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“Home” and “this country”: Britishness and Creole identity in the letters of a transatlantic slaveholder

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This article uses a case study of the transatlantic correspondence of Simon Taylor, a wealthy Jamaican planter, to examine the cultural identity of slaveholders in the British Caribbean at the end of the long eighteenth century. White settlers in the Americas faced metropolitan criticisms from as early as the seventeenth century. These became more pronounced in the period after the American Revolution with the development of an organised British anti-slavery campaign. Opponents of the planters claimed white West Indians lacked self-control and that they exhibited characteristics of excessive ostentation, cruelty and sensuality. In his letters, Taylor tried to avoid discussion of those aspects of his life that might attract censure, such as his long-term sexual relations with women of colour and his daily involvement with slavery. He wished others to consider him as a transplanted Briton and downplayed the distinctively local, or Creole, features of his life, presenting himself in his letters as an industrious, self-restrained and loyal colonist. Taylor's letters highlight the anxieties of white slaveholders in the Caribbean, who worried about how their Creole lives in a distant slave society would affect their status as Britons. This evidence illustrates the importance of national belonging to such colonists. They fashioned a distinctively colonial British identity, seeking metropolitan acceptance as useful subjects of an extended British world, and these features of their worldview fed into the unsuccessful pro-slavery campaigns of the period.
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Keywords: Jamaica; letters; national identity; planters; slavery

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 April 2009

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