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Digital Subscriptions > BBC History Revealed > March 2019 > Sugar, success and slaves

Sugar, success and slaves

Simon Taylor became one of the wealthiest slaveholders in the British Empire. While such men are often deliberately forgotten, Christer Petley explores the uncomfortable success that came from slavery

WEALTH AND FURY One man’s story of sugar, success and slaves

Sugar created a white elite in the Caribbean and fuelled the British Empire, but at a great moral cost

Two days before Christmas 1739, in the busy port-town of Kingston, Jamaica, Simon Taylor was born. His father was a successful merchant who had emigrated to the colony from Scotland, and his mother was the daughter of one of the island’s most prosperous English settlers. Taylor was born into privilege at the beating commercial heart of the wealthiest part of Britain’s 18th-century empire.

Simon Taylor’s Llanrumney Estate, where he had more than 400 slaves; it looks almost idyllic in James Hakewill’s c1820 watercolour
ALAMY X1, CHRISTER PETLEY X1, GETTY IMAGES X1, LIBRARY OF CONGRESS X1, YALE CENTER FOR BRITISH ART X1

That wealth was based on sugar. As Taylor was being baptised in the Anglican church near the bustling Kingston dockside, lush green fields of sugar cane sprawled out behind the expanding mini-metropolis. Looming above were the Blue Mountains, the highest part of a forested tropical interior, and beyond in the eastern, northern and western parishes of the Caribbean island was a frontier. Mile upon mile of fertile land, along low coastal plains and in the wide river valleys – this was land in the process of being bought-up, surveyed, cleared and cultivated. It was being transformed into more lucrative sugar plantations for the benefit of ambitious risk-taking British entrepreneurs. Sugar created the wealth of the white Jamaican elite, but it also created one of the most unequal societies in human history

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About BBC History Revealed

The mystery of the Princes in the Tower has haunted history for centuries. Did Richard III really steal the throne by murdering his nephews? Plus: We uncover the story of Rome’s first lady – Agrippina the Younger, the naval battle of Boston Harbor as well as the top 10 cats that made history.