Chapter 35: the Gulf of Mexico.

Moving at sunrise out of Galveston harbour we sail into a thick and golden mist, which hides the lowlying shores of Saline Pass and the adjoining country from our sight. The waves are long and smooth. A flock of snow-birds flutter in our wake, and swoop with easy undulation on their prey. A semi-tropical languor lies on every face.

As day comes on the mist clears off, and through the vanishing haze we catch along the shores a fringe of cypress and cotton-wood, with roots in swamp and pool, and branches hung with vegetable filth — the noisome and funereal weed called Spanish moss.

Our vessel, plying between Indianola, in Texas, and Brashear, in Louisiana, skirts two of the rich Gulf States, and connects the port of Galveston with the river at New Orleans. She carries few natives, [348] either Mexican or American. Her passengers, like her crew, are mostly Scotch and English; for the ports and towns in Texas are nearly all built by British capital and settled by British families. It is the old, old story of our race. Who planted Virginia and Massachusetts? Who peopled Georgia, Pennsylvania, Maryland? The seventeenth century only saw at James Town and Plymouth Rock what the nineteenth century beholds in the Gulf of Mexico. The English race is moving on the West. London and Liverpool are pouring out our wealth and population on these coasts-our surplus capital, our adventurous sons.

This power of drawing on the parent country for supports is the chief mainstay of White America.

Apart from passing politics, the Conservatives hold that time is always fighting on their side. White men increase in freedom. In a hundred years the White family has increased in North America from less than three millions to more than thirty millions. Who knows whether the Black family will increase in freedom? Every fact appears to point another way. The Whites are recruited from Europe, the Blacks are not recruited from [349] Africa. One force expands, the other wanes. Yet what a power of mischief this low and waning branch of the human family possesses; a power which wounds and weakens every section of America; setting brother against brother, North against South, the disciples of Brewster against the comrades of Raleigh, and the children of Oglethorpe against the descendants of Penn.

This question-“ How, in our advance towards a higher plane of freedom, culture, and refinement, shall we treat those races on our soil which stand on the lowest stages of freedom, culture, and refinement?” --has already wrecked a third part of America, putting back for unknown terms of years the noble work which the Republic inherited from her English founders — that of planting and peopling this continent with Free States.

“ Born in the South, and trained to look on slavery as a domestic system, I was always of opinion that the Slave Question was a passing evil,” says a companion of the quarter deck.

“A passing evil? You think it would have passed away?”

“It would assuredly have passed away.” [350] “Without the civil war?”

“Assuredly, without the civil war. Yea, more. If we regard the question as a whole — the Negro's life in freedom as well as his life in bondage-the problem might have been solved sooner without the war than with the war. Neither the Black League nor the White League need have troubled the United States. Moral emancipation would have come through moral means, and in a time of peace, with all good men disposed to make the best of it. Military emancipation came on us as a shock, occurring in a time of war, and sending up, in sullen rancour, some of the blackest passions of the human heart. What has the war done?”

“Destroyed slavery.”

“Excuse me — the war has destroyed freedom. Where is the Republic now? Where is the commonwealth conceived for us by Franklin, left to us by Washington? Shall we seek it in New Orleans, in Vicksburg, in Richmond? Where is our boast of local self-government justified to-day? ”

At day-break, starting to my feet and peering through my cabin-window, I see a trail of land in the distance, with a fringe of forest trees, funereally [351] draped in Spanish moss. Hollo, what's here? A bank of sand lies bare and dry under the paddlewheel. Are we ashore? Is that white bird a crane ? Are we at sea — is this a phantom ship?

On coming to the fore, I find that we are pushing through a sea-canal, marked off with boles of trees. This work is seven miles long, and twelve feet deep, running between Marsh Island and the swamps of Terre Bonne, in Atchafalaya River, on the eastern bank of which lies the port of Brashear: a place created out of chaos, by the necessity which has sprung up since the settlement of Texas for a shorter and safer route from Galveston to New Orleans than that by way of Pass h Loutre. The voyage is reduced by half the time. By boat and car a man now runs from Galveston to New Orleans in little more than twenty-four hours.

