While Thomas Hughan was involved in the importation and trade of timber, coffee and various other types of merchandise to and from the Americas and the West Indies,it was probably through the human slave market that most of his wealth was made.
In the late 1790s he formed part of the firm Miles, Hughan and Taylor who owned the ship 'Trusty', making voyages from Africa to the West Indies on the slave route.His partners were Richard Miles and Robert Taylor, both of whom had long associations with the slave trade.
Richard Miles was a prominent African slave trader, and had been Governor at the English controlled Cape Coast Castle in Ghana in the late 1770s before becoming a merchant trader himself.From Ghana he would purchase slaves on his own behalf for later sale to arriving ships. During the period 1772 to 1780 he obtained and sold in excess of 2200 slaves. Miles was well-known for the act of "bulking" his slaves. That is, he would buy numbers of slaves and group them together in pens for several weeks before the arrival of slave ships, allowing him to sell them to the Europeans at higher than the going price for single or smaller groups of slaves.
Richard Miles also had what was referred to by the British as a "country wife". This was the scenario in which a European man set up house with a coloured woman-either free or a slave- in a sort of 'common law' marriage.Often families were raised by the couple..in Richard's case, he and his "country wife" Sal had a son, and when Richard returned to England his son went with him, attending the same boarding school that other members of his family had attended.
Thomas Hughan's other partner, Robert Taylor,also had a long family association with slavery, particularly in Jamaica.Robert's cousin was Simon Taylor ( 1740-1813), often referred to in literature as a "Jamaican sugar tycoon". When Simon was called to give evidence in The House of Lords in a 1792 enquiry into the State of the Slave Trade to Africa, his responses to questions asked of him were fascinating...
Q: Are you a native of Jamaica?
A: I am.
Q: Do you possess any real estate in that island, by inheritance as well as purchase?
A: I certainly do, by inheritance as well as by purchase.
Q: How long have you resided in the Island?
A: I sailed from England in the year 1760 and I arrived in Jamaica in the month of October of that same year. I sailed from thence the 17th May, 1791.
Q: Have you any number of Negroes under your immediate direction and management?
A: I had a very great number indeed of Negroes under my care; a great many belonging to myself as well as to other people. When I came from Jamaica I had upwards of 4,600.
The interview went on for many pages, and is an excellent insight into the life on a Jamaican plantation through the eyes on an owner in the latter part of the1700s.
Simon Taylor also had a “country wife” in Jamaica with whom he had a family. When Simon died in 1813, he acknowledged some but not all of his mixed-race children. The fact that Simon Taylor and Richard Miles both were business associates of Thomas Hughan, and both had children with their country wives, makes it even more likely that Thomas Hughan’s two natural born daughters, Jane and Margaret, were born while he was resident in Jamaica.
Robert Taylor, Thomas’s business partner, was originally a sailor in the East India Trade. He settled in London and in 1797 founded a merchant house with Alexander Renny. In 1799 the firm expanded to include Thomas Hughan, and started to ship slaves to Jamaica. Alexander Renny resigned in 1805, having suffered ill health, and the business became known as just Taylor & Hughan.
Thomas Hughan resided in London, but also did a great deal of business in Liverpool, which during the second half of the 1700s had become known as the leading European slaving port. In January of 1799 Simon Taylor contacted his cousin Robert Taylor and merchant Thomas Hughan in order to bring them into a new slaving enterprise idea. Although the British did not abolish the capture and transport of slaves until 1807, strong moves were already afoot in England to introduce abolition of slavery.
Simon Taylor was canny enough to realise that an opportunity had opened to make a great deal of money. With plantation owners fearful of abolition stopping their supply of slaves, they would become more willing to pay higher prices for slaves while they could still legally acquire them.
Simon Taylor decided to finance four slaving voyages...two to Anomabu and two to Bonny in the Bight of Biafra.The former voyages were to be fitted out in London, but the two Bonny excursions were to sail from Liverpool after being fitted out by Thomas Hughan. The partners’ aim was to deliver to Kingston, Jamaica, 1,500 slaves who could be sold quickly for produce or bills of sale. Each ship was to carry 400-450 slaves and 40-45 crew.
