to Mr. Evarts.
Sir: I have the honor to inform you that I to-day obtained from the office of the governor of Cairo papers of manumission for three negro slave-girls.
These girls, that are apparently from thirteen to sixteen years of age, [Page 921] came to this consulate-general yesterday in company with Rev. Dr. Hogg and Miss McKown of the American, mission at Osiout and asked to have measures taken to secure their freedom.
According to their statements they had been brought by traveling merchants from Darfour, one of the Egyptian provinces of Soudan, situated about 350 miles west and southwest of the junction of the White and Blue Niles. Their journey had occupied six months, and during this period they had been sold three times. On their departure from Darfour the party of slaves numbered sixteen, all of whom had been privately kidnapped or forcibly taken from their homes. The father of one of the girls resisted the taking of his daughter and was shot.
Most of the journey was by the river, but they were at one time a month on the desert. One of the slaves was disobedient and was shot. Another was beaten while on a camel and fell and died, either from the fall or from the effects of the blows, and a third, who made complaints and some trouble on account of want of water while on the desert, was tied to a tree and left.* The other thirteen arrived a few days since at Osiout, 230 miles above Cairo. Here the three girls were separated from the rest of the party, and sold for 30 Napoleons, a little less than $116. The purchaser was about to bring them to Cairo to be resold, when a liberated slave, also a native of Darfour, having learned the facts, seized the girls as they were being taken through the streets at night on their way out of the city and took them to the house of Dr. Hogg. The owner was frightened and fled. The girls were soon afterwards brought by the doctor to Cairo, and yesterday came to this consulate-general as I have stated.
I sent them to-day with my cavass to the governor’s office with a short statement in writing of the manner in which they came to Dr. Hogg’s, and asked, according to the custom in such cases, their manumission. The request was immediately granted, and the girls were taken by Dr. Hogg to be instructed for one or two years in the mission school at Osiout.
Slavery is permitted, or, at least, tacitly tolerated in Egypt, and one private person may sell his slave to his neighbor; but all importation of slaves (negroes and Abyssinians) and all traffic in them are prohibited under severe penalties.
The value of a young colored slave-girl at Cairo is only from $50 to $75 and of a male a still less sum. It would not seem that this price would be any inducement to bring slaves from Central Africa. They are, however, constantly brought, but secretly and not in large numbers.
Traveling traders of the interior buy or kidnap children and bring them to some point on the Nile with their caravans of gums, ostrich-feathers, ivory and other products of the country, and sell them for very small sums to the merchants, who carry on a considerable traffic along the river by means of boats built for that purpose. They are then brought to some place near Cairo, and smuggled into the city and secretly sold.
So long as there is a market for slaves and the mass of the people see no wrong in slavery, it will be difficult if not impossible to prevent their importation.
It is said that there are slaves in all the cities and large villages of Egypt in every native family that is able to have servants, but the slavery [Page 922] of this country is of the mildest form and wholly different from that formerly existing in the United States.
The average value of labor in Egypt for agricultural and other similar purposes is about ten cents a day, the laborer finding and preparing his own food. This is barely sufficient to sustain his physical necessities in a country where no dwelling except a mud hut and very little clothing are required. The necessary result is that slaves cannot be kept for profit, for they must be fed, and while their labor is less valuable, they cannot be kept for a less sum per day than is paid the fellah for farm labor.
Slavery is here confined almost exclusively to the large towns, and is principally connected with the domestic life peculiar to the higher and middle classes of the Orient.
Slaves are kept for the convenience of the harem and to give importance to the owner. I use the term harem in its broadest sense, meaning the apartments allotted to the females in the household of every Mussulman able to maintain one or more wives and their attendants. A system of hired servants would be wholly inconsistent with the strict privacy which custom requires in family relations in the East.
The colored female slaves come from Central Africa and Abyssinia, and the white being generally Caucasians, or Georgians, from Constantinople, very little is known of them except the fact that they are here. They are brought into the country secretly and sold secretly, and enter the harem, which they seldom if ever leave. A very few of the favorites in the families of the higher classes sometimes ride out in closed carriages or veiled and attended by eunuchs. In all these respects, however, their condition is not materially different from the so-called free women of the country, and all the children born in the harem are free and regarded as legitimate, and on the death of the father have equal rights in his property. The child takes the condition of the father instead of that of the mother, and the slave-woman who has borne her master a child is by that fact raised to the rank of a wife, and on his death entitled to her freedom.
The result of this system is that there are very few slaves born in Egypt, and the demand must always for the most part be supplied by importations.
As to the male slaves, very few of them either earn their living or desire to change their condition. They generally understand that they can obtain their freedom by applying to a European consulate, but comparatively few of them avail themselves of this privilege. They appear to be kept more to increase the retinue of personal attendants, and in this manner to give dignity and importance to the master, than for service. They certainly perform much less labor and fare better, both as regards their manner of living and their personal treatment, than the fellah.
I have, & c.,
- A kind of stunted thorn-tree on which camels browse is frequently found in the desert where there is no water.↩