Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, 1 May 1787

Taylor’s discussion of breadfruit relates to the infamous 1787 expedition of the HMS Bounty, commanded by Captain William Bligh, to collect plants in Tahiti and introduce them to the West Indies, where it was anticipated that they would help provided food for the enslaved people on sugar estates and other properties. Taylor’s discussion on this point leads into a discussion of his continuing mistrust of the British government’s policies towards the British-Caribbean colonies and speculation about the degree to which Jamaica might achieve self-sufficiency in food and clothing.

[…] The bread fruit would certainly be an addition to our negroe provisions, but a hurricane would certainly blow of [sic] the fruit, as well as either break the trees, or blow them up by the roots, but tho they are liable to that, they still would be of very essential service to us, tho I do not believe Mr Pitt cares a farthing if all Jamaica the Windward Islands and the inhabitants of them were annihilated so that he could but gett a revenue from them. […] [I] am afraid to buy any new negroes untill the hurricane months are over and we see how the blast affects the young canes and sprouts. […] there seems to be a system adopted by the British legislature to extirpate the cultivation of the cane in the British West India colonies, and consequently to force us to live upon our internall resources, and have recourse to the manufacturing our own cloathing from our cotton, and to have no connexion with the mother country at all, if it is so, the late hurricanes have cooperated wonderfull well with its plan, and they will in the course of the next seven years see their scheme so farr carried into execution that this island will hardly be able to be considered as a sugar colony, as the proprietors will not be able to carry that manufacture on, and the iron foundries copper smiths and manufacturers whose dependence is on the trade to the West Indies and the coast of Africa will have leisure to employ themselves otherwise. […]

(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1787/5, Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, Kingston, 1 May 1787)

Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, 14 December 1786

Here Taylor discusses the quality of sugar shipped to England from Chaloner Arcedeckne’s estate, Golden Grove, and discusses the poor health of enslaved people, particularly in western Jamaican parishes, linking this to the unusually bad weather and restrictions on trading with the United States. Taylor provides some detail on his strategies for providing sustenance for enslaved people on Golden Grove, indicating that ground provisions (such as yams and cassava – or cassada) were more resilient to hurricanes and therefore a more secure option than plantains. He has also sent food to Arcedeckne in England, including turtles, a Jamaican delicacy.

[…] I am pleased the quality of the sugar pleased you the thing that made it tolerable was the dry weather in March April & May there is no year or season that does not bring some calamity to us, very great numbers of negroes especially in Trelawney St James’s Hanover & Westmoreland perished for real want they are very dry there now & if they do not get rains soon there will be another famine there again as soon as the miserable crops the will make there are over for in crop they chew canes & drink the hot liquor which helps to fill their bellies but after that is over I believe they will be very bad off indeed, if the Governor even should dare to open the ports in case of a famine the miscreants of custom house officers would seize the vessels and in case of a warr, we must starve. The pease were of great service, but the coco piece of much more. I have inclosed [sic] 60 acres, 20 of which I have planted in young cocos, I have some old ones to serve after crop. I shall putt in 20 acres a year untill the whole of the sixty acres are in, if we have no storm for three years to come, so as to have the whole in, it would maintain double the number of negroes that you have, for after they are six months old, and have had their cleanings, they ought to be suffered to run into a ruinate, and in that case will keep 10 or 15 years in the ground. I will also putt in 8 or 10 acres of seed yams, which after the first digging with little trouble will last many years, and give many rattoons. I have a good deal of cassada also planted, so that I am not very apprehensive you will ever in future want if we can but have a cessation of storms for a very few years, as I will not ever again depend on plantains, but on ground provisions, but these storms coming so fast one on the back of the other, does not give us time to have a years stock before hand. I am glad the sweet meats arrived safe, as well as the castor oil, it does not keep good very long here after it is opened, and if you cannot use it, your friends can. I am very sorry you gott none of the turtle I sent you, there was one by Capt. Watt, and two by Ayton. I have spoke to some from the Port Royall people to lett me know when they have any good ones. […]

(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1784/23, Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, Kingston, 14 December 1786)

Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, 1 June 1786

The 1780s were a transformative decade in Taylor’s life. The American War and its aftermath transformed his political outlook towards a distrust of the British government in London, a perspective that became more entrenched with the advent of the parliamentary campaign against the slave trade in 1788. His sugar estates were adversely affected by the several hurricanes that hit Jamaica in the first half of the 1780s, and a fire devastated the works of his estate at Lyssons in 1784. His elder brother, Sir John Taylor, died on a visit to Jamaica from England in May 1786. Thereafter, Taylor assumed the role of head of the Taylor family, managing the plantation that belonged to his late brother’s wife, Lady Elizabeth Taylor, in western Jamaican, and making his brother’s son, Sir Simon Richard Brissett Taylor, his principal heir.

