Today we offer a reflection on motherhood from a time that we hope nobody will ever have to experience again
Justice Room Cayon 25th November 1836
George T Fraser, Manager of Cunningham Estate complains Peggy P A [predial apprentice] on said estate and being sworn states that Defendant is continually in the sick house two weeks out of every month – alternately with herself and child. She has a mother on the estate perfectly capable of caring the child. Her mother is not doing anything for the estate but defendant will not leave the child with her. Defendant is now absent from her work.
Signed George T Fraser
Defendant aaid that she never goes into the sick house unless she or her child is sick. She is now absent in attendance upon her child who is sick
The defendant had her child with her which appeared to me to be ill. I admonished her against going into the sick house unnecessarily and directed her to take care of the child and to resume her labour as soon as possible. From the statement of the complainant I am rather impressed with a belief that this defendant resorts to the sick house more frequently than absolute need demands. No complaint having been at this time preferred I do not think it my duty at this time to enter more fully than I have done into this business
Signed R B Cleghorn
This is a page out of the Journal of Ralph Brush Cleghorn, Stipendiary Magistrate for the Cayon area. His father, a planter had sent him to England for his education. His mother is not known and seems to have been a coloured woman. He and his wife Maria Berkeley ran a dry good store which did well at first until Ralph’s views on abolition became known. In this case he was dealing with Peggy against whom a complaint had been lodged that she was spending too much time in the sick house. While Cleghorn seems to accept Fraser’s side of the story, he does not make any effort to punish Peggy and seemed concerned over the well being of her child.
The life of women and children under enslavement and its aftermath could be very difficult. Before the abolition of the Slave Trade in 1807, most planters did not list children born on their estates till their fifth birthday. A newborn was threatened by the lack of medical attention before and after birth, insanitary practices in the birthing room, and malnutrition. Even the mother ‘s life was often in danger. The sick room was a place where others who were unwell were treated so the child was exposed to all kinds of diseases. There were no clean hospital rooms, no regular visits to an obstetrician, no clinic nurses to monitor development, no special baby formulas. Mothers continued to eat food that was full of starch and salt. The life expectancy of a child was very poor.
Peggy’s case is indicative of how much things have changed in the work place too. She had no shop steward to represent her. Although this happened after emancipation, she was still an apprentice and did not receive wages. Her working hours where from sunrise to sunset – twelve hours. Now we have an eight hour day. There was no maternity leave, no time for mother and child to bond. Women were expected back at work soon after delivery. It did not matter whether Peggy’s mother could look after the child, she had nothing to do for the estate so she had to.
For those who claim that employers or senior staff are slave drivers because they expect work for the wages that are paid to an employee – one comment. You do not know what you are talking about.