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A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies

A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies

Bartolome De Las Casas

I came across this book again after a gap of a fifty years after reading The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey. She recommended three books in The Guardian, one of which was A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies by Bartolome De Las Casas. She described the book thus:

The book that changed my mind
A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies, by Bartolomé de las Casas. ‘If you want to know anything about the Caribbean, start here. It’s written by a Spanish priest who sought to spread Christianity to the natives. This is an account of the hideous crimes and barbarism he witnessed perpetrated by the Spanish on the indigenous Taino people. A horrifying account and yes, a game changer; witness testimony of how a region was Christianised. Should be compulsory reading.’

Here are a few horrifying selections chosen by me.
A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies
Bartolome De Las Casas
(Priestly Eye Witness Accounts)
PROLOGUE

‘ … atrocities which go under the name of “conquests”: excesses which, if no move is made to stop them, will be committed time and again, and which (given that the indigenous peoples of the region are naturally so docile) are of themselves iniquitous, tyrannical, contrary to natural, canon, and civil law, and are deemed wicked and are condemned and proscribed by all such legal codes. I therefore concluded that it would be a criminal neglect of my duty to remain silent about the enormous loss of life as well as the infinite number of human souls despatched to Hell in the course of such “conquests”, and so resolved to publish an account of a few such outrages (and they can only be a few out of the countless number of such incidents that I could relate) …’

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Horns Road

Ye Prologue:

The late 19th and early 20th century
Saw a red brick suburban terrace street building boom,
All over the country and also in towns like Stroud, –
A walk along Horns Road to the Crown and Sceptre
Will exemplify that and take you down a wormhole of time.

More Prologue:

The late 19th and early 20th century
Also saw a bohemian near-worship of Pan,
As exemplified in the work of Arthur Machen;
A cultured mockery of shabby genteel pretensions
As in the Weedsmiths’ The Diary of a Nobody;
And also, an almost subliminal fear
Of the suburbs’ manic growth,
That fused together so many inchoate anxieties,
As articulated in Algernon Blackwood’s stories,
Where the ordinary, everyday red brick dwellings
Harbour dark secrets of sorcery and the occult;
As though the very utilities of mains pipes
Could transmit necromantic alchemical evil,
As well as water, gas and, eventually, electricity.

Last Prologue:

Of course, subsumed within this confusion,
Was also a nostalgia for the loss of landscape,
And a fear of the working-class and socialism.

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Punish the Poor

Punishing the Poor:
It’s for Their Own Good
Don’t’ You Know?
That’s Levelling Up.
Punishing the Poor.

So here I am in September 2021,
In the year of our Lord of Paupers’ Burials,
In the year of our Lord of Bet Fred,
In the year of our Lord of Universal Credit,
In the year of our Lord of Universal Cruelty,
In the year of our Lord of Cutting twenty Pounds,
Pragmatically doing my bit
For the Trussell Trust,
Which, I think, also feels ambivalent
About its work – as its website says:
‘94% of people at food banks
Are in destitution. This isn’t right.’

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Lancaster and the Slave Trade

What’s in a Name?
The Naming of Parts
The Grave at Sunderland Point

There’s an embarrassment in walking to the grave,
Out there at causewayed Sunderland Point,
From where ships once sailed the seven seas,
Now a desolate mudflat skyscape,
A couple of miles beyond the last post village –
But once all seascape hustle and bustle,
Shipshape and Lancaster slavery fashion.

There are still two pubs there in Overton,
The Globe and The Ship –
Cottages bear dates coeval with the slave trade.

The signposts curtly say: ‘Sambo’s Grave’,
It’s out there at windswept Sunderland Point;
The steps he climbed at the brewhouse are still there –
He climbed to pine and die in lonely isolation,
Or so the story has it;
The building – now a house – was up for sale,
When I visited in late summer 2021;
It’s history, like a name, silent.

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Jesse James and Kings Stanley

At first glance, any connection between Kings Stanley,
Near the Cotswold mill town of Stroud,
And Jesse James of Wild West infamy,
Would seem improbable, to say the least;
But I was told by Ade Blair
(with comments from Otto Didakt),
That Jesse James’ great-grandfather,
William James, was born in Kings Stanley in 1754,
‘And is buried in St George’s churchyard’,
Dying in 1805, the year of Trafalgar.

Seems improbable, it’s true,
For here we are in landlocked locked down Stroud,
A long way from the Atlantic Ocean,
And the ‘Wild Missouri’,
And yet …
Charles Mason of the Mason-Dixon Line,
Was born just down the River Frome in Sapperton;
An American historian believes that Edward Thache,
Aka ‘Blackbeard’, the notorious pirate,
Was born in Stonehouse;
The eighteenth century was an age
Of martial and maritime and slaving expansion,
Press gangs and ships’ crews,
And a busy River Severn just down the River Frome …
Stroud Scarlet cloth went all over the world,
The East India Company,
Traded with the Iroquois,
‘Strouds’ were traded deep within First Nation lands,
Way out west beyond the Missouri river;
Redcoats were out there, of course,
before and during the American Revolution
(Or American War of Independence as we were taught);
Bristol, the eighteenth century foremost slaving port,
Was just down the road and river;
The Atlantic Archipelago
Saw many migrants go west and saw some return –
So, it seemed quite conceivable, initially,
That William James went to America,
Only to return to die in Kings Stanley in 1805,
Having left a family way out west …

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Reimagining how the Railway Lies: Slavery Compensation

Reimagining how the Railway Lies

I live in Stroud,
Home of the arch commemorating the abolition of slavery,
An arch from 1834,
Standing near a comprehensive school,
By a busy main road to Gloucester;

We are rightly and justly proud of this in Stroud –
But, of course, quite a few owners of enslaved peoples
Lived around this town,
Not to mention Gloucester, Cheltenham,
Bath, Bristol and the rural south-west.

Slave owners received the equivalent in today’s values,
Of £17 billion;
Fully forty per cent of GDP in 1834;
Taxpayers only stopped paying the interest on this
In David Cameron’s premiership in 2015
(His family benefitted btw);

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