White Fury: A Jamaican Slaveholder and the Age of Revolution

ISBN : 9780198791638

Christer Petley
320 Pages
135 x 216 mm
Pub date
Oct 2018
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  • The story of one of Jamaica's most powerful colonial inhabitants: Simon Taylor, one of the wealthiest and most influential slaveholders of the eighteenth-century British empire.
  • Offers new insights into the merciless machinery and hazards of Jamaican plantation life through Taylor's letters.
  • Examines the impacts of the American, French, and Haitian Revolutions on the British imperial slave system.
  • Details the importance of sugar and slavery to the eighteenth-century empire, the rise of the Caribbean planter class, and the struggle over the future of slavery that took place during 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.


Part I: Foundations and Aspiration
1: A West Indian Life
2: Slave Empire
3: Sugar and Strife
Part II: Crises and Frustration
4: The American Revolution
5: Reactions
6: New Revolutions
7: War and Abolition
Conclusions and Legacies
Further Reading

About the author: 

Christer Petley researches and teaches at the University of Southampton. His work has focused mainly on Atlantic history, British imperial history, and the history of slavery and emancipation in the Caribbean. He has published books and articles exploring the history of the Jamaican planter class, transatlantic debates over slavery, and the transformations that reshaped the British empire in the period after the American Revolution.

"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

"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

"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

"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

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