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 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)
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)
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)
During 1788, parliament received hundreds of petitions from across the country calling for the immediate abolition of the slave trade. In same year, a bill by the abolitionist MP, William Dolben, had imposed regulations on slave traders to do with space and conditions on the Middle Passage between Africa and the Caribbean. By 1789, William Wilberforce was preparing to introduce a bill to the House of Commons for the outright abolition of the trade. In this private letter to his friend and fellow plantation owner, Chaloner Arcedeckne, Taylor set out his opposition to Wilberforce and the abolitionists, using proslavery arguments that were to become familiar parts of the debate over the future of the British slave system.
I am favoured with yours of 2 March and I assure you that all ranks of people in this country are sincerely glad of the King’s recovery, and wish him a long and happy reign […] I hope that this event will prove favourable to us in the negroe business, and am happy to hear we are likely to have good and powerfull friends, who will stem the torrent. It is very surprising that Mr Wilberforce who cannot be in the least acquainted with the West Indies, or the nature of negroes, should be so strenuous in wishing to make laws for the treatment of them, and I declare before God that after a constant residence of 29 years in this country, I have never heard of one tenth of the ill treatment that they say negroes meet with, or of iron coffins, nor of putting pepper upon a negroe after he has been punished or whipped. Five and twenty or thirty years ago negroes were infinitely harsher treated, than they have been since, and I positively aver that negroes are infinitely happier than the peasantry in any part of England, and there is hardly a week passes that a negroe does not do with impunity, what would hang a white man at home. I really do not think that the trade can possibly be carried on under the regulations it is at present under, that some regulations were necessary, it was certain for any boy from school was sent as a doctor of a Guinea man, and they ought not to have been allowed to crowd the ships as they did, but to putt them under such restraints as they have is certainly destruction to the most valuable and lucrative trade they have. […]
(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1789/5, Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedeckne, Kingston, 16 April 1789)