The plans for these voyages were mentioned in detail in the book “ Liverpool And Transatlantic Slavery ‘ edited by David Richardson, Suzanne Schwartz and Anthony Tibbles ( available in Google Books as a limited preview).
The 1790s were very profitable for plantation owners in the Caribbean- Jamaica in particular- as several factors came together to double the prices offered for plantation sugar... the slave revolt on St Domingo and the impact of the Napoleonic Wars both resulted in the Jamaican tropical export economy rocketing to the position of world leaders.
During Thomas Hughan’s time in Jamaica from c. 1787-1797, he was not a plantation owner, but an agent managing the plantations of absent owners. According to Professor Richard B Sheridan writing in his article on Simon Taylor, Sugar Tycoon of Jamaica, 1740-1813, published in Agricultural History, Volume XLV, No: 4, October 1971, pp285-296, in 1775 there were 775 sugar estates on the island of Jamaica. At least 180 of these were held by absentee proprietors or by minors or incompetents. Attorneys drew a commission about around 5% of the gross value of the produce of the plantations in their care.
Change was in the wind for plantation owners by the end of the 18th century. In 1799 the Slave Carrying Act increased the costs of outfitting slaving ships, and public opinion was placing pressure on Governments to stop slavery altogether.
It may have been sheer coincidence that Thomas Hughan decided that he had ambitions to become a Member of Parliament in the early 1800s, or more likely he saw it as an opportunity to provide a voice in favour of the continuation of slavery and the terrible consequences to plantation owners if an Abolition Bill was passed.
East Retford was a parliamentary constituency in Nottinghamshire.The borough eventually became infamous for bribery. Retford's corruption took an unusual form: unlike the voters in most corrupt boroughs, the freemen tried to prevent contested elections, demanding instead that hopeful candidates should buy enough votes to secure a safe majority and avoid the need for a poll.
Thomas was wealthy enough in his own right to buy his way into a 'rotten' seat, but he also would have had rich backers amongst his plantation friends and acquaintances- men who would have found it in their own interests to have 'one of their own' to provide a voice to their grievances against abolition.
Thomas Hughan became one of two members for East Retford to be elected on October 29, 1806.He made his first speech to address the House on February 22, 1807, the subject being- not surprisingly- the Slave-Trade Abolition Bill. One anonymous reviewer of Thomas Hughan's maiden speech quoted: "Then there is The Man Who Knows: Mr Hughan delivers a maiden speech, a great deal longer and more controversial than would nowadays be thought suitable."
Thomas Hughan's speech to the House can be found on the website hansard.millbanksystems.com/people/mr-thomas-hughan
Thomas's stint as Member for East Retford was very short-lived. Another election was held not even 12 months after he was first elected, and his rivals were General Crawford and William Ingleby.A report on the election stated "After a sharp contest, the two former gentlemen were declared duly elected; Mr Ingleby winning his election by only two votes. The "jockeyship" and corruption on this occasion, by which Mr. Hughan, (who had only held his seat about eight months, and which he had purchased at great expense) was ousted, in order to make way for a new customer, was probably equal to anything that had ever taken place, even at an East Retford election."
Thomas Hughan and his followers had to seek out another seat and quickly, and it was to Ireland that their eyes turned. On July 27, 1808, Thomas became the new member for Dundalk (Dundalk being the county town of County Louth in Ireland), and he held this seat up until the time of his death in 1811.
His election was not necessarily a popular one with the Irish. In 1812 a book was written by Edward Wakefield entitled ‘An Account of Ireland, Statistical and Political, and on page 314 he named thirteen “Irish” members who were in fact English born and who resided in England. Of course, “Mr Hughan, merchant in London” was one of the thirteen. Mr Wakefield wrote:
“ These thirteen members, few of whom ever saw Ireland, certainly can have nothing to do legitimately with the representation of that country. Scotland has, I believe, always been represented by her own sons , men familiar with the customs, habits and prejudices of the people; acquainted with the local circumstances, interests and wants of that part of the kingdom, and, consequently, better able to defend its rights, and propose and support measures for its benefit and improvement. But Ireland has nominal members, who cannot be supposed to have a greater knowledge of its real situation , than they do of Thibet (sic) or Abyssinia.”
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