Horatio Nelson first met Simon Taylor during the American Revolutionary War, while stationed in Jamaica. The two remained in touch. As Nelson remarks towards the end of this letter, by 1805, they had been acquainted for about three decades. The letter was written while Nelson pursued the French fleet in the Caribbean, during the months before the Battle of Trafalgar, and in it Nelson expressed his opposition to William Wilberforce and the abolitionists. (The redacted name was that of Wilberforce). This version appeared in William Cobbett’s Political Register on 21 February 1807, while parliament debated abolition. Cobbett sympathised with slaveholders like Simon Taylor, hated Wilberforce and opposed the abolition of the slave trade. It seems likely that Taylor provided him with a copy of this letter in an effort to mobilise the heroic and patriotic reputation of the recently deceased Lord Nelson behind the pro-slavery cause, as part of a last ditch effort to halt the progress of the Abolition Bill.
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)
Taylor’s comments here illustrate how far the uncertainties of war hampered planning in plantation management. With the cessation of hostilities, much remained to be decided, but Taylor felt relieved and able to make plans for the future, which included the purchase of enslaved Africans for Golden Grove.
I would upon the presumption of a peace, have bought you a doz. of negroes lately, but I considered that sugars would sell very low indeed for the first year, did not know what terms the peace was to be made, and was very diffident what to do, but now thank God that blessed event has happened we can with ease and safety with prudent management go on improving every year, and adding to the strength yearly.
(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1783/12, Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, Kingston, 30 March 1783)
At the beginning of 1783, Taylor looked forward to peace, hoping that the post-war British Atlantic would resemble that of 1775, even to the extent of bringing America back into the British empire. He showed irritation with both American patriots and British policy. And, although he had remained loyal to the metropole throughout the conflict with America, he clearly favoured a decentralised imperial structure, which allowed autonomy to colonial provinces. He also continued to complain about the heavy British duties on sugar.
God almighty out of his infinite mercy grant we may have a peace. if we have America may still be ours as soon as the present rancour subsides and their spirits are not kept inflamed that Britain wants to make them slaves and destroy them, Peace would soften their minds, let the moderate men come in play disband their army, and then their zealots would be obliged to seek some other employment than they had lately had and show them the mad part they had been acting for these two or three years past, when more has been offered them than they at first asked. Cursed be the damned politicks that would not at first hear their petitions. They will be mad if they do not give Ireland what she wants, as well as Scotland, why are one sett of subjects to be less free than another, the place where the helm of government is will always attract the principal subjects to make that place their residence and spend their incomes there which is a very considerable benefit. […] I am not surprised the duties have fallen short, for we have been exceeding unlucky indeed in this island, a hurricane in 1781 a second in 1782 and the damned storm this year have prevented an immense quantity of goods from going home and the damned duties they have laid on produce has destroyed the consumption the only way to raise the duties and preserve a certain revenue from the country is to lower the duties and excises which will naturally encourage the settling of sugar works coffee walks &c and consequently the more that is brought into England of those articles the more the duties and excises will amount to; but the time must and will come when they will be obliged to wipe out the national debt with a spunge, it is a violent remedy but will be the only one. […]
(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1783/1, Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, Kingston, 16 January 1783)
The victory of Sir George Rodney over the combined French and Spanish fleet at the Saintes on 12 April 1782 ensured that Jamaica would not face an invasion. Taylor remained fearful of the number of enemy troops who remained in the region and worried about the diminution of the white population of Jamaica. Nevertheless, with Rodney’s victory, the fall of Lord North’s government, and a parliamentary vote to cease military initiatives in North America, the immediate anxieties of war appeared to be passing, and Taylor turned his mind to the sort of peace that might be achieved.
[…] You will long before this have heard of the signal victory that Sir George Rodney has gained over the French fleet which was in its way to join the Spanish & French people of colour at Hispaniola to invade us, 6 line of battle ships with the admiral taken, 1 burnt & 1 sunk, & we yesterday had an acct. of the Corronne an 84 gun ship having foundered from the damage she received in the action, a 32 gun & 1 18 gun frigate taken, is great & glorious news; the consequences are martial law is taken of, Sir Samuel Hood is cruising off Hispanioloa & Sir George is getting his ships ready for sea as fast as possible. The French & Spaniards have a great number of troops at Hispaniola which cannot act untill sir George leaves these seas, & how long he will continue in them is uncertain; we really want a great many more soldiers for the defence of this island than we have for our militia is daily decreasing by death; a great many of the young people went on the fatal expedition to St. Johns [Saint Juan on the Mosquito Shore] & the war prevents others from coming here by going into the army. […] pray my dear friend have you any real grounds that the Americans wish for peace & would give up the French alliance & become our allies (for subjects there is no chance of), in that case it will be very right to carry on no further warlike or offensive preparations, but if they will not give up the French alliance & continue an offensive war against us what is then our situation. You must best know the grounds on which the House proceeded, there are good men on both sides & I sincerely hope a lasting & happy peace with America may be the result & which must be the true interest of both nations, for we cannot fight all the world together […] I am happy to hear you are well, I hope to God we & our families shall live & die under the British government & enjoy the happiness of peace & tranquility [sic] again. […]
(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1782/18, Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, Kingston, 8 May 1782)