Biography of Henry Robert Taylor

Henry Robert Taylor, of Machias, Register of Deeds for Washington County, Maine, was born in Newfane, Vt., on May 31, 1830, son of Denzil and Ann D. (Morse) Taylor. His grandfather, Hezekiah Taylor, who was born on November 28, 1748, and was graduated at Harvard College in 1 7 70 , studied for the ministry and settled in Newfane, Vt., as the first pastor of the Congregational church in that place.

During the Revolution the Rev. Mr. Taylor was enrolled in Lieutenant Park’s company of minute-men, which went from Newfane, bore active part in the skirmish at Bemus Heights, and continued in service until after the battle of Saratoga or capture of Burgoyne. Returning to Newfane, he resumed the labors of his pastorate, seldom referring to his own services in the war. He was a man of keen sympathies and quick sensibilities; and his discourses at funerals were appropriate and consoling, so that he was called upon to minister on such occasions by persons from remote distances, and even of a different faith from his own. His wife, Sarah Frost, was born on May 24, 1751.

Denzil Taylor, father of Henry R., was born at Newfane on January 2 I, 17S7, being the seventh and youngest child of his parents. He received a common-school education, supplemented by academic training. He learned the trade of saddler and harness-maker, and during most of his life was engaged in that business. His death occurred on May 13, 1868. His wife, Ann D., who was born October 13, 1793, was the daughter of Ebenezer and Henrietta (Siverly) Morse, of Newfane.

This branch of the Morse family is descended from Samuel Morse, a Puritan dissenter from the English Church, who came to America in the transport “Increase,” Robert Lea master. The family was enrolled on the ship’s list as follows: “Samuel Morse, husbandman, aged fifty; Elizabeth Morse, his wife, aged forty-eight; Joseph Morse, aged twenty.” Samuel and his family settled in Watertown, where they united with the Puritan church. The General Court assembled at “Newtownc ” granted a tract of land south of the Charles River to twelve men, among whom werc Mr. Morse and his son Joseph. They held the first meeting in Watertown on August 15, 1636. Joseph Morse was born in 1615. His son, Lieutenant Samuel, born in 1639, served with distinction in the Indian wars. He was commissioned Lieutenant by Sir William Phipps, November 27, 1693, and recommissioned, when nearly sixty years of age, by Lord Bellemont, his commission bearing date October 3, 1699. Lieutenant Samuel’s son Joshua, born in 1679, resided in Medfield. His son Ebenezer, born March 2, 1718, in Woburn, was a graduate of Harvard College, well known as a Doctor of Divinity residing in Boylston. The Doctor’s son Ebenezer, father of Mrs. Ann 1). Taylor, was born on July to, 1735, and was married to Henrietta Sivcrly, September 22, I 782. He was a shipwright, residing in New York previous to and including the latter date. His sympathies were with the colonies during their struggle with the mother country; and, when the British forces occupied New York, he was forced to flee to escape imprisonment or impressment into the English navy. His wife, Henrietta, who was a highly accomplished German lady, born in Wurtemberg, survived him, retaining all her faculties at the age of eighty-six, memory, handwriting, and eyesight — as perfect as in youth.

Her grandson, Henry R. Taylor, received his elementary instruction in the public schools of his native town and at Townsend Academy, subsequently fitting for college at Saxton’s River Seminary (now Vermont Academy). Early in January, 1849, he was one of a party of fifteen who organized for the purpose of buying and fitting out the brig “Acadian,” to sail for California, where the discovery of gold had become an assured fact. The company was known as Cunningham & Co., each partner contributing one thousand dollars. The “Acadian” carried a cargo of provisions and assorted merchandise, and sailed from Boston on February 7, 1849, under command of the senior partner, Captain Cunningham. Meeting with severe storms, the brig was compelled to stop at Rio Janeiro to refit spars and complete such repairs as were needed for the long voyage to the Pacific. After a delay of about two weeks the brig again set sail. During the passage through the Straits of Magellan they encountered adverse winds and severe gales, and at one time had the satisfaction of saving the lives of twenty-six men, the crew of a schooner that had been wrecked on the rocks on the Patagonian shore. With this addition to the numbers on board the little brig, they were obliged to run for the port of Callao, Peru, where a detention of two weeks occurred. The brig finally arrived at San Francisco in October, 1849.

