The Coromantees

A poem celebrating the revolt of shackled slaves aboard ship, and their subsequent betrayal.


ON the wing for Barbadoes, and sweeping along
Before a brisk easterly gale,
An African trader with wretchedness stored,
With his crew half destroy’d and contagion on board,
Beheld on his quarter a sail.

It was war, and the tri-colour’d flag soon appear’d,
And a row of nine-pounders were shewn,
And now the poor slaves under hatches were placed,
And the British oppressors beheld themselves chased
By a force far exceeding their own.

Now all their light sails to the turbulent wind
The tars with despondency gave,
While around the keen dolphin, more brilliantly dress’d
Than the tropical morn or the humming-bird’s breast,
Made the flying-fish skim o’er the wave.

The master who saw that his flight was in vain,
That the powers of his seamen were broke,
Now ordered each resolute negro with speed,
From his loathsome abode and his chains to be freed,
And thus to the sufferers he spoke:

” Yon bark, oh ! ye warriors, belongs to a race
” Who laugh at the gods you adore,
“Who will torture your frames, and enjoy your deep groans,
” Who will roast you, and boil you, and pick all your bones,
” And your names shall be heard of no more.

” Then say, oh ! ye negroes, ye Coromantees,
” Whose prowess green Africa knows,
Say, will you submit to this cannibal band,
And be swallowed up quick – or, with musket in hand.
“Say, will you these miscreants oppose?”

” Give us arms,” cried a slave who had once been a chief,
And whose scars shew’d acquaintance with blood,
“Give us arms, and those sharks that infest the blue main,
” Those vultures that feast on the flesh of the slain,
” Shall pay, dearly pay for their food.”

” Yes, yes, give us arms,” the stern negroes exclaimed,
And their eye-balls ferociously glared.
And now fore and aft, like the seamen array’d,
Undaunted the fast sailing French they survey’d,
And stood for the conflict prepared.

The foe now approaches, the battle begins,
And the bravest are stunn’d by the roar;
Deep immersed in thick smoke, every sinew is strain’d,
And they tug, and they shout, and the strife is maintain’d
Amidst crashings, and groanings, and gore.

Now the French try to board, but their daring design
The slaves like fierce tigers oppose
Where danger appears like a torrent they sweep,
And the fearless assailants now plunge in the deep,
Or expire on the decks of their foes.

With their sails all in tatters, exhausted, repell’d,
Lo! the Frenchmen sheer off in despair;
While the English, all joyous, behold them retire,
Shake the hands of the negroes, their courage admire,
And both with wild shouts rend the air.

Though the master exults, yet the conquering slaves
Fill his soul with a thousand alarms;
Now he whispers the mates, and the brandy appears,
The dance is proposed, and received with three cheers,
And the Africans lay down their arms.

As the sharks, all voracious, in Congo’s broad stream,
Quickly dart human flesh to devour,
So the mates and the master soon seize on their prey,
And soon to the arm-chest those weapons convey
Which bend groaning millions to power.

And now the bashaws give their fears to the gale,
And resume their imperious tone;
And now the poor negroes again are confined,
Again are their limbs to the deck-chains consign’d,
And again in their fetters they groan.

Oh Britons! behold in these Coromantees
The fate of an agonized world,
Where, in peace, a few lordlings hold millions in chains,
Where, in war, for those lordlings men open their veins,
And again to their dungeons are hurl’d!

But the period approaches when poor prostrate man
Shall enjoy what the Deity gave;
When the oculist Reason shall touch his dim eyes,
With a soul all abhorrence the sufferer shall rise,
And undauntedly throw off the slave.

Bashaws – a self important person
Oculist – eye surgeon

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