This site uses a blogging format to showcase excerpts from letters written by Simon Taylor (1738-1813), a slaveholder and plantation owner who lived in Jamaica during a period characterised by revolution, war, and imperial reform. ‘Slavery and Revolution’ is a free resource and open to anyone. The material on the site is intended for use by academics, students, and others to use in their research, teaching, and learning.
Taylor wrote from Jamaica to friends, family members, business associates, and political allies in Britain. The letters showcased here were written between the 1770s and Taylor’s death. These were years of uncertainty and change for all the inhabitants of the British Caribbean, enslaved and free. They included rebellions and resistance by enslaved people, hurricanes, drought, disruption to trade, the rise of the British abolition movement, the French and Haitian Revolutions, war between Britain and France, the Second Maroon War, civil rights campaigning by free people of colour, and the abolition of the slave trade. The letters provide insights into aspects of life in Jamaica and the history of the British Atlantic from Taylor’s perspective.
Taylor’s worldview was that of a slaveholder. He perceived Africans as inferior to Europeans and believed that it was his right to treat Africans and their descendants as property, as slaves who he could buy, sell, and put to work as he pleased. He generally saw enslaved people not as human beings but as a source of labour. His comments can make for uncomfortable reading. Nevertheless, his letters are important sources for historical research because of the new light that they can shed on a number of themes, including transformations to empire and slavery during the Age of Revolution at the end of the eighteenth century.
The original copies of these letters are held in the UK at Cambridge University Library and the Institute of Commonwealth Studies Library. The transcriptions appear here with the kind permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library and of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies Library. Each excerpt is accompanied by the full reference to the item from which it has been drawn in the Vanneck-Arcedeckne collection in Cambridge University Library or the Taylor Family Papers in the Institute of Commonwealth Studies Library. For guidance as to how to reference the excerpts when citing or quoting from them, see ‘Conditions of Use’.
The letters have been transcribed as accurately as possible, with few corrections made to style and presentation, preserving the often rough-and-ready punctuation and spelling of the eighteenth-century originals. Each excerpt is accompanied by a short paragraph placing it in its historical context, and there are occasional notes within the excerpts, given in square brackets, to explain specific words, terms, and references from the letters.