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Part 1: Jamaica, c1765-1848: The Taylor and Vanneck-Arcedekne Papers from Cambridge University Library and the Institute of Commonwealth Studies,
University of London

"Simon Taylor's letters from Jamaica form the richest correspondence I know of bearing on politics and society—black and white—in the British Atlantic world of the late eighteenth century. His observations on slave life in Jamaica—especially when one considers the limits of his perspective—are often keen. In his time, Taylor frequently meant his correspondence to provoke, and many of his letters still do just that.

Professor Alexander Byrd

Department of History, Rice University

This project brings together two sets of excellent archival materials for the study of plantation life and slavery in Jamaica. Both feature a significant body of documents covering the career of Simon Taylor (1740-1813). Born in Jamaica, he was the eldest son of Patrick Tailzour who had assumed the name Taylor on his marriage to Martha Taylor. Patrick had established himself as a merchant in Kingston. Simon began working life as an attorney for absentee planters and went on to play a full role in Jamaican politics. He gradually gained control of six sugar plantations (Lyssons, Holland, Llanrhumney, Haughton Court, Albion and Golden Grove) and three cattle ranches (Prospect Pen, Burrowfield Pen and Montrose Pen).

Lady Maria Nugent, wife of the Governor of Jamaica, describes Simon Taylor in her Journal in 1806 as “...by much the richest proprietor in the island, and in the habit of accumulating money so as to make his nephew and heir one of the most wealthy subjects of His Majesty. In strong opposition to Government at present and violent in his language against the King’s Ministers, for their conduct towards Jamaica. He has great influence in the Assembly...”

Taylor’s income and wealth were probably derived mainly from his role as a plantation attorney for numerous absentee proprietors. According to Professor Richard B Sheridan writing in his article on Simon Taylor, Sugar Tycoon of Jamaica, 1740-1813, published in Agricultural History, Volume XLV, No: 4, October 1971, pp285-296, in 1775 there were 775 sugar estates on the island of Jamaica. At least 180 of these were held by absentee proprietors or by minors or incompetents. By 1832 records show that as many as 540 out of a total of 646 sugar estates were subject to the “Account Produce” law of 1740 governing plantations held by absentee proprietors. Attorneys drew a commission about around 5% of the gross value of the produce of the plantations in their care. These figures are based on the work of Edward Long, the historian of Jamaica and author of The History of Jamaica (London 1774) and records from the Jamaica Public Record Office, Spanish Town. Individuals such as Simon Taylor benefited significantly in the 1790s when sugar prices doubled and the slave revolt on St Domingo and the impact of the Napoleonic Wars propelled the Jamaican tropical export economy to the pinnacle of world leadership.

Simon Taylor was a young man when he became an attorney and part of his early success was down to the good instruction he received from his father. Patrick Taylor’s personal property inventory of 28 December 1759 shows that one of the largest debtors was Andrew Arcedekne of Golden Grove Plantation in the parish of St Thomas-in-the-East. Simon Taylor was listed as attorney for this estate in 1765 and was possibly responsible for this plantation even earlier.

The Vanneck-Arcedekne Papers from Cambridge University Library reproduced here provide the Jamaican Estate Papers relating to Golden Grove Plantation, Batchelors Hall, Spanish Town and Swamps Plantation. These comprise:

  • The Correspondence and Papers of West Indian Agents covering the period 1765-1848 (especially Simon Taylor, J Shand, Thomas McCornock and William Winton) relating to the Arcedekne family estates in Jamaica.
  • Correspondence and Accounts of London Agents concerning Jamaica (Long Drake & Co, Long, Drake & Long, Simon Taylor, Long & Dawkins, Thomas McCornock, William Beckford and William Winton).
  • Correspondence concerning the management of shipping from John Renwick,      captain of ships sailing to Jamaica, to Chaloner Arcedekne.
  • Letters from Robert Taylor to Chaloner Arcedekne on the disagreement between    John Renwick and Simon Taylor, leading to Renwick’s giving up of the management of shipping in 1803.
  • Legal Papers on the Jamaican Business.
  • Pamphlets with observations on plantation life, negro slaves in Jamaica and property in the West Indies, c1761-1799.
  • Miscellaneous items such as a list of salaries of ‘White people’ on Arcedekne’s Jamaican estate, a letter giving an opinion on Simon Taylor’s management of Jamaican business and a letter of November 1804 from Robert Taylor to Chaloner Arcedekne about a share in the new ship ‘Forty Second’.

