Simon Taylor to George Hibbert, Kingston, 29 August 1804

Taylor commented to George Hibbert on the failure of Wilberforce’s abolition bill to pass the House of Lords in 1804. By this time, he was fully aware that such a setback would be unlikely to deter future efforts by his political adversaries. He claimed, however, that if the British state were compelled to pay financial compensation to British-Caribbean slaveholders, on the basis of purported commercial losses, then abolition would be unaffordable and, therefore, impossible. He also reiterated the by now familiar commercial argument against abolition, mentioning to Hibbert the calculations that he had been making about the value of West Indian trade to Britain, seeking to clarify the extent to which the mother country benefitted from and depended on the colonies. Lord Stanhope was a keen supporter of abolition, and he married his second wife, Louisa, in 1781. Taylor’s comments about her display the longstanding depth of antipathy that he harboured for those who professed antislavery views. Conversely, Taylor was impressed by the Duke of Clarence (who became King William IV in 1830).

I am favoured with yours of 4 July. I perfectly agree with you that the House of Lords have given Mr Willberforce a check, but I do believe his persevering Spiritt and that of the Gang he is connected with will never lett the Question rest untill they find that an abolition and full Compensation shall be awarded us for the Injuries our Properties will sustain, and when ever they find that their Humanity will will [sic] oblige them to putt their hands into the Pocketts it will vanish away. Lord Stanhope is and ever was a mad man, I remember him in 1792 and an expression his wife made use of that she wished that the Negroes would rise and murder every white Person in the Islands. It is a really [sic] pitty she had not been in St. Domingo since that time to this and she would have held a very different Language. The Duke of Clarence I believe has been very indefatigable in collecting information on the Subject and knows it better than most Men in the upper House. I do not thing think there are ten Men in either that know the benifitts that accrue to the British from the West India Trade, therefore I have been very anxious to know what the Actual Imports and Exports to every part of the World under their distinct Kingdoms and what was and has been the Imports and Exports to and from the West Indies both the old Islands and the Conquered ones and then it would be seen what a very considerable part of the Trade of Britain depends on the Island [sic] and how much she is benifitted by them.

(Taylor Family Papers, I/G/3, Simon Taylor to George Hibbert, Kingston, 29 August 1804)

Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, 5 December 1792

At the end of 1792, Taylor wrote to tell Arcedeckne about his fear at the prospect of an end to the slave trade. The Jamaican assembly had produced a report, laying out their opposition to abolition and emphasising the economic value of the current slave system to the mother country. Such economic arguments were an important part of the proslavery defence of the slave trade, but as this letter also shows, constitutional arguments and claims about property rights were also important. The Jamaican assembly claimed that parliament had no right to pass legislation that would affect the internal affairs of Jamaica (as they claimed that the abolition of the slave trade would) and argued that slaveholders should receive financial compensation for any parliamentary measure that might affect their business interests. Taylor also sought to place the current imperial crisis over slavery in the context of the dispute that led to the American Revolution, claiming that Prime Minister Pitt’s political ally, William Grenville, was continuing the policies introduced by his father, George Grenville, during the 1760s.

[…] We are very much afraid here respecting the abolition, and should have petitioned the Crown on it, but it was found that it was as unparliamentary to petition the Crown upon any matter pending in Parliament, but I have sent you a copy of a report made by a committee of the House [the Jamaican assembly], which shews from authentick facts, that if the trade is abolished, that shall not be the only suffers [sic], and claim as our right our having our properties paid for, and disclaim their having any right to legislate internally for us, for my own part I am hopefull when this report goes home, and getts into the hands of dispationate [sic] men, that they will see their interest is too much involved in it, to suffer the minister to wantonly throw away so very a beneficial commerce, as that of the West Indies […] As for Pitt, I have no hopes from him, he is led by that cursed fellow Grenville, who and whose father have ever been the bitter enemies of the colonies, and to whom the loss of America from the British Empire is to be attributed, he first alienated the minds of the people there from Britain, and has in a great manner done the same here, and when hatred once begins, separation is not a great way behind. […]

(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1792/14, Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, Spanish Town, 5 December 1792)

Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, 17 January 1791

As the abolition debate continued, Taylor’s frustration rose and his language grew more colourful. In his view, abolitionists were behaving unreasonably by interfering with a lucrative system that he thought was best left to the oversight and management of slave-traders and slaveholders. His reference to events in the French islands is probably to the failed insurrection by free people of colour in Saint-Domingue, led by Vincent Ogé, seeking legal equality with whites.

