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West India Islands, how divided. Climate. Sea
Caribbees. Their character. Manners. Treatment of their Children. Of their Wives. Religion. Dancing. Jamaica. When discovered. Taken by the English. Treatment of the Natives. Mode of peopling Jamaica. Attacked by the Spaniards. Buccaneers, account of. Constitution given to Jamaica. Attempts made to tar the Inhabitants. The Island described. Proportion of Slaves to free People. Exports. Earthquake at Port-Royal.
seen, divided hy geographers into two great parts, north and south; the narrow isthmus of Darien serving as a link to connect them, and forming a rampart against the encroachments of the Atlantic on one side, and of the Pacific Ocean on the other. But to that prodigious chain of islands which extend in a curve from the Florida shore on the northern peninsula, to the Gulf of Venezula in the southern, is given the name of the West Indies ; from the name of India, originally assigned to them by Columbus*. Thus the whole of the new hemisphere is generally comprized under three great divisions; North America, South America, and the West Indies.
That portion of the Atlantic which is separated from the main ocean, to the north and east by the
Sec p. 29, of this volume.
islands, is generally called the Mexican Gulf; but it is divided into three distinct basins,the Gulf of Mexico properly so called, the Bay of Honduras, and the Caribbeean sea. The latter takes its name from that class of islands that bounds this part of the ocean to the east; of which the greater part were formerly possessed by Indians, that were the scourge of the inoffensive natives of Hispaniola, who frequently expressed to Columbus their dread of those fierce and warlike invaders, styling them Caribbees. Of this class, a group nearly adjoining to the eastern side of St. John de Porto Rico, is called the Virgin Isles. The cluster of small islands, which stretch in a north-westerly direction, from the northern coast of Hispaniola to the strait, opposite tie i'lorida shore, go by the name of the Bahamas. On one of these, called by the Indians Guanahani; by the Spaniards, St. Salvador; and by our own seamen, the Cat Island; Columbus landed after his first magnificent but perilous voyage. The whole group is called by the Spaniards the Lucayos.
Most of the West India islands, being situated under the tropic of cancer, the climate is nearly the same with respect to the whole. Their
year comprehends two distinct seasons, the wet and the dry; but as the rains form two great periods, the year may be considered under four divişions. The spring commences with May, when the trees become more vivid, and the burnt savannas begin to change their hue, even before the rains, which generally set in about the middle of the month. These come from the south, and are much less violent than those which pour down in the autumn. They commonly fall about noon, and break up with a thunder storm, exhibiting a beautiful verdure, and a luxuri
ant vegetation. The average height of the thermometer, which varies considerably at this season, is 75o.
When these rains, which continue a fortnight, have subsided, the summer reigns in full splendour. Not a cloud is to be seen ; and generally between the hours of seven and ten in the morning, before the setting in of the trade wind, the heat is scarcely supportable; but as soon as the influence of this refreshing wind is felt, nature seems to revive, and the climate becomes exceedingly pleasant; the medium height of the thermometer is now 80%. The nights are transcendantly beautiful: the moon displays a magnificence in her radiance, unknown to Enropeans; the smallest print is legible by her light, and during her absence, the brilliancy of the milky way supplies to the traveller the necessary light, and makes ample amends for the shortness of twilight.
This state lasts till the middle of August, when the atmosphere again becomes suffocating, which is the prelude to the autumnal rains. Large fleecy clouds are now seen in the morning, and when these vast accumulations of vapour have risen to a eonsiderable height in the atmosphere, they move in a horizontal direction towards the mountains, proclaiming their progress by dreadful thunder, which reverberated from peak to peak, and answered by the distant roaring of the sea, heightens the majesty of the scene, and irresistibly lifts ap the mind of the spectator to the great Author of the universe.
The rains seldom fall with general force till the beginning of October ; then the clouds pour down cataracts of which no one can form a just idea who has not witnessed them. In the interval between the beginning of August and the end of October, the hurricanes so terrible in their devastations are apprehended.
About the end of November or the beginning of December, the temperature again changes, the wind varies from the east towards the north, driving before it heavy storms of rain and hail, till the atmosphere is cleared, when a second succession of serene and pleasant weather sets in, and the winter, if it can be called such, between December and April, is the finest on the globe.
Besides the trade-wind which blows from the east nine months in the year, there is a land-wind at night, which is peculiarly refreshing. This advantage the larger islands derive from the inequality of their surface, for as soon as the sea-breeze dies away, the hot air of the plain ascends to the tops of the mountains, and is there condensed, which rendering it specifically heavier than it was before, it descends back to the plains on both sides of the ridge. Hence a night wind is felt in mountainous countries under the torrid zone, blowing on all sides from the land to the shore.
To the discoverers the prospect of these islands must have been inconceivably interesting*. They are even now beheld, when the mind is prepared for the scene, with wonder and astonishment by every voyager who sees them for the first time. The beauty of the smaller islands, and the sublime giandeur of the larger, whose mountains form a stupendous and awful picture, are subjects for exquisite contemplation. Columbus in many respects found himself in a new creation, for which his own mind, big with hope, must have beeu wholly unprepared. The variation of the compass,
* See p. 15, 0iib's vulums.
the regularity of the winds, the direful waterspout, could not fail of exciting astonishment and almost terror in every breast.
It has been observed that the infinite wise and benevolent Creator of the universe, to compel the exertions of those faculties which he has given us, has ordained that by human cultivation alone the earth becomes the proper habitation of man. But as the West India islands in their antient state were not without culture, so neither were they generally noxious to the human constitution. The plains or savannas were regularly sown twice a year with Turkey wheat; the hills and vallies were cleared of underwood, and the trees afforded a cool and shady retreat. Of these the papaw, the palmetto, and others, are the most graceful of all the vegetable creation. Some continue to bud, to blossom, and bear fruit throughout the year. By the foliage of the greater part of the trees springing only from the summit of the trunk, and thence expanding into wide spreading branches closely arranged, every grove is an assemblage of majestic columns supporting a verdant canopy, and excluding the sun without impeding the circulation of the air. Thus the shade affords not only a refuge for occasional use, but a wholesome habitation. Such, says
Mr. Edwards*, were these orchards of the sun and woods of perennial verdure, of a growth unknown to the frigid clime and less vigorous soil of Europe : for what is the oak compared to the cedar or mahogany, of each of which the trunk frequently measures eighty or ninety feet from the base to the limbs ? What European forest has
* See History Civil and Commercial of the British Colo-. nies in the West Indies. By Bryan Edwards, esq.