This collection of forty items includes letters, accounts, and legal documents detailing the economic activities of the Taylor family of Whitehaven, Cumberland County, England, and Goose Creek, South Carolina. The majority of the collection centers on Peter Taylor of Whitehaven’s absentee management of his plantations between 1770 and 1785.
The two earliest letters in the collection, from Eben-Ezer Taylor to his brother Benjamin in Dublin, Ireland, are dated 1709 and 1711/12 and concern the Taylor family’s arrival in South Carolina. In the first, 29 September 1709, the writer cites a failed marriage and the ruin of his congregation as his justification for leaving England and hopes that the venture will be an opportunity to resume his ministry. His wife, he asserts, “ has prov’d one of the worst of Wives, a most malicious & revengefull, a mischevious & abusefull, a most pernicious & hurtfull Wife to me, and has been endeavoring to ruine my reputation....Nothing will satisfie her but my Ruine and I have no other Remedy to save my Self from a Prison...but to leave her and this Countrey, & to go to Carolina....” The second letter was written aboard the ship Mary of London while Eben-Ezer awaited a favorable wind to take him back to Carolina after a “short Stay in England.” He comments on the difficulty of finding a convoy bound for the colonies and mentions Benjamin’s four children, including sons Joseph and Peter, the latter of whom appears to have come to Carolina and established himself as a planter during the first half of the eighteenth century.
Peter Taylor of Whitehaven, a merchant and South Carolina plantation owner residing in England, was the son of Joseph Taylor and nephew of Peter Taylor of Charleston. Several letters reference his sojourn as a youth with his uncle in South Carolina while learning the intricacies of trade between England and the colonies. The elder Peter Taylor was often critical of his nephew’s deportment and spiritual well-being, and in an undated letter penned before the young man was sent to Charleston for the summer, admonished— “You are going to a place which abounds in vice and it is necessary to warn you of the dangers you are exposed to. Boys are too prone to let their passions & inclinations overcome their reason... be cautious of bad company, enter into no private friendships or familiarities with girls, nor be much in their company especially when they are alone.”
Before Peter left his uncle’s charge he received another letter, 21 August 1758, reproaching him for his shortcomings while in Charleston, alleging that “Pleasure & Diversion seem to be your main pursuit,” and suggesting that he was “not to be trusted in that place.” A third letter, 27 June 1764, written after nephew Peter’s return to England, hints that his uncle was appalled by Charleston’s secular society in general—“A play house hath been built in C-Town & should it continue must be the ruin of many. The young people here whose parents have provided largely for them seem generally to be strangers to economy & industry, nay too many act as if religion & riches could not abide together, by their forsaking the former.”
Papers revealing the experiences of Peter Taylor of Whitehaven as a landowner in South Carolina and reflecting the difficulties of ownership and management of a lowcountry rice plantation during the tumultuous period of the American Revolution make up the bulk of the collection. Two letters from Matthias Rast, Taylor’s overseer first at Warhall and later at Charleywood, provide detailed accounts of slave management and constitute a valuable addition to the knowledge of South Carolina’s colonial socioeconomic situation.
“The People,” Rast noted in a letter of 8 February 1771, “Have been Verrey Sickley, all this Winter, With Pleuresseys, Fevers, Pains in the Head, & Colds, But the[y] are Now a Good Deal Better....We Take as Mutch Care of the Slaves as if the[y] Were our owne, and if you Were Heare, You, Your Selfe, Could Not Doe More, for them, than My Wife and I Doe, But Death is a thing Sir, We Can Not Hinder, thoe We Doe all We Can, to hinder it.” Warhall was sold sometime in 1773, and Rast was in charge of moving Taylor’s slaves and supplies to the new plantation, Charleywood, which was bought from the estate of Richard Beresford and situated “on the Wandoe River, About 20 Miles From Charles Towne.” During the move, he reported on 12 March 1773, two slaves died, “A Boy Named Quash,” a runaway who froze to death , and “old Blind Prince,” whose lengthy illness meant he “Could not Doe Anny work For us.” Both letters detail tools used in the growing of rice, the building of a barn at Warhall, acreage planted in rice and corn at both plantations, and meteorological conditions that adversely impacted agricultural production. The earlier letter encloses a list of all one hundred sixteen “Negroes at Warr Hall” identified by family unit and occupation.