The Vanneck-Arcedekne Papers are a subset of the Vanneck Manuscripts which were formerly kept at Heviningham Hall, near Halesworth, Suffolk and were deposited on indefinite loan in Cambridge University Library by the Trustees of the Hevingham Hall Settlement in the summer of 1973. These papers were recently sold by the Trust based in Jersey and acquired by Cambridge University Library.

Most of the surviving papers cover the administration of the Heveningham estate which was acquired by Sir Joshua Vanneck in 1752. Here we deal with the subsidiary and self-contained section consisting of the papers of the Arcedekne family, formerly of Glevering Hall, Suffolk, which focus on their estates in England and in Jamaica. We cover just the material on Jamaica. 

The following examples illustrate the nature of the documents covered:

Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedekne. 3pp. Kingston, Jamaica, 13 April 1771.

(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1771/item 2)

"I have bought 13 New Negroes for the Estate, and the first ship that comes in will buy as many more as to make up the number 30, in order to prevent as much as is in my power hiring any people whatsoever. I assure you I do not like it, but there was an absolute necessity of either doing it, or letting the Estate fall back again, was there an opportunity of purchasing a larger gang of real good Negroes, seasoned in Plantation Garden River, and accustomed to work it would be a very great object to you, as it would remedy that Inconvenience at once & then to putt on New Negroes to keep up the Number there would be little risque in the seasoning as there would not be too many new ones at once. I again repeat my assertion that I am clear in my Opinion, that the Rum, and Sugar of Swamps, and the Rum of Golden Grove will pay every contingency and putt on the Number of Negroes that will be yearly requisite, because Swamps has for some years past done nothing, owing I am sure to mismanagement...

Tables of Sugar Canes to be cut on Golden Grove Plantation, 1784.

(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1784/items 1-2)

The statistics offered here provide valuable information on how the plantation was run.

Simon Taylor to Chaloner Arcedekne. 4pp. Kingston, Jamaica, 29 May 1788.

(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1788/item 10)

"My Dear Sir

I have before me your letter of 28 March, and I find that you have received my letter of 26 January. We had no Storms nor Floods last year, and matters were going on very smoothly and prosperously untill the 22nd of this month, when we had the severest and heaviest flood, that we have had for these 23 years, indeed infintely higher than in any of the Hurricanes which has done every Estate in the River a very great deal of damage indeed, by carrying of the Trash intirely of some pieces, laying it on other, tearing up some Canes by the Roots, washing out the young Plants, and laying trash on some of them, indeed had it happened earlier in the Crop, it would have intirely destroyed it, but as it is it will do this one a great deal of Injury, and I am afraid hurt the next one...


I bought for you 7 New Negroes and then 13. I on the 22 Inst bought 33 seasoned ones for Batchelors Hall, they are men, women and children, been seasoned near the place, and will I am hopefull by and by establish there a good gang of Negroes, we must have some more by and by, I am to pay for these £2205. One third down, 1/3 in July next year, & the Ballance the year after, by this you will have no Occasion to hire Negroes to clean your Pastures. I will this year putt in some Guinea Grass and make fences, next year will do the same, I think with about 20 New Negroes by and by, I will make the place profitable, both by fattening your old Cattle, as well as by selling Steers, but the first business they should go on will be making houses, and putting in more Cocos and Yams. As for Cruelty there is no such thing practised on Estates, I do not believe that the Mad Men at home wish to hurt themselves, but they should endeavour to regulate their own Police, and show Humanity to their own Poor, before they think of making regulations for our Slaves, who think themselves well of it as matters are at present situated, and do not wish for their Interference. God knows if they were treated as these Miscreants report, they would have cutt all our throats allready, from what they have allready heard from home. There is a man now at Golden Grove doing the Views, and I will get a Plan of the Estate made out to send you home by him, or another good one, who can do it, and mark all you want, but as for woodland you have none, but brush, but he shall mark out where the Guinea Grass Pastures are to be, which will be hilly land, and where your Provisions are...

List of Original Negroes on Golden Grove Estate Living this 30 June 1790.

