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.
Taylor’s letters reflect the dilemmas of slaveholding colonial planters with British identities who had, nevertheless, become disillusioned about their place within the empire. By 1806, Taylor was recommending his nephew, and principal heir, Sir Simon Brissett Taylor, who was by then aged twenty-two, to explore the possibility of moving the Taylor family and their investments to the United States. He later went cold on the idea, but the sentiment behind it perhaps showed the depth of his disillusion with Britain and reflected his fears about the potential impact of an end to the slave trade. Indeed, he used financial concerns to try to dissuade his nephew from taking up a seat in Parliament.
[…] Whoever has impressed these notions of going into Parliament into your head does not know how you was circumstanced nor knows the situation of the colonies. I who know both perfectly advised you to go to North Americato see that country, and to look out for a spott where you conceive you may as well as your mother and sisters be quiet and safe. As for any predilection for that country I can have none I never was there nor do I know any one in it I do know it is a very fruitfull country and that a man there with common industry can maintain himself and a family nothing tho could have made me advise you to go and settle there but dire necessity. […]
(Taylor Family Papers, I/G/27, Simon Taylor to Simon Richard Brissett Taylor, Kingston, 30 August 1806)
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)
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)
Following a petition by free people of colour seeking civil rights to the Jamaican assembly, Taylor confided to Arcedeckne that he feared that events could go the same way in Jamaica as they had in French Saint-Domingue, where clashes between free people of colour and whites had preceded a large-scale slave uprising. He was worried about the influence of Methodist missionaries in Jamaica and pinned the blame for events in Saint-Domingue on British abolitionists (mentioning Granville Sharp, Thomas Clarkson, and William Wilberforce). He wanted Arcedeckne to keep news of the petition quiet in case it encouraged support from abolitionists, showing the degree to which he believed that abolitionism was behind social unrest and revolution in the Caribbean.
[…] We are quiet here with our negroes, but I send you a petition that some of the free people of colour gott drawn up, and wanted Mr Shirley to present to the House of Assembly, but upon his remonstrance to them concerning the falsities sett forth, and the impropriety of it, and by their pretending to claims which never would be allowed them, they thereby prevented their getting what was reasonable, they then desired to withdraw the petition, and I have no doubt but that their real grievances will be redressed, by giving them protection for their persons, and repealing the clause in the inveigling act, and giving them a tryal by jury in the Grand and Assize Courts. It is a very dangerous beginning, and it behooves every man in the island to have a very strict eye over their people, for a sett of worthless Methodists here are using every means to push them on, and was this matter known to the gang at home, I have not a doubt but that they would be coming to resolutions, & raise subscriptions to support these people in their claims, I have sent to you the letters sent to the Agent on this occasion, and doubt not but you will see the impropriety of making it public, but I conceive it to be necessary that you and other gentlemen concerned for the West Indies should know it, for it is the exact plan that was first used at Hispaniola, to make divisions between the whites and people of colour there, and then to stir up the rebellion, and as we have every reason to believe was the productions of the brain of Sharpe, Clarkson, & Willberforce, and by them communicated to the Jacobin Clubbs in France, they are by no means quiet in Hispaniola, they have proscribed and sent home upwards of 70 people In France the accounts are almost too horrible to read, God grant the same may not happen in England […]
(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1792/14, Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, Spanish Town, 5 December 1792)