Character Sketch from Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, B.J. Lossing, the 1848 original.
George Taylor was born in Ireland, in the year 1716, and came to this country when he was about twenty years of age. He was the son of a clergyman, but whether Roman Catholic or Protestant, is not known. He was well educated, but was poor on his arrival, and performed menial service for a livelihood. He afterward became a clerk in the iron establishment of Mr. Savage, at Durham, in Pennsylvania; and sometime after the death of his employer, he married that gentleman’s widow, by which he came into possession of considerable property and a thriving business.
After pursuing the business for some time, at Durham, and acquiring a handsome fortune, Mr. Taylor purchased an estate on the Lehigh, in Northumberland County, and erected iron works there. His wealth, education, and business talents, and his urbanity of manner, soon gained for him the esteem and confidence of the people, and he was elected by them a member of the Colonial Assembly in 1764. In that body he soon became a distinguished actor, and was placed upon its most important committees.
It was during Mr. Taylor’s membership in the Colonial Assembly of Pennsylvania, that that body received the circular letter from Massachusetts, proposing a General Colonial Congress at New York, in 1765! The Assembly accepted the invitation, and Mr. Taylor was one of the committee to whom was assigned the duty of drawing up instructions for the delegates from that Province.
Those instructions were supposed to be from his pen, and evinced much wisdom and sound judgment. Mr. Taylor was a member of the Provincial Assembly Eve consecutive years, when, finding his private interests suffering in consequence of his absence, he declined a reelection, and for sometime withdrew from public life. He was elected to the Provincial Congress in 1775, and was one of the committee appointed to draw up instructions for the delegates to the General Congress, which convened in May of that year. These instructions, which were not sanctioned by the Assembly until November, contained a clause strictly prohibiting the delegates from concurring in any proposition for political independence, a reconciliation being still hoped for. But public feeling very materially changed on this point during the spring of 1776, and in June that prohibition was removed, and the delegates were left to act according to their own discretion.
Still, a portion of the delegates remained firm in their opposition to the measure, and Mr. Taylor was one of those appointed to fill their places. He was therefore not present in Congress when the Declaration of Independence was adopted, but was there in time to sign it on the second day of August.
Mr. Taylor remained in Congress one year, and then withdrew from public life and settled in Easton. He died on the twenty-third day of February, 1781, aged sixty-five years. 1
Character Sketch from Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, Rev. Charles A. Goodrich, the 1829 original.
Of the early life of George Taylor although he acted a distinguished part in the political affairs of his time, few incidents are recorded, in any documents which we have seen, and few, it is said, are remembered by the old men of the neighborhood in which he lived. Mr. Taylor was born in the year 1716. Ireland gave him birth. He was the son of a respectable clergyman in that country, who having a more just estimation of the, importance of a good education, gave to his son an opportunity to improve his mind, beyond most youth in the country about him. At a proper age he commenced the study of medicine; but his genius not being adapted to the profession, he relinquished his medical studies, and soon after set sail for America.
On his arrival, he was entirely destitute of money, and was obliged to resort to manual labor to pay the expenses of his voyage to America. The name of the gentleman who kindly employed him, and paid his passage, was Savage. He was the owner of extensive iron works at Durham, a small village, situated on the river Delaware, a few miles from Easton.
In these works, young Taylor was for a time employed to throw coal into the furnace, when in blast. The business was, however, too severe for him, and at length Mr. Savage transferred him from this menial and arduous service, into his counting room as a clerk. In this situation, he rendered himself very useful and acceptable, and, at length, upon the death of Mr. Savage, he became connected in marriage with his widow, and consequently the proprietor of the whole establishment. In a few years the fortune of Mr. Taylor was considerably farther increased. He was now induced to purchase a considerable estate near the river Lehigh, in the county of Northampton, where he erected a spacious mansion, and took up his permanent residence.
A few years after, Mr. Taylor was summoned by his fellow-citizens into public life. Of the provincial assembly, which met at Philadelphia, in October, 1764, he was for the first time a member, and immediately rendered himself conspicuous, by the active part which he took in all the important questions which came before that body.
From this period, until 1770 Mr. Taylor continued to represent the county of Northampton in the provincial assembly. He was uniformly placed on several standing committees, and was frequently entrusted, in connection with other gentlemen, with the management of many important special concerns, as they continued to rise. At Northampton, Mr. Taylor entered into the business, which had so extensively occupied him, while at Durham. The business, however, at the former place was by no means as profitable as it had been at the latter. Indeed it is said, that the fortune of Mr. Taylor suffered so considerably, that he was at length induced to return to Durham to repair it.
