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A Jamaican Slaveholder and the Age of Revolution
The sugar planter Simon Taylor, who claimed ownership of over 2,248 enslaved people in Jamaica at the point of his death in 1813, was one of the wealthiest slaveholders ever to have lived in the British empire.
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 abolitionist movement, witnessed new attacks on slavery and challenged the power of a once-confident slaveholder elite.
In White Fury, Christer Petley uses Taylor's rich and expressive letters to allow us an intimate glimpse into the aspirations and frustrations of a wealthy and powerful British slaveholder during the 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 . . . and which he defended right up until the last weak scratches of his pen.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
A revealing and persuasive account of one man's life at the centre of Britains slave empire in the Caribbean. In subtly tracing Simon Taylor's 'white fury' provoked by the movement for abolition Petley offers an original and provocative account of British slavery as it entered its death throes. * James Walvin, author of A Short History of Slavery * A subtle, sensitive and marvellously evocative biography of Jamaica's richest and most powerful planter, bringing powerfully to life the brutal but highly productive slave system which undergirded the success of the British Empire in the late eighteenth century. * Trevor Burnard, University of Melbourne * Petley mines hundreds of extant letters written by Taylor, as well as a wide range of printed sources, to craft a highly readable account of the aspirations, everyday realities and crises faced by Jamaica's richest sugar planter... Petley has produced a smart, accessible biography of one of the most important slaveholders in the eighteenth-century British empire. * Brooke Newman, Journal of Eighteenth Century Studies * White Fury tells a highly readable complete story... the volume is thoroughly researched and it is well-illustrated. * Robert Davis, New York Review of Books *