Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, 8 April 1781

Jamaica was prone to natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and droughts. The 1780s witnessed a succession of hurricanes. These, mixed with other factors, such as the scarcity of food provisions as a result of the American Revolutionary War, led to ill-health and starvation among enslaved people in Jamaica. Here, Taylor recounts to Chaloner Arcedeckne the effects of a storm that hit the western end of the island during 1781, noting that Arcedeckne’s sugar plantation, Golden Grove, and Taylor’s neighbouring plantation, Holland, escaped its worst effects.

[…] we at the east end of the island were truly happy in escaping the fury of it. I believe no place felt it so violent as Barbadoes and the west end of this island, several of the Windward Islands felt nothing of it, nor did Hispaniola suffer. Mr Long writes me Parliament has given £40000 to the sufferers in this island besides that there will be a large subscription which I am glad of, for they are in a dreadfull situation, indeed we are so all over the island, from the excessive drougth [sic] we have had which has created a very great scarcity indeed, and if we do not very soon gett rain, we shall certainly have a famine every where, the mountains are as much burned up as the low lands and sea coast, and our prospect is really horrid as there is but little flour or any other but salt provisions in the country and no place to gett them from but England or Ireland. you will be lucky if the 20 blls of flour your ordered arrive safe. You at Golden Grove and I at Holland felt little or nothing of the storm. […]

(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1781/4, Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, Kingston, 8 April 1781)

Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, 8 April 1781

What began as a fairly small conflict between Britain and the rebellious colonists of Massachusetts had, by 1781, escalated to become a global war between Britain and her traditional Catholic rivals, France and Spain. With the entry of the Dutch into the war, Britain found herself facing an even more formidable hostile alliance, a war ‘against all the world’, as Taylor puts it here. His letter to Chaloner Arcedeckne illustrates the impact of disease in the Caribbean upon the troops sent there from Europe and the anxieties provoked as events appeared to go increasingly against the British.

[…] There were no more men sent to the main land most of those that came here have died, particularly of McCormick’s regiment, who are all dead, they brought the goal disorder with them from England, indeed there never was known as much sickness and mortality in this island, as has happened within these last 12 months prodigious numbers of the inhabitants have died. I am not surprised at your wishing to hear from this island from the accts the Berwick brought in you have heard them allready they are disagreeable enough. […] our large fleet last year did nothing in the world, and we have an Admiral here that does as little. God knows we shall want every ship we have at home this summer, but I am in hopes that the number of Dutch ships carried into England and the surprise of Statia [Eustatius] will have such an effect on the Dutch, especially the Amsterdam men, that to gett them back again they will join us against France for it will be impossible for us to fight against all the world, tho the Dutch I am confident cannot fitt out a large fleet of heavy men of warr, yet what they have, joined to those of France and Spain, will give such a superiory [sic] over us as we shall not be able to withstand them, neither do I think we have naval stores among us to support the warr against them all, neither have we men sufficient to do it. Except our enemies quarrell among themselves and some unforseen act of providence interposes I think we must be an undone nation […]

(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1781/4, Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, Kingston, 8 April 1781)

Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, 8 April 1781

Taylor’s complaints about British policies towards the colonies began in earnest during 1781. Until that time, his letters had contained little critical commentary on the duties laid by parliament on colonial trade or the attitudes of British government ministers towards the West Indian colonies. This changed as sharp increases to the sugar duties were imposed.

[…] If the Parliament lays 5/ p ct. additional duty on sugar, or the refiners are allowed to use foreign sugars, we shall be all undone and forced to throw up our estates, and then the revenue of that commodity will be effectually lost, we that have estates must keep them on, but those will be no more settled, and as the present ones grow old and require more labour, the lands will be turned to the cultivation of corn or to raising provisions for we shall be unable to purchase any, and must endeavour to make our own cloaths and live within ourselves, the high duties formerly laid on indigo has had that effect, and if they increase the duties on sugar, the same causes will produce similar effects on that article altho the additional duty on rum is not yett felt it will be if ever we have a peace again. […]

(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1781/4, Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, Kingston, 8 April 1781)