In October, 1775, he was again elected a delegate to the provincial assembly in Pennsylvania, and in the following month was appointed, in connection with several other gentlemen, to report a set of instructions to the delegates, which the assembly had just appointed to the continental congress.
The circumstances of the colony of Pennsylvania, were at this time, in some respects, peculiar. She was far less oppressed than the other colonies in America. On the contrary, she had been greatly favored by his British majesty. Her government, which was proprietary, was administered without the least political oppression, and her constitution was free and liberal.
In consequence of these, and other circumstances, a strong reluctance prevailed in Pennsylvania to sever the bonds of union between herself and the mother country. Hence, the measures of her public bodies were characterized by a more obvious respect for the British government than the measures of other colonies. This might be inferred from the instructions reported at this time, by Mr. Taylor and his associates, and adopted by the assembly: “The trust reposed in you is of such a nature, and the modes of executing it may be so diversified, in the course of your deliberations, that it is scarcely possible to give you particular instructions respecting it. We, therefore, in general, direct that you, or any four of you, meet in congress the delegates of the several colonies now assembled in this city, and any such delegates as may meet in congress next year; that you consult together on the present critical and alarming state of public affairs ; that you exert your utmost endeavours to agree upon, and recommend such measures as you shall judge to afford the best prospect of obtaining redress of American grievances, and restoring that union and harmony between Great Britain and the colonies, so essential to the welfare and happiness of both countries.
“Though the Oppressive measures of the British parliament and administration have compelled us to resist their violence by force of arms, yet we strictly enjoin you, that you, in behalf of this colony dissent from, and utterly reject any propositions, should such be made, that may cause or lead to a separation from our mother country, or a change of the form of this government.”
During the winter and spring of 1776, a great change was effected in public sentiment in the province of Pennsylvania, on the subject of the contest between the mother country and the colonies. Hence the provincial assembly rescinded their former instructions to their delegates in congress, and while they expressed an ardent desire for the termination of the unhappy controversy, they were unwilling to purchase peace by a dishonorable submission to arbitrary power. “We, therefore,” said the assembly, in their instructions to their delegates in congress, “authorize you to concur with the other delegates in congress, in forming such further compacts between the united colonies, concluding such treaties with foreign kingdoms and states, and in adopting such other measures as upon a view of all circumstances, shall be judged necessary for promoting the liberty, safety, and interests of America; reserving to the people of this colony the sole and exclusive right of regulating the internal government and police of the same.
“The happiness of these colonies has, during the whole course of this fatal controversy, been our first wish. Their reconciliation with Great Britain our next. Ardently have we prayed for the accomplishment of both. But if we must renounce the one or the other, we humbly trust in the mercies of the Supreme Governor of the universe, that we shall not stand condemned before his throne, if our choice is determined by that overruling law of self-preservation, which His divine wisdom has thought fit to implant in the hearts of his creatures.”
Fortunately for the cause of American liberty, the change in public sentiment above alluded to, continued to spread, and on taking the great question of a declaration of independence, an approving vote by all the colonies was secured in its favor. The approbation of Pennsylvania, however, was only obtained by the casting vote of Mr. Morton, as has already been mentioned in our biographical notice of that gentleman. On the, 20th of July, the Pennsylvania convention proceeded to a new choice of Representatives. Mr. Morton, Dr. Franklin, Mr. Morris, and Mr. Wilson, who had voted in favor of the declaration of independence, were re-elected. Those who had opposed it were at this time dropped, and the following Gentlemen were appointed in their place, viz.: Mr. Taylor, Mr. Ross, Mr. Clymer, Dr. Rush, and Mr. Smith. These latter Gentlemen were consequently not present on the fourth of July, when the declaration was passed and proclaimed, but they had the honor of affixing their signatures to the engrossed copy, on the second of August following, at which time the members generally signed it.
Mr. Taylor retired from congress in 1777, from which time we know little of his history. He settled at Easton, where he continued to manage his affairs with much success, and to repair his fortune, which had greatly suffered during his residence on the banks of the Lehigh. Mr. Taylor died on the 23rd of February, 1781, in the sixty-fifth year of his age. He had two children by his wife, a son, who became an attorney, but died before his father, and a daughter who was never married. 2