Immediately upon anchoring in San Francicso Bay the crew of the “Acadian ” abandoned the brig, and made for the gold diggings; but the members of the company, who had acquired considerable nautical skill during the long passage, were able, under direction of the captain, to take the vessel across the bay and up the Sacramento River, one hundred and twenty miles to Sacramento City. Arriving there, they purchased a lot and erected a store, which they stocked with their cargo and merchandise. Leaving two of the party in charge of this, the others started out to establish trading posts at intervals over a stretch of three hundred miles from San Francisco to North Yuba River. In 1850 two of the party died of cholera at Sacramento; and, as some of the others then desired to return home, it was considered best to dissolve the partnership. After the dissolution Mr. Taylor, in company with one of the original partners named Blake, started for the mines. They secured a claim, and were successful in panning out about sixteen dollars per day and later, with the aid of a quicksilver machine, twenty dollars a clay per man. Concluding, .however, that it would be more profitable to engage in a general trading business, they opened a store, which they operated until 1852.

Coming East via the Isthmus of Panama in 1852, Mr. Taylor spent a few months in Boston, and returned the same year to California. While he was on the steamer, a gentleman who was en route for Chili, South America, to take charge of certain flouring-mills, finding that he was competent in civil engineering and well acquainted with the Spanish language, advised Mr. Taylor to go in company with him to Valdivia. Mr. Taylor, however, continued on his way to California, but, soon finding that conditions had considerably changed during his ten months’ absence, and having in mind his late friend’s offer to secure him a lucrative position as engineer, decided to try his fortunes in South America. He therefore paid his passage in the “Iowa,” a ship of one thousand tons. About three weeks after leaving San Francisco the ship was dismasted in a hurricane, but under broken spars and jurymasts succeeded in reaching the nearest available port, Guayaquil, in the Republic of Ecuador. It so happened that, on the day following, General Flores, the ex-president and “Revolutionist,” advancing his five war vessels, attacked the city and lower batteries; and for thirty hours the hissing of cannon balls and the bursting of shells rendered the place extremely exciting, even for non-combatants. Flores, however, was defeated and the “Revolution ” ended. The ship “Iowa ” remained there for over four months, and, when repaired, proceeded on her voyage to Valparaiso. From Valparaiso Mr. Taylor secured a passage to Valdivia, where he expected to receive tidings of his friend in the flouring business, but found to his chagrin that the man had nearly two months before crossed the country to Montevideo to accept a more advantageous situation.

While waiting in the harbor one day, from the vessel’s deck Mr. Taylor saw a child that was playing on the rocks near the ruins of old Fort Valdivia fall into the water. Calling the mate and steward, the only ones besides himself then on board, he threw aside his coat, jumped overboard, and succeeded in swimming out to the child. Owing to the violence of the surf he could not gain foothold or place the child upon the slippery rocks; but he finally swam, though bruised and rapidly losing strength, to a place where there was a sandy gully or beach between the rocks, and with one last effort threw him beyond the reach of the surf. Mr. Taylor was now completely exhausted. Upon regaining consciousness, he found himself in the house of the comandante, or captain of the port. The captain and his wife were profuse in their expressions of gratitude. The mother presented Mr. Taylor with a valuable ruby cross, taken from her neck; and the comandanie was instrumental in securing a position for him in the Chilian Government Coast Survey. This position Mr. Taylor held for two seasons, or until the appropriation was exhausted. A portion of the intervening months and two years following he spent in traveling through the interior of those South American republics.

