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 July 1789

By July 1789, the House of Commons had launched an inquiry to the slave trade. Wilberforce made his first speech on the subject in May of that year, and it was clear that he had the support of his friend, Prime Minister William Pitt. Taylor was incensed by these turns of events in England and perceived them as part of a conspiracy against the West Indian colonies, reflecting back on the rise in the sugar duties in 1781 and claiming that British ministries had been pursuing oppressive policies against the colonies for nearly three decades. Rich in bombast,Taylor’s letter provides an insight into white colonial slaveholding perspectives on the transforming British attitude towards slavery and slaveholding.

[…] I shall be very glad to see a favourable upshot to the great question, for I believe it involves in it, whether Britain will have any sugar colonies or not, for if that trade is abolished, there will be no occasion for the naturall enemies of Great Britain to assemble any great fleets or armies, as a few frigates and troops will be sufficient, as not one will be mad enough to oppose any who ever chuses to deliver us from a nation who treats us as Pharoah did the Israelites, wanting them to make bricks without straw, and the only difference is they want us to make sugar without negroes, and negroes are as necessary to make sugar, as the straw was to burn the bricks. If they want to see the light that their exploits in America are held in, they ought to read the debates in the new congress, and there they will see in what detestation they are held there, and what they may expect from that quarter in case of a warr, can they suppose that the West Indians and inhabitants of the colonies can have any veneration or regard to a nation, that has for 29 years been continually adding burden upon burden upon them, and adding insult to injustice, as in 1781 they gave to the sufferers by the hurricane £40000 in charity, and laid an import on the staple of £500,000 in perpetuity, and now are loading us with the most opprobious names their malice can invent of devills, monsters, bloodthirsty thieves, kiddnappers, &c, &c, &c. Notwithstanding Mr Pitts and Lord Sheffields argument, that the duties on sugars would be the same whether they were made in the French or other foreign islands, yett are they sure those foreign enemies would trade on the coast of Africa with British manufacturers, would they send home the sugars in English bottoms, or their own, or use in their islands British manufactures, in that case what is to become of their shipping, shipwrights, or manufacturers. I shall be very glad to see the report of the Privy Councill, and shall be glad to find that the Bill is thrown out of the House. As for foreign nations giving up the trade, they have not the least idea of it, and instead of that are now giving a bounty on negroes imported into their colonies. I cannot conceive what can have occasioned Mr Pitts resentment against us, if they will lett us alone, we ourselves know what are the proper regulations, and they will be made with time, as for regulations for our internal police, it would be only the blind leading the blind, and no one will permitt them to chalk out the rules how we are to raise our staples, or what particular ones we will follow […]

(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1789/19, Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, Kingston, 5 July 1789)

Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, 16 April 1789

During 1788, parliament received hundreds of petitions from across the country calling for the immediate abolition of the slave trade. In same year, a bill by the abolitionist MP, William Dolben, had imposed regulations on slave traders to do with space and conditions on the Middle Passage between Africa and the Caribbean. By 1789, William Wilberforce was preparing to introduce a bill to the House of Commons for the outright abolition of the trade. In this private letter to his friend and fellow plantation owner, Chaloner Arcedeckne, Taylor set out his opposition to Wilberforce and the abolitionists, using proslavery arguments that were to become familiar parts of the debate over the future of the British slave system.

I am favoured with yours of 2 March and I assure you that all ranks of people in this country are sincerely glad of the King’s recovery, and wish him a long and happy reign […] I hope that this event will prove favourable to us in the negroe business, and am happy to hear we are likely to have good and powerfull friends, who will stem the torrent. It is very surprising that Mr Wilberforce who cannot be in the least acquainted with the West Indies, or the nature of negroes, should be so strenuous in wishing to make laws for the treatment of them, and I declare before God that after a constant residence of 29 years in this country, I have never heard of one tenth of the ill treatment that they say negroes meet with, or of iron coffins, nor of putting pepper upon a negroe after he has been punished or whipped. Five and twenty or thirty years ago negroes were infinitely harsher treated, than they have been since, and I positively aver that negroes are infinitely happier than the peasantry in any part of England, and there is hardly a week passes that a negroe does not do with impunity, what would hang a white man at home. I really do not think that the trade can possibly be carried on under the regulations it is at present under, that some regulations were necessary, it was certain for any boy from school was sent as a doctor of a Guinea man, and they ought not to have been allowed to crowd the ships as they did, but to putt them under such restraints as they have is certainly destruction to the most valuable and lucrative trade they have. […]