[…] I have had the misfortune to have lost my poor brother, who was taken ill at his estate down to leeward, and I believe by some mismanagement of his doctors thrown into a dropsy, on which I advised him to come up in a man of warr that was at Lucea to this town which he did but was so far gone that his life could not be saved, and he died on the 6th of last month. His death has been a very severe stroke on me, as well as his little family, which I must now take all the care of that I can, indeed they are so very young just now, that they will be for some years but with their mother, and I must endeavour to settle my matters so as to go home three or 4 years hence, when I have gott rid of the effects of the fire, the hurricane, and dry weather and other calamities that have pursued me for these three years past, and can make an arrangement of my brothers affairs, which will give me a great deal of trouble and fatigue. His wifes estate lying 150 miles from this town, I have been obliged to go there since his death, I must go there again the middle of this month, and must visitt them twice a year for there is really no person in that part of the country that there is the least dependance to be putt in, and that added to my other business will give me enough to do God knows. […]

(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1786/9, Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, Kingston, 1 June 1786)

Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, 10 October 1783

By the end of 1783, Taylor expressed his satisfaction with work at Golden Grove, under the supervision of the overseer, Madden. Taylor described his plans for improving the cultivation and productivity of Golden Grove, which included the purchase of more enslaved workers and the avoidance of ‘jumping crops’, which were years of heightened productivity created by managers and overseers who overworked enslaved people more than Taylor thought was advisable in order to impress absentee proprietors with a large and lucrative crop.

[…] Madden seems to me to go on very well, you have as industrious, and good sett of white people there as at any estate in the island, and your negroes are healthy and well and abounding in provisions, there are 40 acres in cocos untouched, which I reserve for new negroes, and in case of a hurricane, the next thing I must begin on is to fence off some land next Hampton Court to put into guinea grass as a beginning to keep up your cattle & by & bye [sic] when I have enough to keep what steers I shall reserve for the plough to hole your land with that instrument shall begin that method, and do away with jobbing, the new negroes I have lately bought for you are well, after buying one more lott of men, I must then think of buying some Eboe women, the estate is now coming on into its proper train, and I think that it will hardly in future make less than 600 hdds provided that no jumping crops are made, which by distressing, and harassing both negroes and stock, as well as throwing the estate back, takes three years again to bring matters into their proper channell again […]

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

Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, 28 August 1781

Taylor’s callous disregard for enslaved people as anything other than commodities and units of labour is evident in his reaction to the effects of the storm at Arcedeckne’s Golden Grove estate, which he managed as Arcedeckne’s attorney. The shocking human cost of the hurricane is nevertheless apparent, although Taylor conflates this with a diatribe about the various hardships that Jamaican planters are facing as a result of the war, including high sugar duties and a lack of security for transporting produce and supplies around coast of the island. We can only imagine the feelings (or motivations?) of those enslaved people ‘carried off’ by ‘Spanish pickeroons’ raiding the Jamaican coast or of those they left behind on Taylor and Arcedeckne’s plantations.

[…] I did apprehend that there would have been orders come down to have sent up some provisions to Golden Grove by this time, tho’ I do not see any, and the negroes were crying out very much before I came down, and I saw their negroe grounds exceedingly damaged and little or no ground provisions, as I before wrote you, your negroes were but very weakly and not in a condition to make the crops that you had a right to expect from the numbers you have put on the estate. There is a large Guinea man at present in but from the extreme scarcity of provisions it would be the height of imprudence to buy negroes to put on the estate untill there is something for them to eat, and besides the times are so very precarious a person must be afraid to risque any part of his capital but what he cannot help in the West Indies where our foes are so potent, the minds of people much disatisfied [sic] and growing more and more so daily from the new duty on sugar and the contrivances of the refiners should the latter take place we must throw up our estates and remove our negroes to some other government where we may be able to make a shift to live and not to be held in Egyptian bondage. Our fleet is sailed our admiral is retired to his mountain to plant cabbage and potatoes, and our governor to his estate, while the Spanish pickeroons are dayly committing ravages on our coasts and no such thing as any vessell attempting to scour the coast about fourteen days ago they took two negroes belonging to me who were fishing close off our reef, and three days after landed at the east end and carried off two negroes belonging to me, three to you and four to Duckenfield Hall, the carelessness of our commanders is scarce believable and except they are removed and some more careful ones sent it will not be in our power next year to ship our produce. Your Irish provisions are at last arrived and to be delivered at Morant Bay, it is intolerable there is more risque to carry them from Morant Bay or Port Morant than to bring them from England or Ireland to Morant Bay. […]

(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1781/21, Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, Kingston, 28 August 1781)