Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, 6 September 1789

In September 1789, Taylor was pleased when parliament suspended making a decision on the question of the slave trade until its next session, hoping that what he saw as ‘the madness’ of abolitionism would subside in the interim. He began to rehearse several proslavery arguments that became familiar themes in the planter defence of slave trading and of slavery, claiming that abolitionists knew nothing of life in the Caribbean colonies and that they painted a false picture of how enslave people were treated. Taylor also began to consider the possible implications of an abolition of the slave trade, stating that he would ‘stock’ his estates with slaves from Africa in case the supply should soon end and claiming that British planters in Jamaica were prepared to migrate to French Saint Domingue (Hispaniola) in the event of an abolition bill passing in parliament.

[…] I see the House of Commons proceeded some way in the slave trade as they call it, and then agreed to deferr their deliberations untill the next year. I hope the madness will go off with the dogg days, and that they will begin to think more of their own affairs, and leave the princes of Guinea to take care of theirs. The more they know of the value it is of to themselves, the more they ought to encourage it, and as for ever making the coast of Africa a commercial country they had better take care of their own, which would be entirely annihilated but for that to the East and West Indies, and Africa. Mr Pitt must have strange ideas in his head to imagine, that a sett of priests, madmen, and here and there a banker that never was out of England, can know any thing of trade and commerce, or what is so proper for a distant colony as the people themselves do. The thing that should be done is to make these people prove their assertions by facts, and who the particular people are, that uses the barbarities they talk of, to give the individuals that are attacked an opportunity of clearing themselves, or of punishing their calumniator in a court of law. I am very glad to find that we have so many friends in the House, and that he [Pitt] could not carry his friend Willberforce’s schemes into execution, for Sir William Dolben’s insiduous [sic] regulations I wish both those gentlemen would take a passage to the West Indies themselves, and see how negroes are treated, and then go to the coast of Guinea and see how happy they live there. I will buy as many negroes as I well can find out of every ship that comes in, and stock myself as well as I can, but I am and I believe most people in case the trade should be abolished are determined to migrate with their negroes to Hispaniola, for we may as well be under an arbitrary government at once, as to be under one that avowedly pretends to direct our cultivation, and prevent our making what use of our property we ourselves chuse, after having invited or rather decoyed us away by charters and Acts of Parliament. […]

(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1789/25, Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, Kingston, 6 September 1789)

Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, 7 April 1788

In April 1788 Taylor gave Chaloner Arcedeckne his early reactions to two phenomena that would define the remaining 25 years of his life: the French Revolution and the abolition movement. Political tensions in Paris were apparent throughout the Atlantic world by this time, and Taylor appears simultaneously to have relished the prospect of French weakness while hinting that Jamaica could invoke French support in a future struggle between the colony and the British metropole over the question slavery. Taylor wrote at the beginning of mass-petitioning in Britain against the slave trade and offered an early proslavery critique of the campaign, arguing that enslaved people were well treated and that a unilateral reform of the British-Atlantic slave system would be commercially damaging.

[…] I was exceeding happy when I found that we were to have no warr & have not the least objection that France should be distracted and torn to pieces by faction for half a dozen centurys, it is the only thing that can keep us out of hott water, I hope that the humanity of the Quakers Universities & people who want to abolish the African trade will extend itself to the colonists & buy our estates & slaves & then they may make them free if they please, but for to stop it now, will occasion more mischief than they are aware of, and people will not tamely see themselves stripped of their property, and what they have acquired under severall acts of the legislature for 100 years past, the French are near enough to us to take us under their protection, and armaments to the West Indies would be as fatall a to North America. As for the plea that the negoes are cruelly used, and more so than in any other island, is false. Your negroes at Golden Grove and in short all over the island live infinitely better than the lower class of white people at home, eat more meat and fish than they do, are better lodged and cloathed, and when sick, have doctors and people to attend them, whereas when a poor labouring man at home falls sick, he has no person to attend him, and during the time he is sick, his family are starving, and if he dies, his family is maintained by the parish, a maintenance a tolerable good negro would not accept of. […] Were all the different nations of Europe to enter into a combination not to buy any more negroes, it would be different, but neither the French, the Danes, the Portuguese, nor the Dutch have that respect for the humanity of the Universities, Quakers, and fools that know not what they are about, as to putt a stop to it, for their reveries, and what is it to a negroe who at any rate will be sold from the coast of Guinea, if any man of their nations buy him, or an Englishman. In short the peoples heads seem to be all turned, and they do not know what they are about. […]

(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1788/3, Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, Kingston, 7 April 1788)

Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, 10 October 1783

In 1784, James Ramsay published his famous and influential Essay on the Treatment and Conversion of African Slaves in the British Sugar Colonies. Ramsay had lived as an Anglican clergyman in the British-Caribbean colony of St Kitts (hence Taylor’s comment here about the Windward Islands in the eastern Caribbean) and drew on his experience there to condemn the licentious violence and abuses of the British slave system. Although he did not advocate the abolition of slavery, Ramsay did publish plans for the abolition of the slave trade, and his work inspired the early abolition movement. In this letter it is clear that Taylor has learned of Ramsay’s proposals, probably from Chaloner Arcedeckne, months before the publication of the Essay, suggesting either that Ramsay’s ideas were well known by the end of 1783 or that one of Taylor’s correspondents was a close associate of the abolitionist. Taylor’s initial reaction to Ramsay’s critique seeks to paint a rosy picture of slave life on the plantations and foreshadows the proslavery arguments that planters developed in the years to follow, during their disputes with abolitionists.

[…] I do not apprehend that Mr Ramsays schemes will be of any effect many of the best negroes on almost all estates are Christened, and no one opposes it whenever they deserve it neither do we find them the worse for it, but in general better, & I remember hearing formerly a good deal of the Code Noir of the French I procured the book, & on examination of it with the negroe laws of this island found very little difference how their laws are in our Windward Islands I do not know, but upon all the well regulated estates in this island, the negroes live infinitely better than the poor people in many parts of England, they have no care for tomorrow, if sick have a doctor & maintainance [sic] from their masters are clothed by them, and in times of scarcity are fed, they breed as much small stock & hoggs as they please, & sell them to whom they please, as also plantains, yams, cocos, &c […]

(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1783/38, Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, Lyssons, 10 October 1783)

Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, 11 June 1782

In 1782, Taylor began to speculate about the prospects of the British sugar islands now that peace was to be secured with America. He recognised that the main competition to the sugar produced in the British West Indies came from the cheaper (and better) sugar produced by the French in their colonies, the largest of which was Saint-Domingue, complained that the British government was not encouraging their own sugar islands, and suggested that British policies inimical to planters would amount to self-sabotage because the plantations were so closely tied to financial interests in the mother country.

[…] It would be happy for us to be able to afford sugar as low as the French, but to do that we ought to pay no higher prices for our goods than they do, nor higher duties in peaceable times; take all the properties round & the planters do not on an average make 5 p ct. on their capitals, & sure that is no object to people who are liable to so many accidents as we are, it seems to me as if they want to annihilate that article of commerce & which is now the only one they have, namely the sugar trade, there is one comfort if they ruin us their own ruin will very soon follow, for Jamaica most belongs to people who are resident in England, & Merchants who have borrowed money to lend on Jamaica properties if they are annihilated the merchants must become bankrupts and their creditors consequently will be the sufferers in the end. […]

(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1782/28, Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, Kingston, 11 June 1782)

Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, 8 May 1782

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)