I finally got my hands on the very elusive letters that Henry Peter wrote to The Right Honourable Earl Grey, first Lord of the Treasury in England, from the British Library. The first one, on the subject of West Indian Property, was written on October 30, 1832, the day before he was leaving England for Barbados. This is the letter in which he referred to his slaves as his colonial property and objected to their emancipation without adequate compensation.
The second one, written a year later, was on The West Indian Question. In this letter he presented “evidence” that “the Negro is not yet fitted for his freedom because he is defective alike in both his moral and intellectual capacities”.
Having read the letters, I am now faced with a hard question. How does an author continue to write about a protagonist that she has developed a disgust for? The answer? As objectively as possible. So I am trying to put aside my feelings and to look past the content of the letters to try to get at his character.
Having done that I can see that HP was obviously well educated which makes me wonder where he received his education. He was also one who was not politically correct. In fact he declares himself to be no hypocrite. Having said that he seemed quite adept at using effusive compliments (flattery?) in order to win Lord Earl Grey to his side. And it is blatantly obvious that money was very important to him.
He says in the first letter: “It is neither in accordance with my taste, my inclinations or my feelings of moral propriety to be allowed to possess an undoubted and rightful property in my fellow man” but then he goes on to say that he upholds the legal opinion that pronounces that a slave is the undoubted property of his master.
So on the one hand HP admits that morally he knows that he should not own slaves, but on the other hand he points out that, according to the law, the slaves are his property.
He claims that the object of his whole life has been to treat his “negroes” as to “render them but slaves in name” and that when he returns to visit them, they assemble together in groups “affectionately to give utterance to their joy” on his return.
I have to admit that this is a hard write for me and, as my novels are all redemptive, I am hoping to find some evidence that Henry Peter came to a realization of the error of his thinking. Could that be why he freed his sons before emancipation? Did he change his opinion by the time he wrote his will leaving his plantation to his coloured sons? I will continue to dig into his life for more evidence. Stay with me.