W W Webley (1849)

[Introductory remarks. With emphasis on this being one of the earliest English-language texts to use the word vaudoux.]


The following long and interesting letter from our missionary brother, W. W. WEBLEY, dated December 8th, 1849, will give a succinct and clear view of the work in which he is engaged, and the various obstacles to success that present themselves among the turbulent and licentious population of Haiti.

Nearly three months have now elapsed since I had the pleasure of communicating with the Committee of our Society. My long silence has been occasioned by protracted and dangerous illness. During an interval of three months I have suffered at one time from diarrhaea [sic], at another from intermittent fever, and at another from irritation of the lungs. The last letter addressed to you from this station was written by my dear wife at the time when I was most severely indisposed, and when the greatest possible repose was required both for mind and body. Through much caution and clever medical aid, and above all, through the divine blessing, I am now nearly restored to health, and for some weeks past have been able to resume my labours almost without intermission.

Joy and thankfulness.

My letter will contain a sort of summary of events that have transpired, and of difficulties that have happened to us in connexion with the mission during the year that is now drawing to a close. In reviewing that year we have certainly had some causes for joy and thankfulness, though the causes for discouragement and depression seem often to have preponderated. Three young persons were baptized in February last. The first of these was, and is still, a most useful and devoted female assistant in the school. The second was a young man of promising ability and piety. The third was a daughter of one of the members of our little church, who, with his wife, was baptized last year. This dear child is one of our first fruits from the school. Two other children, still younger than this one, have also given evidence of conversion. One of these is still, I trust, growing in the grace and in the knowledge of God. The other, though only about five years of age, has, I do not hesitate to say, been gathered to her rest in heaven. We have also two other persons, one who is very young and another who is a married female, who are waiting to be baptized. The conduct, too, of many of the childen of the school has recently given us much encouragement. Many of them for some time past seem to have been labouring under religious convictions, whilst the views and feelings of many have indicated the existence of at least [122] a desire to act rightly, and to become early converts to the faith of Jesus. These things have certainly gladdened our hearts, have proved that we have not been wholly labouring in vain, and have helped to keep us from sinking in the sea of difficulty and discouragement by which we have been often almost overwhelmed. But whilst we have thus had much to encourage, we have had to contend with much that has tended to discourage. We have had, for instance,

Trials arising from the ill health of the mission family.

Scarcely had Mrs Webley and myself returned from Jamaica with renewed health, and again resumed our mission duties, than my dear wife again became a sufferer and an invalid. My own health too only a few months afterwards became so impaired that with difficulty could I keep up this weekly services in the town, whilst my visits to the surrounding villages were necessarily given up for a time. Miss Clarke too has been often ill during the year, whilst Miss Harris and myself have recently been added to thelist of the sick. Thus during the whole year either one or the other of us have been laid aside, whilst not unfrequently two or three of us have been ill together, and the possibility of helping each other, has been almost entirely precluded. Thanks to the Author of all good, we are all now in the enjoyment of comparatively good health. Then we have had

Trials arising from pecuniary difficulties.

My journey to Jamaica of course involved me in many expenses that I could not feel justified in charging the Society with. This, together with my dear wife’s illness, my own subsequently, the long season of drought and of famine that has risen the prices of provisions and almost every saleable article by an almost incredible ratio, and the recent death of Mrs Webley’s mother and grandmother, are things which have unavoidably entailed upon us heavy expenses.

We have had also

Trials arising from the political state and prospects of the country.

All has been agitation, and change, and embarrassment during the year. In April last the president marched to the Spanish part of the island with the hope of subduing it, and making the whole island one republic. The sorrows and loss of life occasioned by that expedition will perhaps never be told. So bad were the roads through woods and over mountains that the soldiers had to carry on their heads and in their hands the arms, the ammunition, the provisions, &c. The cannons were dragged by the hand over the mountains and through the thickets. The powder, packed in casks and in boxes, was carried upon the head. The cannon balls in the hand, and the provisions in a knapsack at the back. Their small stock of provisions was soon exhausted. No water could be procured. So that hunger, thirst, fatigue, and sickness carried off vast numbers. For five days previous to fighting with the enemy the soldiers had no water; many of them, therefore, had not strength to lift the musket. They fell to the ground, and expired in the act. After a short combat, the Haitian army was routed and fled, and on the 6th of May the president entered Port au Prince with the wretched remains of his army. Some of the poor soldiers had only a ragged shirt to their back. Others wore yet the tattered remains of a pair of trousers. Others had shirt and trousers, but wretchedly torn. After their return many died from the sufferings they had endured. Others from over fatigue, and a still greater number from disease.

