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The University of Southampton
HistoryPart of Humanities

Research project: Slavery and revolution

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For more than ten years, Christer has researched the life and world of Simon Taylor (1739-1813), a Jamaican sugar planter who claimed ownership over 2,248 enslaved people. Taylor was one of the wealthiest slaveholders ever to have lived in the British empire.

Map of the county of Surrey
Fig 1

Slavery was central to the eighteenth-century empire. Between the seventeenth and the nineteenth centuries, hundreds of thousands of enslaved people were brought from Africa to the Caribbean to toil and die within the brutal slave regime of the region, most of them destined for a life of labour on large sugar  plantations. Their forced labour provided the basis for the immense fortunes of plantation owners  like Taylor; it also produced wealth that poured into Britain. However, a tumultuous period that saw the American, French, and Haitian Revolutions, as well as the rise of the British abolitionist movement, witnessed new attacks on slavery and challenged the power of a once-confident slaveholder elite.

Christer’s research has led to a book, White Fury, in which he uses Taylor’s rich and expressive letters to makes sense of the aspirations and frustrations of a wealthy and powerful British slaveholder during an age of revolution. The letters provide a fascinating insight into the merciless machinery and unpredictable hazards of the Jamaican plantation world; into the ambitions of planters who used the great wealth they extracted from Jamaica to join the ranks of the British elite; and into the impact of wars, revolutions, and fierce political struggles that led, eventually, to the reform of the exploitative slave system that Taylor had helped build.

Follow the link to find out more about these topics, and about how work on the Taylor archive fed into a stunning and disturbing piece of performance art, Sweet Tooth by Elaine Mitchener.

Fig 1: Part of the parish of St Thomas-in-the-East, eastern Jamaica, 1804: site of two of Taylor’s sugar plantations and of his burial. From A Map of the County of Surrey, in the Island of Jamaica, Constructed from Actual Surveys. London: J. Robertson, 1804.

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