Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, 5 December 1792

At the end of 1792, Taylor wrote to tell Arcedeckne about his fear at the prospect of an end to the slave trade. The Jamaican assembly had produced a report, laying out their opposition to abolition and emphasising the economic value of the current slave system to the mother country. Such economic arguments were an important part of the proslavery defence of the slave trade, but as this letter also shows, constitutional arguments and claims about property rights were also important. The Jamaican assembly claimed that parliament had no right to pass legislation that would affect the internal affairs of Jamaica (as they claimed that the abolition of the slave trade would) and argued that slaveholders should receive financial compensation for any parliamentary measure that might affect their business interests. Taylor also sought to place the current imperial crisis over slavery in the context of the dispute that led to the American Revolution, claiming that Prime Minister Pitt’s political ally, William Grenville, was continuing the policies introduced by his father, George Grenville, during the 1760s.

[…] We are very much afraid here respecting the abolition, and should have petitioned the Crown on it, but it was found that it was as unparliamentary to petition the Crown upon any matter pending in Parliament, but I have sent you a copy of a report made by a committee of the House [the Jamaican assembly], which shews from authentick facts, that if the trade is abolished, that shall not be the only suffers [sic], and claim as our right our having our properties paid for, and disclaim their having any right to legislate internally for us, for my own part I am hopefull when this report goes home, and getts into the hands of dispationate [sic] men, that they will see their interest is too much involved in it, to suffer the minister to wantonly throw away so very a beneficial commerce, as that of the West Indies […] As for Pitt, I have no hopes from him, he is led by that cursed fellow Grenville, who and whose father have ever been the bitter enemies of the colonies, and to whom the loss of America from the British Empire is to be attributed, he first alienated the minds of the people there from Britain, and has in a great manner done the same here, and when hatred once begins, separation is not a great way behind. […]

(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1792/14, Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, Spanish Town, 5 December 1792)

Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, 5 December 1792

Following a petition by free people of colour seeking civil rights to the Jamaican assembly, Taylor confided to Arcedeckne that he feared that events could go the same way in Jamaica as they had in French Saint-Domingue, where clashes between free people of colour and whites had preceded a large-scale slave uprising. He was worried about the influence of Methodist missionaries in Jamaica and pinned the blame for events in Saint-Domingue on British abolitionists (mentioning Granville Sharp, Thomas Clarkson, and William Wilberforce). He wanted Arcedeckne to keep news of the petition quiet in case it encouraged support from abolitionists, showing the degree to which he believed that abolitionism was behind social unrest and revolution in the Caribbean.

[…] We are quiet here with our negroes, but I send you a petition that some of the free people of colour gott drawn up, and wanted Mr Shirley to present to the House of Assembly, but upon his remonstrance to them concerning the falsities sett forth, and the impropriety of it, and by their pretending to claims which never would be allowed them, they thereby prevented their getting what was reasonable, they then desired to withdraw the petition, and I have no doubt but that their real grievances will be redressed, by giving them protection for their persons, and repealing the clause in the inveigling act, and giving them a tryal by jury in the Grand and Assize Courts. It is a very dangerous beginning, and it behooves every man in the island to have a very strict eye over their people, for a sett of worthless Methodists here are using every means to push them on, and was this matter known to the gang at home, I have not a doubt but that they would be coming to resolutions, & raise subscriptions to support these people in their claims, I have sent to you the letters sent to the Agent on this occasion, and doubt not but you will see the impropriety of making it public, but I conceive it to be necessary that you and other gentlemen concerned for the West Indies should know it, for it is the exact plan that was first used at Hispaniola, to make divisions between the whites and people of colour there, and then to stir up the rebellion, and as we have every reason to believe was the productions of the brain of Sharpe, Clarkson, & Willberforce, and by them communicated to the Jacobin Clubbs in France, they are by no means quiet in Hispaniola, they have proscribed and sent home upwards of 70 people In France the accounts are almost too horrible to read, God grant the same may not happen in England […]

(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1792/14, Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, Spanish Town, 5 December 1792)

Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, 6 October 1792

On his return to Jamaica, Taylor wrote to tell Arcedeckne about his voyage and the time he had spent in England, which was an even more disagreeable episode to him than when the sugar canes on his Holland estate had been afflicted by disease (‘the blast’). In particular, he despaired at British attitudes towards slavery and the slave trade. Taylor also showed concern that talk of abolition and the rise of radical politics in the mother country might encourage enslaved people in Jamaica to rebel and discussed the unhopeful prospect of a self-reproducing enslaved population on the island.

