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VIRGINIA, the "Ancient Dominion" of the British American colonies, has obtained also the name of the "Mother of Presidents," among the states; it being the native state of no less than seven of the presidents of the United States, including ZACHARY TAYLOR, the twelfth on the list of those who have filled that high station. It is worthy of remark, that three of these Virginians have been elected without the aid of the electoral votes of their native state.
The family of the Taylors of Virginia, to which the twelfth president belongs, is honorably distinguished in the annals of the colony and the state. Its ancestors of the same name emigrated from England, with other friends of liberty, and settled in the southeastern part of the colony of Virginia in the year 1692. Among the different branches and connexions of the family are the Madisons, Lees, Barbours, Pendletons, Conways, Taliaferos, Hunts, Gaineses, and others, whose public services and patriotism, during more than a century, are commemorated in colonial and national history.
Richard Taylor, the father of General Zachary Taylor, was born in Virginia, on the 22d of March, 1744. He received a plain but solid education, and in boyhood evinced the bold and adventurous spirit which afterward led him to seek a home in the western wilderness. When still a youth, he made a journey to Kentucky, and thence to the banks of the Mississippi, surveying the country as far as Natchez, and returning on foot, without guide or companion, through pathless woods, inhabited only by savages and wild beasts, to his father's house in Virginia.*
At the age of thirty-five, on the 20th of August, 1779, Richard Taylor married Sarah Strother, a young lady of highly respectable connexions, then in her twentieth year. At this time he held a colonel's commission For part of the facts mentioned in this sketch, we are indebted to Fry's Life of General Taylor: also to Montgomery's memoir of the same.
in the Virginia line, and served with zeal and valor throughout the revolutionary war. He was engaged in several of the most important battles of that war, particularly in the brilliant achievement of Trenton, where he rendered distinguished and valuable aid to General Washington.
Five sons and three daughters were the offspring of the marriage of Colonel Richard Taylor-the first child born in 1781. His third son, ZACHARY TAYLOR, the subject of this memoir, was born in Orange county, Virginia, on the 24th of November, 1784. In the following summer his father fulfilled his long-cherished intention of emigrating to Kentucky, only ten years after the first habitation of a white man had been erected in the vast region between the western boundary of Virginia and the Mississippi. In the emigration of Colonel Richard Taylor to this country, he had been preceded by his brother Hancock Taylor, a brave and intelligent man, who lost his life by the Indians while engaged in surveying lands in the Ohio valley. He is said to have selected for his farm the site of the present city of Louisville.
The early years of Zachary Taylor were passed under the guidance of such men, and under such circumstances for the development of a bold spirit and active intellect. His father had settled in Jefferson county, near Louisville, where he acquired a large estate by his industry and thrift, and honorable consideration by his intelligence, bravery, and patriotism. As Louisville rose into importance, his own fortune and local distinction increased. He received from President Washington a commission as collector of that port, New Orleans being then a Spanish possession. Richard Taylor was also one of the framers of the constitution of Kentucky; represented Jefferson county for many years in both branches of the legislature, and was a member of the electoral colleges which voted for Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and Clay. Among the politicians of Kentucky he is remembered as one of the few men of the "Old Court party" who could be elected from Jefferson county during the excitement of the old and new court question. He died on his plantation, near Louisville, leaving to survive him three sons and three daughters, of whom one son and two daughters have since died. His two surviving sons, Zachary and Joseph, have both chosen a military profession, as did their brother Hancock, who died in 1808.
One of the chief cares of Colonel Taylor was the education of his children; but during the first ten or fifteen years of his residence in Kentucky, the sparseness of the population, and the exposure of the inhabitants to Indian hostilities, made the accomplishment of his purpose very difficult. A school for the rudiments of English merely was established in his neighborhood by Elisha Ayres, a native of Connecticut, who afterward returned to that state, and now resides, at the advanced age of fourscore years, at Preston, near Norwich. To Mr. Ayres, as his teacher, was Zachary Taylor sent in his early years, to receive such instruction as
was practicable under the circumstances, while constant care and watchfulness were necessary on the part of his father and other guardians of his youth, for protection against savage foes.
After the Indians were subdued by the decisive victory of General Wayne, in 1794, a general peace was concluded with them, in the following year, and from that period the prosperity of Kentucky advanced rapidly with the increase of population. Zachary Taylor was reared by his father to his own profession, that of a farmer; and, until he attained the age of twenty-one, was practically engaged in that laborious occupation, laying the foundation of the robust health, hardy habits, and persevering industry, which have been the test of various climates, rude fare, and severe duty, during a military life of more than forty years. The military service very early engaged his affections and excited his ambition. When Aaron Burr's movements in the west began to arouse suspicion, the patriotic young men of Kentucky formed volunteer companies to oppose his designs by arms, if occasion should demand such a result. The brothers Taylor were enrolled in a troop raised for this purpose. Their services were not required by the events, and after the alarm had subsided, Zachary returned to his farm.
On the death of his brother, Lieutenant Hancock Taylor, who held a commission in the United States army, an opportunity was afforded Zachary of obtaining the vacancy. Through the influence of his relative, James Madison, then secretary of state, and of his uncle, Major Edmund Taylor, he received from President Jefferson, on the 3d of May, 1808, his commission as first lieutenant in the seventh regiment of United States infantry. At this time, when he was in the twenty-fourth year of his age, he was in the enjoyment of a competency from his occupation as a farmer. But the activity of his mind, and his taste for a military profession, led him to prefer the care and privations of a soldier's life to the quiet and comforts of a landed proprietor at home. His first experience in his new vocation had nearly proved fatal. He was ordered to report himself to General Wilkinson, in New Orleans; and being seized there with the yellow fever, was obliged to return home for the recovery of his health. He appears to have employed his time sedulously in the study of his profession, as we find him, three years from this time, fulfilling with honor a dangerous and important post.