Is Brashear land or water? Slush and mud, gutter and pool, basin and drain, all meet in Brashear; a dismal swamp and fever-den, enclosed on every side with jungle, in which every tree is hung with Spanish moss. This ghastly parasite clings in cobwebs, of dull mouse-colour, from every branch. “Observe this weed,” a resident in Brashear says [352] to me, when showing us the lions of his hamlet. “You see it in a place-get off as quickly as your horse will trot. We call it fever-moss. It is a sign that chills and fevers hang about.”

“ The weed seems widely spread; we see it everywhere along the Gulf.”

“Along this Gulf disease and death are widely spread. It grows in every marsh and pool, round every lake and bay. You find it in Eastern Texas and Southern Louisiana, in Western Florida, and among the inland waters of Alabama.”

This parasite is ugly, fcetid, and of little use. Negroes rake it down and bury it in the earth. In ten or twelve days the stench dies out, and then they dig it up and dry it in the sun. When crisp and hard, they stuff it into mattresses and pillows in place of straw. Negroes are said to like sleeping on this dried fever-moss.

Brashear is a colony of Negroes, and a stronghold of the Black League. Setting aside some dozen officers connected with the boats and trains, no White inhabitants dwell in Brashear. Every doorway shows a Negro, every gutter a dusky imp. Grog-shops, billiard-rooms, and lottery stalls reek [353] with Negroes-most of them having the thick lips, the woolly hair, the long faces, and the ebony skins of their Fanti and Mandingo fathers.

Glancing through the lanes of Brashear, you perceive that, unlike Texas, Louisiana is a country in which the scalawags and carpet-baggers may chance to find a majority of voters on their side. Since every Negro is a citizen and every citizen has a vote, what is to prevent this mass of coloured people from choosing a Black lawgiver and framing a Black code? United they might carry any chief and aly bill. They might have a Fanti sheriff, a Mandingo judge. Acting as one man, like a mass of Celtic voters, they might legalise in America the ‘customs’ of Yam, Dahomey, and Adai.

The African brain is limited in range.

“Oranges, massa! Hab oranges? ” cries a stalwart Negro in the street.

“How much a dozen, eh?”

“Four for a quarter, massa, four for a quarter!” Yes, the fellow asks no less than threepence each; though oranges are so plentiful at Brashear, that if he fails to sell them in the cars, he will hardly take the trouble to carry them home. [354]

“ A quarter for four, Sam! Why, when you have sent them all the way to London you will only ask a quarter for twenty-five.”

“El, massa! Dat all true? Den dose are planter oranges-dat planter trade.”

Sam cannot grasp the methods of a large and complex commerce. He walks two or three miles, and spends an hour or more in gathering twenty oranges from a tree. The time and cost are much the same as though he were to gather a thousand, but his brain has no conception of scale.

In Louisiana, the Negroes count a clear, though not a large, majority of votes, and claim to have a clear majority of members in the Chamber. They are backed by Federal troops. Their nominee, William P. Kellogg, is recognised by President Grant as Governor of Louisiana. Yet see the train in which we are going towards New Orleans! By law, a Negro is the White's man's equal; by the railway company he is charged the White man's fare. Is he allowed to exercise the simplest of his rights-to travel in which car he pleases? Never.

An Irish navvy, a Mexican pedlar, may take a seat in any car; but not a man or woman of the [355] African race. His scalawag champion cannot help him in a train. Here ladies rule. All ladies are Conservatives, and in America nothing can be done if ladies object. You see these fellows huddled in a front car, next to the engine, smothered by the smoke of burning logs. Some of them are merry, others sullen; yet, in spite of their many discomforts, not a soul amongst them dreams of straying into the better cars.

“The Negro never comes into your company?” we ask a passenger.

“ Never,” he replies, a curl of scorn on his thin aristocratic lips; “a Negro sit among our wives and sisters!”

“Has he not the legal right?”

“Such right as rules and articles can give him,yes; but he knows his place a good deal better than the scalawags. If Kellogg and his crew were gone, we should have no more trouble with the coloured folk. They know us; we know them. It was a crime to give them votes; but we could live well enough with coloured voters, if the Federal troops were called away.”

“ You have no fear of their majorities?” [356]

“No, ,none; unless those majorities are guided by a military chief. The thing we have to execrate is Caesarism — that government by the sword, which takes no heed of liberal principles. For what purpose has General Sheridan been sent to New Orleans?”

After a moment's pause, during which I make no answer-having none to make-he adds: “ Who knows whether we shall not find the city under martial law, the side walks running blood, the public offices on fire?”

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