(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1790/item 41)

This is a very good document showing different kinds of work and various types of slaves. It lists 19 field negroes, 35 women, field cooks and water carriers, grass cutters, cattlemen, grooms, one hog keeper, one midwife, 5 house negroes, 7 watchmen,  6 carpenters,  6 coopers, 6 masons, 3 blacksmiths, 16 invalids as well as additional pages on Negroes bought, Spanish Town Negroes, Batchelors Hall Negroes, and finally Births and Deaths of slaves in the year 1790. On the first page there are 17 boys, 16 girls, 10 younger male children and 10 younger female children all listed with date of birth and mother’s name.

The Humble Address and Petition of the free people of Colour to the Honourable Assembly of Jamaica. 

(Vanneck-Arc/3A/1793/item 1)

During the investigation of the sugar and slave trade in 1793, a Committee of the Assembly of Jamaica collected information from various sources and received a number of petitions. The Committee required Simon Taylor to “direct his clerk to extract from his books the sales, not only of his own sugars, but of those made on estates entrusted to his care.” The article written by Professor Richard B Sheridan states that Simon Taylor submitted details of annual sugar shipments for two four-year periods in complying with this request. From 1772 to 1775 they averaged 1,005 hogsheads of sugar of thirteen hundredweights each, and from 1788-1791, 1,328 hogsheads of fourteen hundredweights each. This is based on information in the Proceedings of the Honourable House of Assembly of Jamaica, on the Sugar and Slave Trade (London 1793).

Copy of a report on the case of Arcedekne v Beeston Long concerning slaves on Jamaican estates, February 1821. 16pp.


There are various papers on legal disputes.

All the Simon Taylor letters in Vanneck-Arc/3A are very detailed. The letters in 3B are much shorter, but still provide significant information. Vanneck-Arc/3C provides a big bundle of Accounts, 1772-1848, to supplement the Accounts included with letters in 3A and 3B.

Mention should also be made here to Travel, Trade and Power in the Atlantic, 1765-1884 (Camden Fifth Series, Volume 19, Cambridge University Press 2002). The first part of this Camden Miscellany edited by Dr Betty Wood and Professor W A Speck, contains complete transcripts of the correspondence of Simon Taylor, 1765-1775, on the management of the Jamaican estates of Chaloner Arcedekne (a British Member of Parliament). This volume will be a useful reference work for anyone researching these Jamaican plantations. However, the Miscellany does not include any slave lists, accounts or background papers which are intermingled with the correspondence, and only covers the very early letters. The microfilm project covers the Jamaican Estate Papers in their entirety. The material for the 1780s and 1790s is the strongest part of the collection.

For those who may be interested, the second half of the Camden volume deals with three voyages to the west coast of Africa made by John Chandler Langdon in 1881-1884.

The Simon Taylor Correspondence and Papers in the Vanneck-Arcedekne collection feature very detailed and often highly picturesque accounts of plantation life, offer useful insights into the political history of Jamaica and the imperial connection with Britain, as well as providing the researcher with numerous slave lists, management assessments, crop statistics and information on livestock, overseers, storm damage, shipping and trade networks.

The material from Cambridge University Library is combined with the
Taylor Family Papers from the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London
which include the correspondence and letter books of
Simon Taylor (1740-1813), as well as documents by his friends and associates and other family members. The material is excellent for the history of slavery – it contains fascinating detail with many records about the slaves on different plantations, the slave ships, the sugar trade and the fight for abolition.

  • The letters cover the Maroon and French wars, slave revolts, the treatment of colonists by the British government, births, deaths, marriages, inheritances, debts and family quarrels.
  • Many documents provide information on Jamaican politics and society. Simon Taylor was a member of the Jamaican Assembly (for Kingston, 1763-1781 and for St Thomas in the East, 1784-1810), Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas and Lieutenant Governor of the militia.
  • Shipments of sugar and rum, the condition of the estates, problems of droughts and hurricanes, accommodation for the slaves and business affairs feature throughout the correspondence.
  • Scholars can use this material to trace the career of Simon Taylor, from agent and attorney for absentee planters, to sugar planter and the richest proprietor on the island at the time of his death.

