New Bern

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

"A Holy Host of Others Standing Around Me" - The Taylor Family in New Bern


I wonder how many people are aware that the James Taylor lyric-- "a holy host of others standing around me" -- from his famous ode to homesickness, Carolina in My Mind,  is a reference to the Beatles during the time of James' experience of recording with them on the Apple Label in England? 

At the same time, I wonder how many people know that James' wealthy forefather, shipping magnate Isaac Taylor, is a figure who stands at the forefront in shaping the history of New Bern?

The history begins with Isaac Taylor's immigration to New Bern around 1790.  It then moves richly into the next century with significance during the Civil War period.  The Taylor Family-New Bern Saga ends in the year 1900 when James' great-great grandmother, Sarah Cole Taylor, dies while running a boarding home in Chapel Hill.  Her body is then carried by lonely train back to New Bern and laid to rest in Cedar Grove Cemetery next to her long dead husband,  Dr. Alexander Taylor.


 Tim White, James Taylor's Official Biographer tells the story best:  

"That a forefather of the fellow who sang Shower The People should play a bit-part in these storm-tossed tales throws fresh light onto three decades of songwriting. The known Taylor pedigree stretches back to the Angus coast of Scotland. From Marykirk, Kincardineshire, the Taylors had shipping interests in the nearby coastal town of Montrose, in 1790 a crowded crossroads for naval vessels and privateers. The fourth son out of eight children, the original Isaac Taylor sought in America both his fortune and escape from the social and religious vicissitudes then besetting Scotland. Settling in a plantation outside New Bern, North Carolina, Isaac traded with the West Indies and prospered mightily— even despite his ship, the Rainbow, being temporarily seized off the coast of the Caicos Islands in April 1799 by two French privateers, but rescued by none other than the real-life HMS Surprise, only to be forfeited to the British Crown to recoup the cost of its recapture.

When Isaac Taylor died in 1846, he left most of his extensive holdings (which included 75 slaves ranging from 11 -month-old Betty to 64-year-old Bill Foy) to his wife and six daughters. His son Alexander was cut out of the will because his drinking habits were considered "excessive".

"All these matters run pretty deep," says James Taylor, "and the Civil War was about to change all of them forever." In 1863 Union soldiers commandeered the Taylor house for the headquarters of the 45th Massachusetts Regiment. (Two old-maid Taylor sisters, who continued to live on the third floor of the mansion, refused to co-operate with the Yankees, and had their provisions raised to their window by pulley. Mrs Alexander Taylor, known locally as the 'Prison Mother' for her work nursing Confederate inmates, also spied for the rebels and ran an underground mail service.)
There are many delicious and colorful tales of Taylor history in New Bern, not the least of which is the Ghost of Fanny Taylor whose face is sometimes seen peering from a window of the Isaac Taylor House.   She still pines for her long dead fiancee and watches for him to walk up the sidewalk of Craven Street and knock on the door of the Taylor House to woo her once again.     

The Isaac Taylor Family Plot does not contain the remains of Isaac's only son (and James' gg-grandfather) Alexander Taylor.   Rather, Alexander Taylor is buried amidst his wife's family in the Cole Family Plot. (James Cole having been a dignitary here as the Sheriff of Craven County).

In the  photo of the Taylor plot you will see the tabletop marker for Isaac (the large tabletop towards the back which is slowly degrading and almost impossible to read the inscription.) .  Mary Taylor Attmore (first owner of the "haunted" Attmore-Oliver House) is buried here-- as is also 3 of the old maid aunts: Phoebe, Frances and Catherine.
 
The Isaac Taylor Family Plot just a few steps inside the "Weeping Arch"
of Cedar Grove Cemetery

1 comment:

tom said...

Rosemary,

Your research of the Taylor family
in North Carolina, is very well done
and most interesting. Thanks for sharing.