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, 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, 18 August 1781

On 1 August 1781, another hurricane hit Jamaica. It was less severe than the hurricanes of 1780, and again much of the damage was in the west of the island. However, as Simon Taylor’s letter mentions, shipping was driven ashore in Kingston Harbour, and there was damage in eastern districts, where Simon Taylor’s Lyssons estate and Chaloner Arcedeckne’s Golden Grove estate were located. Taylor went from Kingston to inspect the damage.

[…] we had a very sever gale of wind which has drove ashore a great many ships that were at anchor at Port Royall some of which are lost and others greatly injured but I can give you no further information of them further than the papers as I sett out for this part of the country as soon as ever the river was fordable and have employed my whole time in going to the different estates I am concerned for and doing what i can to assist the negroes who really want it. It has ruined all the provisions on every estate. The storm last year threw down a great many plantain tress the very dry weather putt those that escaped back so the negroes were obliged to live on ground provisions which were just out as the storm happened and in a few weeks they would have been very well of everywhere with respect to plantains and corn had not this unfortunate matter happened what they are to do now I know not flour is at a most exorbitant price and there are no pease to be had neither is there any ground provisions any where or will be for some time. I was at Golden Grove and your plantain walk and negroe grounds are quite down and very foul and your negroes are weakly indeed and it will require a prodigious deal of work to bring the estate in order […]

(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1781/20, Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, Lyssons, 18 August 1781)

Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, 26 June 1781

The increase in the duty on sugar came in the budget of March 1781. A duty that had been a little under 6s 4d per hundredweight in 1776 now rose to over 11s 8d. The Prime Minister, Lord North, explained that the new tax was necessary because of the expenses of the war, which compelled government to look for a reliable means of raising a large amount of revenue for the Treasury. Taylor was incensed and, associating the duty with the other ill effects of the war, began to predict the economic decline of the British West Indies.

[…] I by no manner of means expected the new duty of 4/6 on sugar, I thought the calamity of the hurricane would have softened their hearts a little, and that they never could think of taxing people whom they looked upon to be objects of charity and as such had given charity to. In regard to Lord Norths assertion that it would be a productive tax, it certainly will be so and productive of the ruin of the old estates & persons in the island and of the ruin of the people at home who have lent money on them on bonds and mortgages, that the consumer will pay the tax I do not believe, for if they go on in the manner they are, there will be no body at home who will be able to buy sugar, and consequently no consumption, indeed all the merchants now complain that the price of sugars has very much lessened the consumption. If we are the most favoured subjects God help the rest, for we have neither protection nor nothing else, our vessells taken daily before our eyes, not less than three last week coming with sugars from Plantain Garden River to Port Morant the same thing happening daily while the admiral [Sir Peter Parker] is digging potatoes & planting cabbages in Ligunea [sic] mountains, the vessells that ought to protect the trade lying rotting and having their bottoms eat out at Port Royal for want of heaving them down and the whole squadron going home but one line of Battle Ship namely the Ramalies left to protect this island, if this is protection it is very poor indeed. If this Island should be once lost, they never will again get it and will feel it Essentially it has been a very good milk cow for them but they will drain us too dry by & by and either France or Spain would be very glad to get it […] I am very sorry to hear that Russia is also become our enemy, things are strangely altered indeed from what they used to be, formerly the words were England could never do but with her colonies they were looked upon to be her main support. […]

(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1781/12, Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, Kingston, 26 June 1781)