Burial at Newport

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter VII (5) | Start of Chapter

The state of the famine here might be illustrated by a few facts which came under my observation. The chapel bell tolled one morning early, when a respectable young woman was brought into the yard for interment. No bells tolled for the starving, they must have the "burial of an ass," or none at all. A young lad improved this opportunity while the gate was open, and carried in a large sack on his back, which contained two brothers, one seventeen, the other a little boy, who had died by starvation. In one corner he dug, with his own emaciated feeble hands, a grave, and put them in, uncoffined, and covered them, while the clods were falling upon the coffin of the respectable young woman. I never witnessed a more stirring striking contrast between civilized and savage life—Christianity and heathenism—wealth and poverty, than in this instance; it said so much for the mockery of death, with all its trappings and ceremonies—the mockery of pompous funerals, and their black retinue. This poor boy unheeded had staid in the dark cabin with those dead brothers, not even getting admittance into the gate, till some respectable one should want a burial; then he might follow this procession at a suitable distance, with two dead brothers upon his back, and put them in with his own hands, with none to compassionate him!

A cabin was seen closed one day a little out of the town, when a man had the curiosity to open it, and in a dark corner he found a family of the father, mother, and two children, lying in close compact. The father was considerably decomposed; the mother, it appeared, had died last, and probably fastened the door, which was always the custom when all hope was extinguished, to get into the darkest corner and die, where passers-by could not see them. Such family scenes were quite common, and the cabin was generally pulled down upon them for a grave. The man called, begging me to look in. I did not, and could not endure, as the famine progressed, such sights, as well as at the first, they were too real, and these realities became a dread. In all my former walks over the island, by day or night, no shrinking or fear of danger ever retarded in the least my progress? but now, the horror of meeting living walking ghosts, or stumbling upon the dead in my path at night, inclined me to keep within when necessity did not call. The entire face of the country was changed, for though poverty always was brooding her dismal wings over that island, yet now she had sharpened her teeth, and in many parts desperation was driving the people to deeds which had long slept, or which never before had been transacted.