By study Mr. Taylor had acquired an excellent knowledge of French and Spanish. In the latter language he became an accomplished proficient, reading, writing, and speaking it with the ease and fluency of a native, so that during nearly five years’ travels he had unusual opportunities for becoming familiar with the social customs, home life of the people, and historical events in those republics. Indeed, the subject of this sketch seems to have had an unusually varied and eventful life, enjoying the entertainments and courtesies of wealthy and prominent dignitaries or sharing the rude hospitality of humble poveracites in city or in hamlet; in the midst of opulence or in the abodes of poverty; icily swaying in hammock, to the twang of guitar, among tropical fruits and flowers, or in solitude patiently climbing the lofty peaks of the Andes, traversing green savannas, or toiling along volcanic heights, threading tropical jungles or dangerous chasms; exploring the curious ruins of Peru, the empire of the ancient Incas, or the romantic and untrodden wilds of Patagonia; encountering numberless incidents and personal experiences, which, if collected, would fill a volume of narrative and adventure.

After having made several attempts to reach home, and having been obliged, by leaky vessels, mutiny, and other causes, to put back, he finally secured passage in the ship “John Cummings,” hound for Hampton Roads, Va., with a cargo of copper ore and green hides. When off Cape Horn it was discovered that, owing to the rascality of the ship’s mate, who had received empty casks on board instead of pork and beef, their provisions were running low. For six weeks everybody on board ship lived on a rice diet, and for a few clays before reaching port the question of attacking the green hides became a serious alternative to the half-famished passengers and crew. From Hampton Roads Mr. Taylor went to Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Washington. He soon secured a position in the government survey in Nebraska (then a territory), and was so employed until the outbreak of the Civil War, when he returned East. At this time he visited his brother in Jonesboro, whom he had not seen for more than twelve years, and was persuaded to settle in Machias, where he engaged in civil engineering and surveying, being two years in the Coast Survey of the United States government in Machias Bay and vicinity.

In 1886 Mr. Taylor was elected Register of Deeds for Washington County, and he has ever since occupied that position. His office methods are systematic and highly satisfactory to the public, as evinced by successive re-elections; and he is now entering upon his fourth term of four years each.

Mr. Taylor’s first wife, Amelia N., daughter of Amos B: Longfellow, of Machias, bore him three children: Annie E., who resides in Boston; Carrie F., wife of George H. Smith, of Winchester, Mass.; and Arthur H., who died during his Sophomore year at the University of Maine, aged twenty-three years. To Mr. Taylor and his second wife, Laura E., daughter of Kingman Smith, of Whitneyville, were born four children, all of whom are living; namely, Edith H., Henry K., Amy J., and Alfred 0. Taylor.

In politics Mr. Taylor is a Republican. He has been one of the Assessors of Machias, also superintendent of schools, and has held many minor offices. Fraternally, he is a member and Past Master of Harwood Lodge, No. 91, F. & A. M.; Past High Priest of Washington Chapter of R. A. Masons; Eminent Commander of St. Elmo Commandery, K. T.; and Past Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Maine, also holding commissions as Grand Representative in Maine for the Grand Lodge of California, Grand Chapter of Florida and Grand Commandery of New Jersey, a member of St. Croix Council; an active officer in Delta Lodge of Perfection and in Deering Council of P. J. He was one of the incorporators of the Machias Savings Bank, also a director and first secretary of the Machias Electric Light Company. He has been Justice of the Peace for eighteen years, and is also a Dedimus Justice. He has been a Notary Public since 1889, and his commission extends to 1904. He is a member of the California Pioneers, or Forty-niners, and of the Maine Society of Sons of the American Revolution, his certificate in the latter association bearing the significant number “76.” As a presiding officer and public speaker he possesses more than ordinary ability. He is prominently named in nearly all memorial and social gatherings of that locality, and, whether called upon for impromptu response or studied address, is always listened to with marked attention and particular interest. Of historical events and aboriginal lore he has been a zealous student, and his writings have been frequently recognized as of note and value. Portions of them have been published in the Government Reports of the Bureau of Ethnology, especially in the tenth volume (1888-89), where may be found a full plate illustration from his sketches and descriptions of Indian “picture writings,” or petroglyphs, of Maine.

Source: Biographical review: containing life sketches of leading citizens of Somerset, Piscataquis, Hancock, Washington, and Aroostook counties, Maine. Boston: Biographical Review Publishing Company, 1898.

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