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Rethinking the Decline of the British-Caribbean Planter Class: A Case Study of Simon Taylor of Jamaica, 1760 - 1813

Award Information

AHRC Ref: AH/I027290/1
University of Southampton, October 2011 - July 2012
Dr Christer Petley

Rethinking the Decline of the British-Caribbean Planter Class looks at the British colony of Jamaica during the second half of the eighteenth century. It focuses on the evidence produced by one well-documented slaveholder—a wealthy Jamaican sugar planter named Simon Taylor.

Through the project, Dr Christer Petley (University of Southampton) has shed valuable new light on the history of slavery in the British Empire during a period defined by democratic revolutions in America, France and Haiti. This period saw the rise of a sustained campaign against the slave trade and rising criticism of the institution of slavery as a whole. Partly because of these developments the period witnessed a decline in the planters' political influence, cultural reputation and economic prospects. However, they continued to oppose the forces of change, and their efforts helped delay the ending of the slave trade until 1807.

Project Lead Dr Christer Petley
Project Lead Dr Christer Petley
Portrait of Simon Taylor
Portrait of Simon Taylor, focus of research project

The website ‘Slavery and Revolution’ is a platform for the project’s research and is designed as a resource for academics, students, teachers and the wider public. The website is being used in teaching at the University of Southampton, and has additionally received over 7,500 visits since November 2015, including visits from people in the UK (40%), the US (30%), and the Caribbean (7%).  The Slavery and Revolution website has also developed into a Twitter account (@SlandRev) which is associated with the site. The Twitter account has 800 followers, mainly from the UK and US.

In 2016, this project inspired three performance art projects, which were showcased at Turner Sims Concert Hall (Southampton), Snape Maltings (Aldeburgh), and the Bloomsbury Festival (London). Petley worked intensively with a vocalist, a choreographer and other musicians to discuss ways of exploring the past and its residues for public audiences, working specifically on the topic of slavery and abolition. This project received funding from the University of Southampton’s Public Engagement with Research scheme, and further work developed from these beginnings has been funded by Arts Council England, demonstrating the excitement surrounding the dissemination of the research to come out of this project. Each performance venue welcomed audiences of up to 50 people.

Project Website, Slavery and Revolution
Project Website, Slavery and Revolution

Project Lead Dr Christer Petley said: “This has been an exciting project to work on, not only because of what it’s revealed about the struggle over the future of the slave trade during the Age of Revolution.

“It has revealed unexpected details about the world-view of this extraordinary slaveholder and about the hundreds of people he claimed as items of ‘property.’

“The project also stretched me beyond my typical comfort zone through work with sound and performance art, which helped put this work out into the public domain in ways that I could not have even begun to imagine when I first started!”