The torture of Benjamin JOHNSON, a free black man.

Gustavia, 1817

Life is violent back then in Saint-Barth. Whether in the countryside or in town, rich, poor, black, or white, everyone had to deal with violence on a daily basis. It seems that there is not a single day without a fight in the streets or on the roads, incidents of torture, theft, rape, domestic violence, murders, alcohol, the panel is complete.

Of course, violence is to be expected in any society, but even more so in one based on slavery, and black people, free or not, have to live with it the hard way.

On the 6th of January 1818, the Sergent of police, Kirby, sends a report to the members of the tribunal.

« Whereas the free negro man Benjamin JOHNSON was found by the servants of Mr. J.MARCIAL near the bounds of his estate and was carried to the house of Mr. MARCIAL about 4 o’clock in the morning of the 20th of December last, and, being there, Mr. MARCIAL accused him of having stolen and killed a turkey to them belonging.

After having some time kept him tied to a tree, did bore holes through his ears with a needle, and strung to his hears the head and neck of the turkey, and stuck his cap full of the feathers, and, in that condition, sent him through the town at about 10 o’clock in the forenoon and there, caused a great noise and uproar in the town.

I, therefore, most humbly pray that Mr. J.MARCIAL be called before you, Honorable Tribunal, and be punished according to the law ».

Unfortunately, I do not have the outcome of this case and it is difficult to make any assumptions as these come across as shocking to us in 2022, to say the least. Slaves and black or colored free men are entitled to the justice of the King of Sweden, but it is rarely to their advantage when it comes to issues with white people. Probably Joseph MARCIAL had to pay a fine, most likely, Benjamin JOHNSON was accused of robbery.

Joseph MARCIAL is an influential merchant then, and he seems to strongly believe he has the right to make justice for himself and torture another human being, specially a black one.

Joseph MARCIAL was born in Calheta on the island of Madeira around 1779. He came to Saint-Barth with his brother Paulo Valentin Antonio « Anthony » MARCIAL probably around 1805. They are rich merchants and mariners. Joseph marries a Jane Elizabeth SIMMONS from Statia, and they have two children :

            Ann Elizabeth MARCIAL born in 1806. She will marry a Matthew Beverley O’NEIL in Gustavia in 1828. They will have at least two children

            Anthony Junior MARCIAL, no further information.

Joseph and Anthony MARCIAL own lots 318 and 476 on the west side of Gustavia. Lot 318 is where is now the restaurant Kinugawa, and the lot 476, where is now being built the new fish market, just across the street.

Benjamin JOHNSON   I do not have much information about him. All I know is that he has a child, Susanna, with a Margaret HODGE and they both seem to be from Anguilla because that is where the child was born sometime around 1816 or 1817.

Susanna JOHNSON, also sometimes referred to as a RICHARDSON, will marry John Henry COCK in 1844 and they will have 4 children. There is no known descent from this couple (Mr. COCK will marry again at the death of Susanna in 1853 and have other children with a descent nowadays).


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