Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, 7 September 1790

On 7 September 1790, Taylor wrote to Arcedeckne from his sugar plantation, called Holland, at the far eastern end of Jamaica. While a revolution by white slaveholders might have been an unlikely prospect for Jamaica in 1790, foreign invasion was not. And as the possibility of war with France loomed, Taylor described the outlook of his fellow planters. He speculates here that tensions between Jamaica and Britain will escalate to crisis point as soon as the unrest in France and prospect of war subsides. He did not realise that the French Revolution was yet to become more radical, that the neighbouring colony of French Saint-Domingue would experience a revolution of its own, and that conflict with Revolutionary and Napoleonic France would continue for more than two decades (and for the remainder of his life).

[…] it [the prospect of an invasion] has not given the alarm that in other circumstances it would have done, for from the apathy that at present prevails here from the cursed treatment we have received at home from the minister and his friends, respecting the slave business, I believe they will if it comes to the test, hardly find any one foolish enough (except the military themselves) to take up arms, or risque their lives to keep a country for England, that thinks them monsters, murderers, and a people that ought to be exterminated from the face of the earth, but that if their properties and laws are securited [sic] to them that it signifies very little to them what is the name of the tyrant and accordingly will wait with indifference and if it should so happen change masters they will do it without any reluctance, as they cannot be more oppressed by any people in the world, than by the present system established in England. […] I really conceive that they [the British government] want to gett ridd of them [the Caribbean colonies], as if they were useless to them, and I positively do not think that in the course of ten years, there will be one belonging to Britain, or even so long, if the French National Assembly establish themselves on a secure footing, and form any thing like an efficient constitution, for men can scratch a pimple untill in becomes an uncurable ulcer, that is the case at present subsists between Britain and this island, & had it not been for the troubles in France, it might have broke out sooner but as soon as they are at an end, it will break out with more virulence, if they do not stop it, by altering their measures […]

(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1790/29, Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, Holland, 7 September 1790)

Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, 17 June 1790

Taylor saw the proposal to end the slave trade as a breach of faith between Britain and the colonies of the British West Indies. Despite the apparent impossibility of Jamaica seceding from the British empire in the same manner as the thirteen mainland colonies during the American Revolution (due to the reliance of white colonists on British armed forces to protect them from slave rebellions and foreign invasion and on protected British markets for their exports), Taylor persistently discussed the prospect during the first months of the abolition debates in parliament. Whether he was in earnest or privately venting his frustration at British attitudes towards the planters is a subject for speculation.

[…] We are by no means desirous or willing to separate from Britain, but for my part, if the slave trade is abolished, or putt on such a footing, as that we cannot have negroes on at least as good terms as other nations, I shall that moment wish the separation to take place that instant, and for ever. As for their faith, it is as much derided as the Punica Tides. Where is faith to be putt in a nation that gave charters, and passed Acts of Parliament to encourage the African Trade for negroes, and proclamations for people to settle the islands, and embark their all in those undertakings, and then to abuse the people they have deluded, and wish to stop the trade by which only they can carry on their settlements, where is their faith that the emigrants under those proclamations should enjoy every priviledge of Britons, and then pass Acts of Parliament to establish courts of amiralty [sic], where property is to be tried without a jury. Where was their faith to entice the emigrants from America to go and settle on the Mosquito Shore [evacuated in 1786 in agreement with the Spanish], and then give the place to the Spaniards. Where their faith to sell lands in Tobago, Dominica, St Vincents and Granada, and now to abolish the African trade, but to cheat the people out of purchase money. If they call this faith, I do not know what faith is, but think the true name is robbery, villainy, and swindling in the highest degree. If they once arrive at a separation, and expect they will have the supplying us with manufacturies, they will be greatly mistaken, do they supply Hispaniola and the French islands with linnens, woolens, iron mongery, coppers, stills &c or ships to carry home their productions. They know they do not, nor never did. Do they supply any articles to America that are ever paid for, their merchants will tell them no; and every one who has trusted them is ruined, and if they chuse to carry on trade without returns, they may have custom enough. […]

(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1790/18, Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, Kingston, 17 June 1790)

Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, 24 December 1789

As well as commenting on the rising abolition movement, Taylor expressed his views on other subjects. His thoughts on the early months of the French Revolution, penned on Christmas Eve, 1789, reveal his antipathy for the French, but also his admiration for a ‘free constitution’ and distaste for what he saw as the anarchical threat of mob rule. Revolution, thought Taylor, was also in the offing in Spanish America. At the same time as the abolition debate was getting underway in parliament, Warren Hastings, was being impeached by the House of Lords for corruption and misrule in India, and Taylor’s comments on the case reveal his sympathy for Hastings, the former governor-general of Bengal.