[…] I do not think peace will be of any long continuance but it seems this unhappy country [Jamaica] is never to be at rest and I consider the British minister to be a more inveterate enemy to us than the French or Spanish nation, I see that the miscreant Wilberforce has begun upon the slave business again, if they mean nothing why do they plague us but they are so ignorant and obstinate they do not nor will not hear truth or reason, reason tells every one to be humane to everything under him but they will not allow us to have common sense. Reason tells them not to grate and harrass [sic] the minds of people that give them a revenue of a million & a half yearly & feeds 600,000 of her inhabitants but envy says no I will annihilate you I will suck the blood from your vitals […] a day may come and he [Prime Minister Pitt] is young enough to live to see it, that England may not have a colony in the West Indies & sink into as despicable a state as it was before it had colonies, & it has been only owing to them & the bigottry, folly & tyranny of Lewes [sic. Louis] the 14th who drove the manufacturers out of his country that she has made the respectable figure she has, for my part I solemnly wish I could dispose of my property here and I would do it at 25 pc less than what it would be valued at, & I would have disposed of it before the scene of robbery and oppression was opened & remove myself and effects to any other country so much do I conceive of Mr Pitts & Mr Wilberforces schemes of benefiting us will imediately [sic] injure me and every one else and I forsee nothing but total ruin will be the upshot of the folly madness & rancour of these two people and their gang, they must have heard what fine doings the madmen of France have provided in the French islands & I hope the blood that has been shed on that occasion may fall on the heads that designed the same for us […]

(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1791/1, Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, Kingston, 17 January 1791)

Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, 17 June 1790

Taylor saw the proposal to end the slave trade as a breach of faith between Britain and the colonies of the British West Indies. Despite the apparent impossibility of Jamaica seceding from the British empire in the same manner as the thirteen mainland colonies during the American Revolution (due to the reliance of white colonists on British armed forces to protect them from slave rebellions and foreign invasion and on protected British markets for their exports), Taylor persistently discussed the prospect during the first months of the abolition debates in parliament. Whether he was in earnest or privately venting his frustration at British attitudes towards the planters is a subject for speculation.

[…] We are by no means desirous or willing to separate from Britain, but for my part, if the slave trade is abolished, or putt on such a footing, as that we cannot have negroes on at least as good terms as other nations, I shall that moment wish the separation to take place that instant, and for ever. As for their faith, it is as much derided as the Punica Tides. Where is faith to be putt in a nation that gave charters, and passed Acts of Parliament to encourage the African Trade for negroes, and proclamations for people to settle the islands, and embark their all in those undertakings, and then to abuse the people they have deluded, and wish to stop the trade by which only they can carry on their settlements, where is their faith that the emigrants under those proclamations should enjoy every priviledge of Britons, and then pass Acts of Parliament to establish courts of amiralty [sic], where property is to be tried without a jury. Where was their faith to entice the emigrants from America to go and settle on the Mosquito Shore [evacuated in 1786 in agreement with the Spanish], and then give the place to the Spaniards. Where their faith to sell lands in Tobago, Dominica, St Vincents and Granada, and now to abolish the African trade, but to cheat the people out of purchase money. If they call this faith, I do not know what faith is, but think the true name is robbery, villainy, and swindling in the highest degree. If they once arrive at a separation, and expect they will have the supplying us with manufacturies, they will be greatly mistaken, do they supply Hispaniola and the French islands with linnens, woolens, iron mongery, coppers, stills &c or ships to carry home their productions. They know they do not, nor never did. Do they supply any articles to America that are ever paid for, their merchants will tell them no; and every one who has trusted them is ruined, and if they chuse to carry on trade without returns, they may have custom enough. […]

(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1790/18, Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, Kingston, 17 June 1790)

Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, 5 August 1789

By August 1789, Taylor expressed relief that the question of abolishing the slave trade had been stalled by a parliamentary enquiry. He conceded to Arcedeckne that some sorts of regulations to the trade might be acceptable but also began to further stake out his argument that ending the slave trade would lead to the ruin of the British-Caribbean colonies and – ultimately – of Britain itself. Taylor combined this economic argument with his opinion that parliament’s discussion of abolition amounted to a breach of trust towards the colonists of the West Indies.

[…] I see our great question was not decided, and the event was precarious. It has been the maddest piece of work since the crusades and I am very glad to see so many respectable people have taken up the matter, if regulations are made in the mode of purchasing slaves on the coast, so as those regulations do not tend to prohibit the trade, we can have no objection to it, but to abolish it, is ruin to us, and ultimately to them. I see they go on very slowly in their examination of evidence, and I suppose when the House meets on a call, they will putt it off untill the next session. […]

(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1789/23, Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, Kingston, 5 August 1789)