Soon after the return from the march a fire broke out in Port au Prince, which has destroyed a great part of the town.

I assure you, dear brother, that these two painful circumstances, together with a long season of drought, which has lasted for nearly ten months, a consequent failure of provisions, and a perpetual decrease in the value of the currency of the country, are things which have entailed upon us sorrow after sorrow. During the past year we have literally eaten “the bread of sorrow,” and have not less literally watered the seed we have sown with our tears. But that which has caused us more sorrow than all these accumulated trials, is the fact that these judgments of God have not taught the inhabitants of Haiti righteousness. We have therefore had, lastly,

Trials arising from increasing indifference of the people to religion and to the worship and service of God.

The young men of the town, of whom we have so often spoken, and of whom our hopes have been so often raised, seem now to be wholly given up to licentiousness and gaming. The card-table, the billiard-room, the cock-fighting yard, and the rum-shop, are now almost their sole places of resort, so that we rarely see them in the house of God. The mass of the people of the town, too, though not so much given to gaming as the young men, are nevertheless become, if possible, more licentious than they, and indulge in amusements far more obscene. The nightly orgies and the indecent dances which were formerly indulged in only by the mountain people, are now become the objects of attraction for the mass of the town’s people. I do not know whether I have ever yet said any thing to you respecting these dances. I believe not. It may well, therefore, here to give you some information about them. [123]

Haitian dances and idolatry.

They are of the most licentious character, and invariably lead to the most licentious practices. They can scarcely be termed dances. They consist rather of the strangest contortions of the body conceivable, and of the most indecent attitudes. The songs that are sung upon these occasions are strangely wild and melancholy, and comprise a strange medley of the African, Spanish, and Creole languages. I shall not soon forget what I once saw in passing by one of the booths of these dancers. My attention was attracted by the singing I heard. When I approached, to my horror I saw a number of men, women and children ranged into a circle, all prostrate to the ground upon their knees, apparently in the act of the most profound adoration, and all singing in chorus one of their songs as described above. I inquired what all this meant, and was told that this was their religious service, and that these dancers were in the act of worshipping a snake!

My heart sickened as I turned away from this scene, and I could not help weeping, for at that hour there were about fifty booths erected in the town. This too was their hour of prayer, and there were perhaps not far short of some hundred persons engaged at that very moment in their idolatrous worship. The music, too, at these dancing parties, if music it may be called, is of the most rude and savage kind. It consists of a mingling together of the hideous yells of the dancers and of discordant sounds of tomtoms, of calabashes filled with hard dry seeds, and shaken together, and of sheets of rusty tin beaten with a stick or a piece of thick wire. It is impossible to give you any idea of the effect produced upon a stranger’s mind by the wild commingling together of these discordant sounds, proceeding, as they sometimes do, from all quarters of the town. But the most painful facts in connexion with these dancers are perhaps the following, that they form themselves into one vast society (called les vaudous), which almost deluges the Haitian part of the island, that they practice witchcraft and mialism [sic] to an almost indefinite extent; that they are singular adepts at poisoning; that a person rarely escapes them when he has been fixed upon as a victim; that they are inveterate enemies to the religion of the cross, and to us as propagators of it; that they are encouraged by the government – the emperor sometimes paying them large sums of money – and that they have almost unlimited power to do what they please, as well as to the government of the country or to the destruction of property and of life. As to the conversion of these people, that seems almost a hopeless case. Indeed, it would be so did we not depend upon Almighty power. May God in much mercy soon give us a harvest from amongst them. As yet we cannot get at them. They refuse our tracts, or if they take them they destroy them. They refuse to attend our services, and if we attempt to converse with them on religious subjects, their inveterate enmity to us as Methodists (this is the title by which they distinguish us) precludes the possibility of their deriving benefit from our instructions.

I must not omit to say in closing, that the emperor has lately visited Jacmel; that I have been introduced to him; that I have also been permitted to introduce Mrs. Webley, Miss Harris, Miss Clarke, and the children of the school to him, and that I trust that his recent visit here, our introduction to him, and our conversation with him, will materially advance the interests of the school and of the mission. In conclusion I can only repeat the request we have so often made to you, Sir, “pray for us.” Our work is painfully difficult, our zeal often diminishes, our love often grows cold, our faith is often weak, and our opportunities of usefulness are often interfered with by sickness. We therefore much need your prayers and your counsel, and feel assured that you will not withhold these from us.

Never surely did any people require the sanctifying influences of the gospel more than the Haitians.

Source: Missionary Herald (February, 1850) published in The Baptist Magazine, Volume XLII (London: Houlston and Stoneman, 1850), pp121-123.