The Curious Case of Colonel Thomas Taylor

A few months ago, I learned that Thomas Taylor was my 5th great grandfather. I recently returned to researching that line. It was a bit of a brick wall at first, because I could not find primary sources for multiple online claims that he was the “Colonel Thomas Taylor” who was a Revolutionary soldier in Orange County, North Carolina. However, thanks to some digging and a few (finally!) substantive hints, I did confirm the connection. And in the process discovered an interesting story.

To begin at the beginning

Thomas Taylor was most likely born in the 1740s in Pennsylvania, traveling to North Carolina as a young man with the rest of his family around 1750. In Orange County, Thomas was granted two adjoining tracts of land: 200 acres on Back Creek (grant no. 17, 3 Sep 1779) and 300 acres on Otter Creek (grant no. 257, 13 Mar 1780). This places his land on the Haw River just west of Hillsborough.

1808 survey map of North Carolina from the Library of Congress.

However, Thomas actually lived on on the Eno River, occupying a tract that he apparently inherited. I am still not exactly sure where this tract was, but the Eno river can be seen on the above map running eastward across Orange County though Hillsborough. I think he probably lived in or near Hillsborough, as he performed several jobs for the county at various times, serving as a Justice of the Peace, a tax assessor, and as the official surveyor for the county.

Thomas Taylor’s military career

It seemed strange to me that Thomas was referred to as “Col. Thomas Taylor” only twice in Tennessee documents: once in a 1796 deed, and again in his death notice. In fact, I thought for a while there might be two Thomas Taylors running around the same area at the same time, which has been the case with several previous ancestors! Confounding the issue, there was another, more famous, Thomas Taylor from South Carolina who was a Revolutionary War colonel.

Confusion between the two Thomas Taylors seems to have existed even at that time, as he is specifically referred to as “Colonel Thomas Taylor of Orange County” in several documents, including other soldiers’ pension applications. This was presumably in order to differentiate him from the South Carolina Thomas Taylor.

References to “my” Colonel Thomas Taylor can be found multiple times in the Colonial and State Records of North Carolina. I am not sure when he began his military career, but he was first a Major and then a Lieutenant Colonel of a Light Horse (or lightly armed) Cavalry regiment from Orange County.

In September, 1780, he requested “Fifty pounds powder, 150 lbs Lead, and Arms for the Equipment of part of his Corps” from the Board of War in Hillsborough.

In November of 1780, General H.W. Harrington mentioned Taylor in a letter to the Board which foreshadowed a later problem: “Col. Thomas Taylor’s Cavalry is much more numerous, the Officers exceeding well disposed to do every service to their Country, the men fine fellows, but too much inclined to plunder, tho’ restrained by their Officers.

On 9 February of 1781, the North Carolina Senate resolved to suspend Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Taylor of Orange County. The cause was that “during his late Militia Tour did in divers Instances permit and suffer the Men under his Command to plunder and Maraude in a most oppressive and disgraceful manner.”

From North Carolina, General Assembly Session Records at the North Carolina Digital Archive.

Two days later, on February 11th, the North Carolina House rescinded the suspension pending an investigation. “This House propose to the Senate to rescind the Resolve of the General Assembly suspending Lieut. Colonel Taylor from the office of Lieut. Colonel of Orange County, and that the said Taylor, William McCawley and Mark Patterson shall be summoned to attend the next Session of Assembly to answer such matters and things as then be alledged against them respecting their conduct when in service to the Southward last Summer.”

William McCawley (McAuley) and Mark Patterson did serve in the Orange County militia along with Thomas Taylor. The unit fought at Camden Courthouse –to the south of Hillsborough–in the summer of 1780. This was both a big loss for the Continental Army and a particularly messy battle due to the lack of training among the local militias that had been summoned to the fight. As the battle also took place deep in Loyalist territory, there was probably quite a bit of “plundering and marauding” afterwards. There was also, no doubt, a desire for accountability in the North Carolina General Assembly.

The last information I could find on the subject is this House resolution on 12 Feb 1781: “Resolved that the Resolution of the 10th inst.respecting the suspension of Lieutenant Col Taylor be rescinded, that he be directed to appear at the next assembly to answer all such matters + things as shall be alleged against him with respect to his Conduct as Col. of a Corps of light horse while in service last summer.”

From North Carolina, General Assembly records at the North Carolina Digital Archive

So, it appears that Taylor’s suspension stood. Either that, or he resigned his commission. This may explain why I can find no record of his service at Fold3, why he did not claim any land based on this military service, why there is no record of a pension, and perhaps why he did not routinely refer to himself as “Colonel” in the years following the war.

Given that, especially at the beginning of the Revolution, and especially in the South, it was essentially a guerrilla war against an occupying force, it’s hard to imagine what degree of “plundering and marauding” it would take to to draw the attention of the North Carolina Senate. If General Harrington’s assessment is correct, however, it would appear that Thomas Taylor was doing his best, but simply couldn’t control his unruly bunch of frontiersmen. Either that, or he simply ran his regiment like a Scottish cattle-raiding gang. Nearly 250 years later, it is impossible to say.

The move west

In 1784, Thomas Taylor began to sell off his Orange County properties in preparation for a move to Tennessee. Orange County court minutes from August 1785 note that a new county surveyor has been appointed, as “Thomas Taylor has removed out of this county.”

The Taylor family, arriving in 1785, were some of the earliest white settlers in Davidson County, Tennessee. (Fort Nashborough, the first settler stockade, was established in 1779.) He appears on the 1787 tax list for Davidson County.

Thomas received three land grants as “assignee” of other Revolutionary soldiers. The first tract, 640 acres which he apparently did not occupy, was located on the east side of the west fork of the Harpeth River, right next to James Robertson, a co-founder of Fort Nashborough. In fact, Robertson was listed a “chain bearer” on the grant, meaning that he helped survey the land (Grant 136 dated 14 March 1786). Thomas sold off this land in 1792.

The other two tracts, 320 acres and 251 acres respectively, were located “on the east fork of Whites Creek.” This is on the north side of Nashville, just east of I-24 near the Sumner County line. In fact, the east fork is now known as Shaw Branch, perhaps named after Taylor’s son-in-law, my 4th great-grandfather, William Shaw. (Grant 637 dated 8 December 1787 and grant 180 dated 20 July 1796.) Whites Creek is now a historic neighborhood in north Nashville.

Early Davidson County map from Wikimedia.

Thomas speculated in real estate on at least one occasion. On 16 January 1804, he purchased a valuable plot of land on the Cumberland River described as “the plantation where Nathaniel Hays now resides” next to the property of Samuel Donelson, the son of John Donelson, the other co-founder of Fort Nashborough. Taylor paid $1,077.50 for this tract, then sold it on 7 November 1804 to Francis Sanders for $1,293. (Deed Book F, pages 124 and 265) for a tidy profit of over $200.

Thomas continues to appear in the Whites Creek area of Davidson county on various tax lists and in deeds until 1814.

On 7 August 1815 he made his will. He died two days later on 9 August 1815, leaving his “beloved wife” Martha, several children, and a reasonable estate, judging from his estate inventory.

Davidson County, Tennessee Court Minutes at Family Search.

Though he did not refer to himself as a Colonel even in his will, someone, his wife, a relative, or friend, submitted his death notice to the local newspaper as “Col. Thomas Taylor,” and called him a “patriot,” a term of respect commonly applied to Revolutionary soldiers during this period. Two of his grandchildren were also named after him, Thomas Taylor III, and Thomas Taylor Shaw, a son of William Shaw and Susannah Taylor.

National Banner and Nashville Whig, 15 August 1815.

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