Arthur Hodge was a dominant figure in the Virgin Islands in the early 1800s. Born in the islands, he studied at Oxford and later served in the British army. His wife was a sister-in-law of the Marquess of Exeter. He was described as a man of great accomplishments and elegant manners. But evidence presented during his trial revealed another side of his character. Between 1803 and 1808 Hodge had murdered as many as sixty - or one-half - of the slaves who labored on his Tortola plantation. They died by whipping, scalding and having boiling water poured down their throats.
Although Hodge´s treatment of his slaves was common knowledge, he was only brought to trial several years after the killings as a consequence of a political and personal dispute. Hodge was found guilty of murder by a local jury and - when the Governor of the Leeward Islands chose to ignore the jury´s recommendation of leniency -became the only slave owner in the history of the British West Indies to be executed for the murder of one of his own slaves.
Hodge´s character contrasted sharply with that of his chief prosecutor, Governor Hugh Elliot, a noted diplomat and a supporter of the anti-slavery forces in Great Britain whose brother, the Earl of Minto, was currently Viceroy of India and whose brother-in-law, Lord Auckland, had - four years before - carried the bill ending the slave trade in the House of Lords.
The hanging of Arthur Hodge caused a sensation and transcripts of his trial were published in both Great Britain and the United States. The news helped to revitalize the anti-slavery forces, playing an important role in the debates leading to the establishment of slave registries and the accountability they implied throughout the Caribbean colonies.
After a brief introduction which concludes with the language of the indictment issued against Hodge and his counsel´s response that "A Negro being property, it was no greater offense for his master to kill him than it would be to kill his dog," the book opens with a short history of the settlement of the Virgin Islands and descriptions - from contemporary sources - of the lives of plantation owners and of their slaves. Included are personal descriptions of enslavement in Africa, the Middle Passage, the work and recreation of the slaves, their religious beliefs and the brutalities which some of them endured. The following chapters contain biographies of Hodge and Elliot and a recapitulation of the events which led to Hodges indictment and trial. Original transcripts and reports were used as the basis for the report of the trial and execution. The book concludes with a discussion of the effects of the Hodge affair on the anti-slavery movement and capsule descriptions of the subsequent careers some of those involved. (Governor Elliot later served in India as Governor of Madras and is buried in Westminster Abbey).
The work is based upon original and other contemporary sources, including both the published and official manuscript transcripts of Hodge´s trial and Governor Ell