[…] The situation of the King of France is very awkward indeed, and they seem to me to be all mad together, and I am much afraid that the licensiousness [sic] of the mobb may make every sensible man join in to oppose them & by that means they may lose a free constitution altogether neither can I suppose that the Emperor, or the King of Spain will sitt still, & see their relations treated in such an indignant manner. But it is no more than what he deserved. He had no business to interfere with us in America. If I am not deceived there will be very soon the devil to pay in the Spanish West Indies. The Spaniards who come over to the northside with cattle and wood begin to talk bigg, and that in a short time they will be as free as the English, if they talk in this manner in the islands, I should think that they will do the same on the continent, where their numbers are so much greater. I cannot say but that I wish the parliament may be dissolved, I think there never was a man more ill used than Mr Hastings bas been, for I really have not been able to see any one thing yett proved, there has been nothing but froth and smoke, but no fire. […]

(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1789/29, Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, Kingston, 24 December 1789)

Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, 6 September 1789

In September 1789, Taylor was pleased when parliament suspended making a decision on the question of the slave trade until its next session, hoping that what he saw as ‘the madness’ of abolitionism would subside in the interim. He began to rehearse several proslavery arguments that became familiar themes in the planter defence of slave trading and of slavery, claiming that abolitionists knew nothing of life in the Caribbean colonies and that they painted a false picture of how enslave people were treated. Taylor also began to consider the possible implications of an abolition of the slave trade, stating that he would ‘stock’ his estates with slaves from Africa in case the supply should soon end and claiming that British planters in Jamaica were prepared to migrate to French Saint Domingue (Hispaniola) in the event of an abolition bill passing in parliament.

[…] I see the House of Commons proceeded some way in the slave trade as they call it, and then agreed to deferr their deliberations untill the next year. I hope the madness will go off with the dogg days, and that they will begin to think more of their own affairs, and leave the princes of Guinea to take care of theirs. The more they know of the value it is of to themselves, the more they ought to encourage it, and as for ever making the coast of Africa a commercial country they had better take care of their own, which would be entirely annihilated but for that to the East and West Indies, and Africa. Mr Pitt must have strange ideas in his head to imagine, that a sett of priests, madmen, and here and there a banker that never was out of England, can know any thing of trade and commerce, or what is so proper for a distant colony as the people themselves do. The thing that should be done is to make these people prove their assertions by facts, and who the particular people are, that uses the barbarities they talk of, to give the individuals that are attacked an opportunity of clearing themselves, or of punishing their calumniator in a court of law. I am very glad to find that we have so many friends in the House, and that he [Pitt] could not carry his friend Willberforce’s schemes into execution, for Sir William Dolben’s insiduous [sic] regulations I wish both those gentlemen would take a passage to the West Indies themselves, and see how negroes are treated, and then go to the coast of Guinea and see how happy they live there. I will buy as many negroes as I well can find out of every ship that comes in, and stock myself as well as I can, but I am and I believe most people in case the trade should be abolished are determined to migrate with their negroes to Hispaniola, for we may as well be under an arbitrary government at once, as to be under one that avowedly pretends to direct our cultivation, and prevent our making what use of our property we ourselves chuse, after having invited or rather decoyed us away by charters and Acts of Parliament. […]

(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1789/25, Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, Kingston, 6 September 1789)

Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, 5 August 1789

By August 1789, Taylor expressed relief that the question of abolishing the slave trade had been stalled by a parliamentary enquiry. He conceded to Arcedeckne that some sorts of regulations to the trade might be acceptable but also began to further stake out his argument that ending the slave trade would lead to the ruin of the British-Caribbean colonies and – ultimately – of Britain itself. Taylor combined this economic argument with his opinion that parliament’s discussion of abolition amounted to a breach of trust towards the colonists of the West Indies.

[…] I see our great question was not decided, and the event was precarious. It has been the maddest piece of work since the crusades and I am very glad to see so many respectable people have taken up the matter, if regulations are made in the mode of purchasing slaves on the coast, so as those regulations do not tend to prohibit the trade, we can have no objection to it, but to abolish it, is ruin to us, and ultimately to them. I see they go on very slowly in their examination of evidence, and I suppose when the House meets on a call, they will putt it off untill the next session. […]

(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1789/23, Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, Kingston, 5 August 1789)