Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, 21 May 1792

Taylor travelled from Jamaica to Britain in 1791. It is likely that he was at sea when the August 1791 rebellion by enslaved people in French Saint-Domingue broke out. He received news of it while in London in the autumn and remained in Britain until the summer of 1792. While there, he visited Arcedeckne in Suffolk, met with the West India Committee of Planters and Merchants in London, and gave evidence to the House of Lords, who were conducting an inquiry on Caribbean slavery and the slave trade, a measure of the upper house to stall the progress of Wilberforce’s proposals in the Commons for abolition. Taylor’s fear that the Lords would approve abolition in 1792 proved unfounded, and his comments about the actions of whites in Saint-Domingue demonstrate the fluctuating character of politics in the French Atlantic, where alongside uprisings by enslaved and free people of colour, white slaveholders sought autonomy from an increasingly radical metropole.

[…] I have taken my passage out to Jamaica in the Canada Capt. Sewell and believe she will sail on or about the first of next month […] I was in very good hopes that the Lords would have thrown out the slave bill, but from the report of the Chancellors being out, I am afraid that the malignancy of the minister and his friends will force it through the Lords, what to say, or what to think I am at a loss. I am told that the inhabitants of St. Domingo have actually refused the edict of putting the free people of colour on the footing of whites, that the troops of the line have joined the whites, and they are to give freedom to 24000 negroe men to join them, to defend themselves against all powers who may attack them, and have opened their ports to all the world, but the people of Bordeaux. God knows if we may not be drove to some extremities. I beg my best respects to Mrs Arcedeckne and the little ones and I ever am with the greatest truth & sincerity […]

(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1792/2, Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, Ibbotsons Hotell, Vere Street, London, 21 May 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, 7 September 1790

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)

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, 24 December 1789

As well as commenting on the rising abolition movement, Taylor expressed his views on other subjects. His thoughts on the early months of the French Revolution, penned on Christmas Eve, 1789, reveal his antipathy for the French, but also his admiration for a ‘free constitution’ and distaste for what he saw as the anarchical threat of mob rule. Revolution, thought Taylor, was also in the offing in Spanish America. At the same time as the abolition debate was getting underway in parliament, Warren Hastings, was being impeached by the House of Lords for corruption and misrule in India, and Taylor’s comments on the case reveal his sympathy for Hastings, the former governor-general of Bengal.

[…] The situation of the King of France is very awkward indeed, and they seem to me to be all mad together, and I am much afraid that the licensiousness [sic] of the mobb may make every sensible man join in to oppose them & by that means they may lose a free constitution altogether neither can I suppose that the Emperor, or the King of Spain will sitt still, & see their relations treated in such an indignant manner. But it is no more than what he deserved. He had no business to interfere with us in America. If I am not deceived there will be very soon the devil to pay in the Spanish West Indies. The Spaniards who come over to the northside with cattle and wood begin to talk bigg, and that in a short time they will be as free as the English, if they talk in this manner in the islands, I should think that they will do the same on the continent, where their numbers are so much greater. I cannot say but that I wish the parliament may be dissolved, I think there never was a man more ill used than Mr Hastings bas been, for I really have not been able to see any one thing yett proved, there has been nothing but froth and smoke, but no fire. […]

(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1789/29, Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, Kingston, 24 December 1789)