Letters to Taylor from agent Thomas Smith in Charleston before the outbreak of hostilities also detail life and work at the plantations but contain more Revolutionary rhetoric and information regarding the changing international situation than do Rast’s. “Many thanks kind Sir for the Public News you give me,” Smith wrote on 16 December 1769. “I wish I had time to entertain you that way, I shall only observe that if Great Britain don’t use us as Brethren we shall certainly endeavour to do more & more for ourselves & she may feel when it is too late to retrieve matters.” The American embargo on imported goods threatened the plantation economy, a fact not overlooked by Smith when he wrote on 2 February 1775—“As we had resolved not to import next year, your Negroes might suffer for want of Cloaths (indeed everything that is sent here after this is to be sent back without American grievances are redressed).”
The American Revolution devastated Peter Taylor’s holdings in South Carolina. According to a 7 July 1785 affidavit sworn by Benjamin Smith, a relative of Taylor’s agent Thomas who helped Rast manage the plantation, “Sometime in the year 1780 when the British army was in South Carolina, a party of the said Army went to the Plantation called Charley-Wood... and took from thence one hundred barrells of Clean Rice four hundred Bushels of Indian Corn Fifty Head of horned Cattle Six Horses besides a large Quantity of Hay Corn Blades Hogs Poultry and other Things... no Compensation whatever hath been made to him...”
Taylor traveled to America in the winter of 1782/83 to investigate the status of his holdings but was not so quick to place all the blame on the British army. He also assessed the destruction in a much larger scope, commenting on 16 January 1783 about the economic hardships faced by all South Carolinians— “I find that my plantation has been ransacked over and over by both parties and what the one left, the other took away....Were I to give you an acc[oun]t of the Ravages committed by the British and foreign troops in... So. Carolina, you would blush... It was not to conciliate or to make friends when the Army came to my place, no plunder was their object, and to obtain that they did not mind how ingererous the action, or how fatal the Consequences.” Besides property that was stolen or destroyed, Taylor had at least fifteen slaves confiscated and sold by the Commissioners of Forfeited Estates. However, these abuses were not tolerated silently.
As early as 1782 Peter Taylor had enlisted friends with political clout to lobby the British and the new American government on his behalf. Charles Howard, the Earl of Surrey and future Duke of Norfolk, wrote Thomas Orde on 20 June 1782 from Greystoke Castle introducing Taylor as “a man of fortune & connetions in this part of England” and advising that “he has a better right than many others to every aid & protection his majesty’s ministers can with propriety afford him, having... by argument & influence at all times reprobated this calamitous contest with America.”
To advocate on his behalf with the Americans Taylor enlisted one Mr. Channing who “notwithstanding the order of Congress is gone to try to get to Philadelphia.” According to a letter of 16 January 1783, Channing “carried with him from us Letters to the Delegates etc., & has promised... to do everything in his power to procure... passports; in a fortnights time hope to receive from him the necessary papers to permit us to leave this place [New York] to proceed So’ward.”
Taylor presumably reclaimed the majority of his property in the following years because in 1785 his Charleywood estate and other acreage and slaves were sold to Edward Rutledge (1749-1800) and Gen. Charles Cotesworth Pinckney (1746-1825). As payment proved difficult to extract from the buyers, Peter Taylor kept up a regular correspondence with his agents, the Smiths, in Charleston. In addition to advising him on his financial situation Roger Smith informed Taylor of news of interest in the new nation, including a 21 August 1786 report of the death of Gen. Nathanael Greene and “the fatal and horrid catastrophe which happened in our City the 15 June”—“A dreadful fire broke out at the Corner of Gadsden’s Alley & consumed every house from thence to John Smith’s house on the South Side of Broad Street, & the North side from your friend Aiken’s house to Mr. Webb’s near the City Tavern... my Father’s House is among those devoted to destruction.”
Pinckney and Rutledge seem to have been an ongoing source of concern to Taylor and, in fact, had not paid the balance due by the time of Taylor’s death in 1789. Peter Taylor’s widow, Isabella Fleming Taylor (1749-1826), was left to try to procure payment from the two South Carolinians. She finally received a guarantee from Pinckney in 1802 that the debt would be paid by 1804.
Though sparse in number, this collection of materials provides rich details of a family’s immigration to South Carolina from England, colonial life in Charleston and the surrounding areas, activities associated with a Carolina lowcountry rice plantation, hostilities relating to the Revolutionary War, and post-war reconstruction and nation building.