. In front is a view of the sea, and the harbours of Kingston, Port Royal, Port Henderson, &c full of ships of war and vessels great and small; the whole affording an exceedingly busy and interesting scene. The plain from Liguanea mountains, covered with sugar estates, penns, Negro settlements, &c, and then the city of Kingston, the town of Port royal, all so mixed with trees of different sorts, and all so new to European eye, that it seemed like a paradise; and Clifton where I stood the centre of the blissful garden.”
Maria also notes that every white man has a “chere amie” among the slave women, and it is not clear whether she exempts her husband. On holiday at the Hope plantation near Montego Bay, the owner tells her that he rewards every slave who gives birth to healthy baby with a gift of two dollars – “and not a thought,” she notes, with an indignant exclamation mark, “of marriage!”. Later, she visits the overseer, noting the beauty of his “chere amie”, and the ugliness of her master, an old Scotsman with “two yellow fangs” in place of his teeth. In the next breath, while reading a Parliamentary debate on slavery, she argues that the abolitionists are exaggerating the degradation of the slaves. The problem, she writes, is their immorality. If only the slaves would marry and produce healthy children, there would be no need for the slave trade and the importation of slaves. In evidence she cites two slaves on a nearby estate who married and produced fourteen children in as many years – “all healthy field negroes”. But the real obstacle to such good behaviour on the part of the Negroes is the fact that the whites live “in a state of licentiousness” with their slaves, while the overseers “have neither principle, religion or morality”. None of this shakes Maria’s conviction that slavery is a good thing.