There are several different sections within this archive:

  • Simon Taylor letter books covering the period July 1779-July 1785,
  • December 1797-May 1801, August 1801-January 1806, March 1806-June 1808 and April 1810-May 1812, with lists (at the back of the last volume) of cattle on Golden Grove Estate and stock at Batchelor Hall for 1809-1810.
  • Sir John Taylor’s letter books comprising copies by Sir John Taylor of letters from Simon Taylor, 1771-1782, copies of letters from Sir John Taylor to Simon Taylor, 1779-1784, original letters from Sir John Taylor, while in Jamaica, to Simon Taylor, May-July 1785 and three miscellaneous letters. He was Simon Taylor’s younger brother, lived in London and married Elizabeth Haughton, who died at the age of 41 whilst visiting Lyssons estate in Jamaica in 1786.
  • Letters from Lady Elizabeth Haughton Taylor (wife of Sir John Taylor, daughter of Philip Haughton and Mary Brissett, whose families were old Jamaican settlers) to Simon Taylor, October 1792-July 1805, letters from Simon Taylor to Lady Taylor,  July 1786-December 1797, as well as other letters to Lady Taylor and miscellaneous documents.
  • Letters from Neil Malcolm (merchant in Jamaica, who married Mary Haughton,
  • Lady Taylor’s mother in 1765) to Simon Taylor, March 1793-September 1794 and letters from Simon Taylor to Neil Malcolm, February 1788-May 1794.
  • Correspondence with Richard Brissett (Jamaican planter and brother of Lady Taylor’s mother), Charles Mitchell and William Mitchell (Jamaican planters who borrowed money from Simon Taylor), September 1789-July 1790.
  • Letters from Simon Richard Brissett Taylor (son of Sir John Taylor) to Simon Taylor, August 1792-November 1812, including documents on his education and proposed marriage, correspondence between Simon Richard Brissett Taylor and Robert Taylor, c1798-1812, as well as miscellaneous correspondence.
  • Letters from Simon Taylor to Anna Susanna Taylor (daughter of Sir John Taylor), 1787-1810, John Cooper’s reports in 1835 to her about her estates, especially Holland, Lyssons, Burrowfield Pen, with details of crops, stock, negroes, management and suggested improvements, along with similar material on Llanrumney, Haughton Court, Flint River Cattle Pen and Montrose Cattle Pen.
  • Letters from George Watson Taylor to John Shand, 1815-1818, letters from
  • John Shand to George Watson Taylor, 1815-1819, including documents relating to emancipation, shipments of sugar and rum, the management of the estates and comments of the differences between English and West Indian landowners, George Watson Taylor letters to William Shand, 1816-1819, and letters from
  • William Shand to George Watson Taylor, 1818-1819. John Shand was an attorney acting with his brother William for a number of absentee planters including
  • George Watson Taylor. They were the executors of Simon Taylor’s estate.
  • George Watson Taylor married Anna Susanna Taylor in 1810 taking the surname Watson Taylor at this point. He served as a Member of Parliament for a number of constituencies in England (Newport, Hampshire 1816-1818, Seaford 1818-1820,
  • East Looe 1820-1826 and Devizes 1826-1832).
  • Correspondence with Elizabeth Taylor Mayne and William Mayne, 1797-1811. Elizabeth (Eliza) was the daughter of Sir John Taylor and Lady Taylor. In 1805 she married William Mayne against Simon Taylor’s wishes and was cut off by him. William was the son a failed banker and entered the Army as he had no other source of funds. He served as a captain in the Life Guards at the Battle of Waterloo.
  • Correspondence with Robert Graham and Anne Taylor Graham (Simon’s sister), 1774-1797.
  • Letters from Nicol Graham (son of Anne and Robert Graham employed as an agent by Simon in Kingston, Jamaica) to Simon Taylor, 1793-1808.
  • Letters from Martha Graham Spiers (daughter of Robert and Ann Graham, who married Peter Spiers in 1792) to Simon Taylor, 1792-1812.
  • A significant body of correspondence between Simon Taylor and Robert Taylor (Simon’s second cousin, who after a period as a sailor in the East India Trade, set up a merchant house in London with A Renny, which became Simon Taylor’s main agents in London), December 1791-June 1813, dealing with the sugar plantations, commercial affairs, politics, health and family life, along with letters from the tutor, William McCulloch, concerning the studies and travels during the Grand Tour of Simon Richard Brissett Taylor in Europe.
  • Correspondence between Simon Taylor and John Taylor (brother of Robert Taylor and second cousin to Simon, who after a period in New York, became Simon’s agent in Kingston, Jamaica), June 1781-February 1810, including material on shipping, Bristol and Liverpool merchants, the demand for sugar and rum, the state of the plantations, the Maroon War, family news, the threat of war, business transactions and the sale of slaves.
  • Documents concerning Patrick Taylor’s will.
  • Correspondence between Simon Taylor and Richard Grant, his solicitor in England, 1793-1810.
  • Letters from George Hibbert (leading West Indian merchant in London, agent for Jamaica and Chairman of the West India Merchants until 1831) to Simon Taylor,  1791-1809.
  • Correspondence between William Sleigh (lawyer, whose daughter Margaret married Robert Taylor) and Simon Taylor, 1794-1796.
  • Correspondence with the Tharp family and various miscellaneous papers. John Tharp was the owner of Good Hope estate and a member of the Jamaican Assembly.