In 1810, Lieutenant Taylor was married to Miss Margaret Smith, a lady of Maryland, of a highly respectable family in that state. She was sister of the late Major R. S. Smith, of the marine corps.
The Indian tribes on the northwestern frontier of the United States having been excited to feelings of hostilities against the Americans, as was supposed and believed through the agency of British emissaries sent among them, and a general league of the tribes being on the point of formation, by the influence of the noted chief Tecumseh and his brother
the Prophet, the American government took early steps to counteract their operations. General Harrison, then governor of the northwestern territory, was ordered to march a competent force into the Indian country.
After the declaration of war, in 1812, Taylor was placed in command of Fort Harrison, a block-house and stockade, which had been erected by order of General Harrison, on the Wabash river, about fifty miles above Vincennes. Congress declared war against Great Britain on the 19th of June, 1812, and at no previous period was the spirit of those Indians who were allies of England, and led on by Tecumseh and the Prophet, so fully aroused to the determination of exterminating the Americans on the northwestern frontier as at this time. Their first object of attack was Fort Harrison, and three months after war with England had been formally declared, they were banded for the purpose of this and other acts of hostility. Captain Taylor had some intimations of their intentions, which were confirmed on the 3d of September, by the report of guns in the vicinity of the fort. On the following day it was discovered that two men had been murdered and scalped by the Indians. Captain Taylor, therefore, made every effort in his power for defence. The whole force under his command was about fifty men, of whom nearly two thirds were invalids, and he himself was just recovering from a fever. The Indians were aware of his weakness, but preferred the exercise of their native cunning to the hazard of an open attack. A deputation of the Prophet's party came to the fort with a white flag, and affecting peaceable intentions. Captain Taylor was not deceived by this stratagem, and he made preparations for an assault from the enemy. At night a watch was set, and the remaining few retired to rest. An hour before midnight the report of a musket was heard, and Taylor, springing from his brief sleep, found his savage foes were making an attack upon the fort. On their approach, the sentinels had retreated within, and it was discovered that the lower building was already fired by the Indians, rendering the situation of the garrison one of extreme peril. The young captain, however, retained his composure, and while he directed a part of his small force to carry buckets of water to extinguish the flames, the other soldiers returned the fire of the Indians by a steady discharge of musketry, the assailants, during seven hours, abating no effort to carry the fort, and being for some time under the cover of a very dark night. In this protracted attack only three of the garrison were killed and three wounded, while the Indians suffered severely from their exposed situation. At six o'clock on the morning of the 5th, dispirited by their loss, they abandoned the attempt to carry the fort, and retired from the spot, after destroying all the provisions of the post, and killing or driving off all the horses and cattle.
The account of this affair by Captain Taylor, in a letter to General Harrison, dated the 10th of September, 1812, is his first official despatch,
and has the unaffected spirit, without the experienced style, of his more mature productions.
The failure of their enterprise against Fort Harrison disheartened the Indians, and they abandoned for a time any further attempts against it; yet the garrison expected another attack, and Captain Taylor sent to General Harrison an account of his situation, and an application for assistance. A large force, under General Hopkins, was immediately sent to the relief of the garrison, then reduced to want by sickness, fatigue, and the loss of provisions.
The conduct of Taylor at Fort Harrison was not overlooked by his superior officers, by the public, or by the government. General Hopkins, in a letter to the governor of Kentucky, said of him: "The firm and almost unparalleled defence of Fort Harrison by Captain Zachary Taylor, has raised for him a fabric of character not to be effaced by eulogy." The president afforded a satisfactory proof of his favorable opinion, by conferring upon Taylor the rank of major by brevet - the oldest instance in the service of this species of promotion.
The Indians, notwithstanding their defeat, continued their depredations upon the inhabitants on the frontier, and to arrest their atrocities General Hopkins planned an expedition against the Indian villages on the Illinois, and commenced his march about the middle of October. But the volunteers under his command evinced insubordination, and the general resolved to abandon the expedition. The villages, however, were attacked by a detachment under Colonel Russell, and destroyed. In the following month, General Hopkins undertook a second expedition, directed against the Prophet's and Winebago town, in which Major Taylor took part, and received the commendations of the general. Several skirmishes occurred, in some of which our troops suffered severely. They succeeded in achieving their main objects, devastating the enemy's country and destroying their settlements. The winter forced both parties into a cessation of active hostilities. From this time to the close of the war with Great Britain, Major Taylor was engaged on the northwest frontier, accomplishing the purposes of the government with unremitting vigilance.
In 1814, Major Taylor commanded an expedition against the British and Indians on Rock river, a branch of the Mississippi. By order of General Howard, Major Taylor left Fort Independence, on the 2d August, at the head of a detachment of about three hundred and fifty men, and proceeded in boats up the Mississippi to Rock river, where they arrived on the 4th of September. The British and Indians being strongly posted near the mouth of the river, and well provided with artillery, commenced firing upon the Americans before they had an opportunity to land, and the boats were exposed to the fire of the artillery and musketry for a considerable time, which was returned by Taylor's troops, from small arms and the cannon on board the boats. The Americans then dropped down the