(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1789/5, Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, Kingston, 16 April 1789)

Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, Holland, 30 August 1788

Writing from Holland, his sugar estate, in August 1788, Taylor reflected on a successful bill by the abolitionist MP, William Dolben, imposing regulations on slave traders regarding space and conditions on board ships transporting enslaved people on the Middle Passage between Africa and the Caribbean. Later that year, the Jamaican Assembly accepted this as an act ‘founded in justice, humanity, and necessity’, but here Taylor rails against it, drawing comparisons between the supposed ignorance of its framers and of the enslaved victims of the Middle Passage.

[…] Messrs Longs write me on the 11 July that a bill had passed the Lords for the regulating the number of slaves that a ship should take in on the coast of Guinea, according to her tonnage, that alone is I think an abolition to the African trade, and seals our ruin for the framers of the law, and passers of it know as little what is the proper number for a ship to carry, as a new negroe himself does, and altho I have not seen it, nor do I know the number yett apprehended it will be such a restriction, as will amount to a prohibition […] Can they think or imagine this trade lost, the West India planters and merchants ruined, that they will ever be able again to establish it even if they have the islands left them, & that any man will ever again confide in their proclamations from their Kings, or Acts of Parliament, or any British subject migrate 3000 miles from home to risque their lives and toil for a country to have then a sett of fanaticks and rascally negroes take away their property, and endanger their lives, or will they not rather go among any other European subjects where their industry will be encouraged, and where in place of being villified, will be protected, while they do not act contrary to the laws of the place, or attempt to subvert the government thereof. Such a phrensy I believe never struck any people but madmen before, and none of Don Quixotts [sic] exploits are to be compared to it. Succeeding times will never believe that a nation brought almost to beggary by a debt of £220,000,000 […] should run the risque of losing near £2,000,000 stg revenue p ann, the consumption of about 1500,000 of her manufacturies annually, and the employment of 400 sail of ships, and the employment of the necessary artifices employed about them, and bringing the materialls to them, and the whole to please a sett of mad enthusiasts, and about 2000 vagabonds originally slaves in their own country, and not one of whom had ever acquired £100 by his own manual labour. Indeed I think our fate is as much decided by the bill past [sic], as it can be any other way, and I forsee every step, and the ruin approaching, and which will inevitably befall us if this bill is not repealed in the very beginning of the session, there will be no further investigation of the matter necessary, this is the coup de grace to the colonies, the ruin of the merchants, & the manufactureis depending on them and in the end the ruin of Britain. […]

(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1788/21, Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, Holland, 30 August 1788)

Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, 21 July 1788

The Jamaican assembly’s representative in Britain was the Island Agent, Stephen Fuller, who was responsible for reporting metropolitan developments to the assembly in Jamaica and for promoting the views and interests of the assembly in Britain. The Consolidated Slave Act, passed by the assembly at the beginning of 1788 legislated for the treatment and punishment of enslaved people in Jamaica. Proslavery advocates presented it as evidence of humane reforms in the colony, but critics pointed out the limits of those changes as well as the fact that they law remained a tool in the hands of slaveholding whites that could easily, and often, be ignored. 

[…] I wish that Capt. Watt was arrived, for I sent home by him a copy of the consolidated slave act, and I apprehend when it getts among the people at home, they will then see that slaves are better provided for than any of their poor at home, and are regarded in a very different view to what they are pleased to represent, what would these people say if we were to attempt to rob them of their property and the means of their existence, as they are attempting to do with us, out of a mere party phrensy. I am exceeding happy to hear the Agent has been active, and hope his endeavours will be crowned with success. I have ever since his being first appointed Agent allways been his friend, and constantly voted for him at every appointment. […]

(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1788/19, Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, Kingston, 21 July 1788)