Particular highlights include:

Letter from Lady Elizabeth Haughton Taylor to Simon Taylor regarding economic conditions in England, 4 August 1795.

(Taylor III A 13)

“…. I am extremely sorry to find that every news we have from the West Indies are so dreadfully bad & indeed this country is in a very bad way at present, God knows what is to become of us all, every necessary of life is raised near double what it was, & bread is now all over England at thirteen pence the quarter loaf, meal & everything in proportion, & I am much afraid we shall have a very backward Harvest….”

Letter from Simon Richard Brissett to Simon Taylor regarding the abolition of the slave trade, 5 March 1807.

(Taylor VI A 64)

“…. The very distressing accounts you will receive by this packet concerning the abolition of the slave trade make me very unhappy as I greatly fear the uneasiness it will occasion you may be prejudicial to your health, it is certainly most extraordinary that the Government of this country should be so bent upon the destruction of the West Indies colonies but it is yet to be hoped they will see their error and that some remedy may be applied before it is too late….”


Letter from John Shand to George Watson Taylor concerning the welfare of the slaves, 18 November 1815.

(Taylor VIII B 5)

“…you may rely that such care shall be taken that the negroes shall have abundance of food and every other assistance. I consider their preservation & comfort to be the first object on every well regulated Estate. Their houses have everywhere been put in repair or are getting into that state as fast as possible….”


Letter from John Shand to George Watson Taylor regarding the emancipation of slaves, 13 April 1816.

(Taylor VIII B 10)

“…. The registration of the slaves as an abstract question is of minor importance, involving little more than unnecessary trouble, and wasteful expense. Its importance arises altogether from the effect it would have on the minds of the negroes. An opinion has gained ground amongst them that they are to be liberated by a power greater than their masters, whose intentions in their favour have hitherto been defeated or delayed by the house of assembly and the resident planters. If the register bill were to be acted upon here the slave classed new named, personally inspected, and artificially arranged, nothing would afterwards induce them to believe but that these measures were the prelude to manumission if not the actual deed declaratory of the royal intentions of which they had heard. If they were not immediately afterwards permitted to do what they pleased there can be no doubt that an insurrection and massacre would be attempted….”


Letter from Robert Taylor to Simon Taylor concerning Simon Taylor’s African Plan to supply more slaves, 1 April 1799.

(Taylor XIII A 118)

“….  I have read with much attention the Plan of the African Concern you have sent me, which I approve very much of, only certain mode by which B D & Commander can be supplied with the number of slaves they wish to sell….”


Letter from Robert Taylor to Simon Taylor regarding the purchase of slaves for Swamps Estate, 2 July 1812.

(Taylor XIII A 311)

“…. The Negroes which you mention as wanted for Swamp’s – I am sure Mr Strachan will readily agree to purchase – if you recommend it and as he has for some years past got a very handsome Income from the Properties he will not grudge the Expense. I have appointed Capt Dawson to the Command of the “West Indian”, as soon as she arrives. I cannot say I have been pleased with Capt Wills lately & have thought he look’d as if he drank too much Grog – he appears a confused man….”


Letter from George Hibbert to Simon Taylor concerning a slave rebellion,
2 August 1798.

(Taylor XVII A  11)

“I saw Mr Sewell a day or two after writing you by the last Packet and showed him that part of your letter which related to the Rebellious Slaves. He went from me to Mr David’s office & he told me afterwards that he was feeling satisfied that orders and Instructions were gone out…such as would encourage him not to stop short of a total suppression of the Insurrection. Would it not be worthwhile to have some sort of Garrison constantly maintained in a strong Position in that country where these wretches generally assemble and to make at some expense easy communications with the settled country….”


This material fits very well with the material held at Cambridge University Library and provides lots of additional rich detail on plantation life, politics and society, slave rebellions, merchant and attorney networks, shipping contacts, family relationships, contacts between England and Jamaica.

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