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, 7 April 1788

In April 1788 Taylor gave Chaloner Arcedeckne his early reactions to two phenomena that would define the remaining 25 years of his life: the French Revolution and the abolition movement. Political tensions in Paris were apparent throughout the Atlantic world by this time, and Taylor appears simultaneously to have relished the prospect of French weakness while hinting that Jamaica could invoke French support in a future struggle between the colony and the British metropole over the question slavery. Taylor wrote at the beginning of mass-petitioning in Britain against the slave trade and offered an early proslavery critique of the campaign, arguing that enslaved people were well treated and that a unilateral reform of the British-Atlantic slave system would be commercially damaging.

[…] I was exceeding happy when I found that we were to have no warr & have not the least objection that France should be distracted and torn to pieces by faction for half a dozen centurys, it is the only thing that can keep us out of hott water, I hope that the humanity of the Quakers Universities & people who want to abolish the African trade will extend itself to the colonists & buy our estates & slaves & then they may make them free if they please, but for to stop it now, will occasion more mischief than they are aware of, and people will not tamely see themselves stripped of their property, and what they have acquired under severall acts of the legislature for 100 years past, the French are near enough to us to take us under their protection, and armaments to the West Indies would be as fatall a to North America. As for the plea that the negoes are cruelly used, and more so than in any other island, is false. Your negroes at Golden Grove and in short all over the island live infinitely better than the lower class of white people at home, eat more meat and fish than they do, are better lodged and cloathed, and when sick, have doctors and people to attend them, whereas when a poor labouring man at home falls sick, he has no person to attend him, and during the time he is sick, his family are starving, and if he dies, his family is maintained by the parish, a maintenance a tolerable good negro would not accept of. […] Were all the different nations of Europe to enter into a combination not to buy any more negroes, it would be different, but neither the French, the Danes, the Portuguese, nor the Dutch have that respect for the humanity of the Universities, Quakers, and fools that know not what they are about, as to putt a stop to it, for their reveries, and what is it to a negroe who at any rate will be sold from the coast of Guinea, if any man of their nations buy him, or an Englishman. In short the peoples heads seem to be all turned, and they do not know what they are about. […]

(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1788/3, Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, Kingston, 7 April 1788)

Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, 10 October 1783

In 1784, James Ramsay published his famous and influential Essay on the Treatment and Conversion of African Slaves in the British Sugar Colonies. Ramsay had lived as an Anglican clergyman in the British-Caribbean colony of St Kitts (hence Taylor’s comment here about the Windward Islands in the eastern Caribbean) and drew on his experience there to condemn the licentious violence and abuses of the British slave system. Although he did not advocate the abolition of slavery, Ramsay did publish plans for the abolition of the slave trade, and his work inspired the early abolition movement. In this letter it is clear that Taylor has learned of Ramsay’s proposals, probably from Chaloner Arcedeckne, months before the publication of the Essay, suggesting either that Ramsay’s ideas were well known by the end of 1783 or that one of Taylor’s correspondents was a close associate of the abolitionist. Taylor’s initial reaction to Ramsay’s critique seeks to paint a rosy picture of slave life on the plantations and foreshadows the proslavery arguments that planters developed in the years to follow, during their disputes with abolitionists.

[…] I do not apprehend that Mr Ramsays schemes will be of any effect many of the best negroes on almost all estates are Christened, and no one opposes it whenever they deserve it neither do we find them the worse for it, but in general better, & I remember hearing formerly a good deal of the Code Noir of the French I procured the book, & on examination of it with the negroe laws of this island found very little difference how their laws are in our Windward Islands I do not know, but upon all the well regulated estates in this island, the negroes live infinitely better than the poor people in many parts of England, they have no care for tomorrow, if sick have a doctor & maintainance [sic] from their masters are clothed by them, and in times of scarcity are fed, they breed as much small stock & hoggs as they please, & sell them to whom they please, as also plantains, yams, cocos, &c […]

(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1783/38, Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, Lyssons, 10 October 1783)