I am favoured with yours of 29 July, my former letters will have informed you that I arrived here safe, it would have been too much to have lost a ship going out, as well as coming home. after the first week which was the whole time contrary, we carried an easterly wind with us to this place. I assure you that my time except when I was among my intimate friends, was as disagreably [sic] spent, as at any period of my life, not even taking in the time I had the blast at Holland. Such an obstinacy of opinion among men who were intirely ignorant of the matter they spoke on, and malignancy of mind I never before knew or heard of among the Lords there seemed to be some reason, but I believe a great many were poisoned by Pitt & Genville. […] from what I have seen of the negroes, they seem to be very quiet, whether it is that they are contented, or that there are constant musterings of the militia, I know not. but this I know that if they had been treated as is represented they would have revolted long ago, considering the encouragement they have mett with from the speeches and inflamatory doctrine held out in the House of Commons, the publick papers, and the pulpitts. The levelling doctrines that are held out also in England may have some effect, except particular care is taken, to shew the men in power what it is to have a ferment among the multitude, and that it is much better to go on in the old beaten track, than to try new experiments, which may do harm, but cannot possibly do good. As for increasing their numbers by our own internall breed, I conceive it impossible, I have tried every means that I have known of, to do it, but have never been able to succeed. Every means that I can think of, I will still try, but I really despair of success. […]

(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1792/11, Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, Kingston, 6 October 1792)

Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, 21 May 1792

Taylor travelled from Jamaica to Britain in 1791. It is likely that he was at sea when the August 1791 rebellion by enslaved people in French Saint-Domingue broke out. He received news of it while in London in the autumn and remained in Britain until the summer of 1792. While there, he visited Arcedeckne in Suffolk, met with the West India Committee of Planters and Merchants in London, and gave evidence to the House of Lords, who were conducting an inquiry on Caribbean slavery and the slave trade, a measure of the upper house to stall the progress of Wilberforce’s proposals in the Commons for abolition. Taylor’s fear that the Lords would approve abolition in 1792 proved unfounded, and his comments about the actions of whites in Saint-Domingue demonstrate the fluctuating character of politics in the French Atlantic, where alongside uprisings by enslaved and free people of colour, white slaveholders sought autonomy from an increasingly radical metropole.

[…] I have taken my passage out to Jamaica in the Canada Capt. Sewell and believe she will sail on or about the first of next month […] I was in very good hopes that the Lords would have thrown out the slave bill, but from the report of the Chancellors being out, I am afraid that the malignancy of the minister and his friends will force it through the Lords, what to say, or what to think I am at a loss. I am told that the inhabitants of St. Domingo have actually refused the edict of putting the free people of colour on the footing of whites, that the troops of the line have joined the whites, and they are to give freedom to 24000 negroe men to join them, to defend themselves against all powers who may attack them, and have opened their ports to all the world, but the people of Bordeaux. God knows if we may not be drove to some extremities. I beg my best respects to Mrs Arcedeckne and the little ones and I ever am with the greatest truth & sincerity […]

(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1792/2, Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, Ibbotsons Hotell, Vere Street, London, 21 May 1792)

Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, 17 January 1791

As the abolition debate continued, Taylor’s frustration rose and his language grew more colourful. In his view, abolitionists were behaving unreasonably by interfering with a lucrative system that he thought was best left to the oversight and management of slave-traders and slaveholders. His reference to events in the French islands is probably to the failed insurrection by free people of colour in Saint-Domingue, led by Vincent Ogé, seeking legal equality with whites.

[…] I do not think peace will be of any long continuance but it seems this unhappy country [Jamaica] is never to be at rest and I consider the British minister to be a more inveterate enemy to us than the French or Spanish nation, I see that the miscreant Wilberforce has begun upon the slave business again, if they mean nothing why do they plague us but they are so ignorant and obstinate they do not nor will not hear truth or reason, reason tells every one to be humane to everything under him but they will not allow us to have common sense. Reason tells them not to grate and harrass [sic] the minds of people that give them a revenue of a million & a half yearly & feeds 600,000 of her inhabitants but envy says no I will annihilate you I will suck the blood from your vitals […] a day may come and he [Prime Minister Pitt] is young enough to live to see it, that England may not have a colony in the West Indies & sink into as despicable a state as it was before it had colonies, & it has been only owing to them & the bigottry, folly & tyranny of Lewes [sic. Louis] the 14th who drove the manufacturers out of his country that she has made the respectable figure she has, for my part I solemnly wish I could dispose of my property here and I would do it at 25 pc less than what it would be valued at, & I would have disposed of it before the scene of robbery and oppression was opened & remove myself and effects to any other country so much do I conceive of Mr Pitts & Mr Wilberforces schemes of benefiting us will imediately [sic] injure me and every one else and I forsee nothing but total ruin will be the upshot of the folly madness & rancour of these two people and their gang, they must have heard what fine doings the madmen of France have provided in the French islands & I hope the blood that has been shed on that occasion may fall on the heads that designed the same for us […]

(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1791/1, Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, Kingston, 17 January 1791)