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, 6 October 1792

On his return to Jamaica, Taylor wrote to tell Arcedeckne about his voyage and the time he had spent in England, which was an even more disagreeable episode to him than when the sugar canes on his Holland estate had been afflicted by disease (‘the blast’). In particular, he despaired at British attitudes towards slavery and the slave trade. Taylor also showed concern that talk of abolition and the rise of radical politics in the mother country might encourage enslaved people in Jamaica to rebel and discussed the unhopeful prospect of a self-reproducing enslaved population on the island.

I am favoured with yours of 29 July, my former letters will have informed you that I arrived here safe, it would have been too much to have lost a ship going out, as well as coming home. after the first week which was the whole time contrary, we carried an easterly wind with us to this place. I assure you that my time except when I was among my intimate friends, was as disagreably [sic] spent, as at any period of my life, not even taking in the time I had the blast at Holland. Such an obstinacy of opinion among men who were intirely ignorant of the matter they spoke on, and malignancy of mind I never before knew or heard of among the Lords there seemed to be some reason, but I believe a great many were poisoned by Pitt & Genville. […] from what I have seen of the negroes, they seem to be very quiet, whether it is that they are contented, or that there are constant musterings of the militia, I know not. but this I know that if they had been treated as is represented they would have revolted long ago, considering the encouragement they have mett with from the speeches and inflamatory doctrine held out in the House of Commons, the publick papers, and the pulpitts. The levelling doctrines that are held out also in England may have some effect, except particular care is taken, to shew the men in power what it is to have a ferment among the multitude, and that it is much better to go on in the old beaten track, than to try new experiments, which may do harm, but cannot possibly do good. As for increasing their numbers by our own internall breed, I conceive it impossible, I have tried every means that I have known of, to do it, but have never been able to succeed. Every means that I can think of, I will still try, but I really despair of success. […]

(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1792/11, Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, Kingston, 6 October 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, 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, 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)