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, 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, 26 June 1783

Taylor, despite his loyalty to Britain before and during the American War, was disillusioned with British policy by 1783 and believed that the remaining American colonies, such as Jamaica, were over taxed and abused by the metropole. He assessed the island’s prospects of becoming more self-sufficient with regard to clothing and livestock as well as speculating that white Jamaican colonists were so disillusioned with the empire that they might now think twice before rushing to defend the island from a foreign invasion.

I really think that the time is not farr of that will force us to sett about making our own cloathing ourselves, as for cattle there has been a very large number of penns lately settled, and many more are settling, and as the sugar works are thrown up they must begin some manufacture to employ the negroes. […] this country was loaded with taxes last year to the amount of £24000 which is to be paid this, for forts fortifications and the expences of the last martial law, and I cannot conceive what they want to do now with forts and fortifications, except they intend to send out an army to garrison them for they surely cannot be mad enough to think there is a man in the island who will be stupid enough to risque his life, or have his property destroyed, or his slaves carried off, to promote the benefitt, or to live under the protection, and contribute to support the revenue of a country who has so damnably oppressed us as Britain has lately done, and who have behaved so inconsistently with common sense, as in on session to give us charity, and at the same time burden us with a tax of £500000 stg p ann, can they conceive that we are so wanting in common sense, as not to think we consider ourselves but as the potters ass & will give the same answer he did, who when his cruel master wanted him to run from an enemy replies, can I ever gett a crueller master than you have been to me and therefore I do not care to whom I belong. […]

(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1783/23, Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, Kingston, 26 June 1783)

Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, 24 February 1783

Taylor argued that admitting sugar into Britain from St Kitts, which had been conquered by France, at an equal duty to sugar from British territories would provide a vent in the metropole for French sugar. His threat to stop growing sugar appears to have been a symptom of his anger, rather than a serious proposal, although Jamaican planters did seek to make their estates more self-sufficient in some regards in the years after the American Revolution, particularly with regard to food production.

I expected from the time that I heard of the bill passing to admit St Kitts sugars being imported into England lyable to the same duties as from this island Antigua and Barbados that the most iniquitous use would be made of it, which I now see has come to pass, and I do not doubt but that they will also pass the other bill you mention, for there seems to me to be a determined resolution to ruin the remainder of our islands & to drive them into rebellion, for my own part I do not intend in future to open another acre of land to raise any article that is taxable at home, but to raise cattle, provisions, and cotton which in case of need may be spun and made into a coarse cloth, for the covering of my negroes, and to endeavour to have as little to do with the mother country as possible.

(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1783/9, Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, Kingston 24 February 1783)

Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, 16 January 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)