Saturday, February 2, 2013

Margaret Taylor

           Well, the next three ladies have no biography written so I am reduced to reading short essays that have been published. It’s always disappointing to have no biography because an essay is just not long enough to make me feel like I know the lady.

            Margaret Taylor is even less known to me because there is no confirmed portrait or photo of her. I read Thomas H. Appleton, Jr’s essay in American First Ladies: Their Lives and Legacy.

            Basically, Margaret was born in Calvert County Maryland to a plantation family that had been on American soil a long time. While visiting her sister in Kentucky she met and married Zachary Taylor. She spent the next almost 40 years of her life moving from army outpost to army outpost. She had six children two of whom died young of illness. One daughter died only three months after her marriage to a young officer, Jefferson Davis. Yes, THE Jefferson Davis. Jefferson Davis went onto remarry and his second wife and Jefferson remained close to the Taylors for the rest of their lives.

            An army outpost was no place to raise and educate children so the Taylor sent their children to various boarding schools and endured years of separation from them.

            When Zachary Taylor was stationed in Baton Rouge, Margaret declined the two story home intented for their stay and instead found a four room cottage on the Mississippi River that she lovingly fixed up as a home with the help of her slaves and off duty soldiers. I can imagine how she must have enjoyed decorating and fixing up the home to be her own after having moved so much and never really having lived in a home designed just for her since she constantly moved from military outpost to military outpost. Fixing up the home must have kept her mind busy and prevented her from worrying about her husband out fighting again.

Once Zachary was ready to retire, Margaret hoped he would stay retired! But when she started to get wind of her husband’s potentially presidency she prayed daily that the lot would fall to someone else! In November of 1848, Zachary won the presidency and Margaret prepared for yet another move.

During her time in the White House, Margaret did not perform the first lady duties but left that to her 24 year old daughter. Margaret did not even attend the inaugural balls! But she was not a total recluse. She would entertain close family and friends in her personal quarters.

To everyone’s surprise, Zachary Taylor died in 1850. Margaret died just 2 years later.

So much loneliness, grief, and moving for Margaret! She must have been a tough lady to endure it all.


****UPDATE**** I asked Carl Anthony about Margaret Taylor's pictures that are now public. Here was his reply:

Dear Rachel – thanks for writing. When I was conducting research and writing my two-volume history entitled First Ladies: The Saga of the Presidents’ Wives and their Power, 1789-1900, I did attempt to unravel this but at the time the two known images of her had not yet been unearthed. Her daughter Betty Bliss later in life said her mother never posed for a portrait – and it seems she meant an oil painting portrait since “photographs” were still relatively new and not referred to that way. The two photographs of her do seem to prove that she is the same person. One of them was found within a collection of photos of Mexican War military leaders and young West Point cadets, at least one of whom seems likely to have been a nephew of Betty Bliss. She remarried after her first husband’s death but had no children and so it seems that a descendant of her second husband in Virginia had them and sold them. The second was sold at auction a few years ago (you might find the info. somewhere online – I don’t recall the name of the auction house) along with one of President Taylor and was described as being kept in the family all those years. I don’t know who the descendants were or who owns those images now. Since these were held by the family for what seems like a really long time, it may have been to somehow respect Peggy Taylor’s penchant for privacy and her daughter’s remark may have been saying there was no public image – and would not be, if she had anything to do with it.However, it also seems that the drawing done of it, and later colorized, was in fact adapted from the photo held by Betty Bliss, so she seems to have likely allowed an artist to render a version of it but never released the original to the public.

Check out Carl Anthony's incredible blog