3. Human Merchandise
Mr. Pollexfen was at one and the same time right and wrong - a condition much more
common than is generally supposed.
He was right in his indifferently expressed thought that a man whose mien and words
could daunt such a lord of terror as Jeffreys, should by the dominance of his nature be
able to fashion himself a considerable destiny. He was wrong - though justifiably so - in
his assumption that Peter Blood must hang.
I have said that the tribulations with which he was visited as a result of his errand of
mercy to Oglethorpe's Farm contained - although as yet he did not perceive it, perhaps -
two sources of thankfulness: one that he was tried at all; the other that his trial took
place on the 19th of September. Until the 18th, the sentences passed by the court of the
Lords Commissioners had been carried out literally and expeditiously. But on the
morning of the 19th there arrived at Taunton a courier from Lord Sunderland, the
Secretary of State, with a letter for Lord Jeffreys wherein he was informed that His
Majesty had been graciously pleased to command that eleven hundred rebels should be
furnished for transportation to some of His Majesty's southern plantations, Jamaica,
Barbados, or any of the Leeward Islands.
You are not to suppose that this command was dictated by any sense of mercy. Lord
Churchill was no more than just when he spoke of the King's heart as being as
insensible as marble. It had been realized that in these wholesale hangings there was
taking place a reckless waste of valuable material. Slaves were urgently required in the
plantations, and a healthy, vigorous man could be reckoned worth at least from ten to
fifteen pounds. Then, there were at court many gentlemen who had some claim or other
upon His Majesty's bounty. Here was a cheap and ready way to discharge these claims.
From amongst the convicted rebels a certain number might be set aside to be bestowed
upon those gentlemen, so that they might dispose of them to their own profit.
My Lord Sunderland's letter gives precise details of the royal munificence in human
flesh. A thousand prisoners were to be distributed among some eight courtiers and
others, whilst a postscriptum to his lordship's letter asked for a further hundred to be
held at the disposal of the Queen. These prisoners were to be transported at once to
His Majesty's southern plantations, and to be kept there for the space of ten years
before being restored to liberty, the parties to whom they were assigned entering into
security to see that transportation was immediately effected.
We know from Lord Jeffreys's secretary how the Chief Justice inveighed that night in
drunken frenzy against this misplaced clemency to which His Majesty had been
persuaded. We know how he attempted by letter to induce the King to reconsider his
decision. But James adhered to it. It was - apart from the indirect profit he derived from
it - a clemency full worthy of him. He knew that to spare lives in this fashion was to