Mission Statement:

"To advance through research, education and symposia, an increased public awareness of the Cape Fear region's unique history."

 

Colonel John Douglas Taylor

Legislator, Soldier, Public Servant

 

Cape Fear Historical Institute Papers

 

Col. John D. Taylor has been described as

“A gentleman, one of the most worthy of the many

estimable citizens of Wilmington.” A planter, legislator,

soldier and public servant, he was born in Wilmington on

24 March 1831, the son of John A. and Katherine

(Harris) Taylor.

His father was a native of the city of New York,

“but removed to Wilmington in 1820, where he

married and lived for many years, and died at a ripe

old age, carrying with his to the grave the respect

of the entire community.” John A. Taylor was a

successful business man who for many years acted

as agent for a line of mail steamers plying between

Wilmington and Charleston and owned his own

steamer "Calhoun." He also operated a Cape Fear

River ferry and was involved in regional transportation

and railroad operations.

Frequent house visitor Ellen Douglas Bellamy later wrote

that "This house was wonderful, not only handsome

on the outside but beautifully furnished." She also

mentioned Mr. Lamb, a gardener whom Mr. Taylor

had brought over from Ireland.

 

Early Life

John Douglas grew up in the distinctive Classical Revival marble-veneered house his

father had built in 1847 on the north side of Market Street

near Fifth Street, which was owned after the war by

Major Charles Stedman, who later sold it to the

Wilmington Light Infantry. The family unit included

“Grandma Leary” who was actually an aunt who had

come for a short visit from Ireland but stayed forty years. 

 

 

Time was spent between this home house and The Oaks,

the family plantation near Town Creek and just above

Lilliput in Brunswick County, later known as Pleasant

Oaks after purchase by Robert Bellamy.  This plantation

was originally granted in 1728 to the widow of

John Moore, brother of Maurice and Roger.

John D. was prepared for college at the Hillsboro Academy

under Dr. Alexander Wilson and in 1850 entered the University

of North Carolina, enrolling in the sophomore class and

graduating with an A.B (atrium baccalaureus) degree in

the class of 1853.  Taylor delivered a valedictory in his

UNC Dialectic Society which was said to be “so full of

noble sentiments and expressed in such pathetic language

that many of us were melted in tears.”

After graduation he made a four-month tour of Europe

where he met famous Parisians including James McNeill Whistler,

and returned home on one of the first steamers that ever

crossed the Atlantic.

 

Early Career

Engaging in rice planting in Brunswick and Bladen Counties,

he was one of the last planters of that staple in the

Cape Fear region.  In 1860 Taylor was elected on the

Democratic ticket a member of the State Senate from

the counties of Bladen, Brunswick and Columbus. Like

many conservative North Carolinians, he did not view

the election of the sectional presidential candidate Lincoln

as cause for immediate withdrawal from the Union,

though he never questioned the right of a State to secede

and determine its own political future.

A member of the Legislature that debated the important

question of secession in early 1861, he remained in that

body after the secession ordinance was adopted on

20 May 1861 and assisted in preparing

North Carolina for war.

Wartime Service

After the North Carolina Legislature adjourned in early

February 1862 he returned home to organize an artillery

unit in Brunswick County and was elected its captain.

This battery, known as “Brunswick Artillery,” enlisted

for the war’s duration and mustered in at Fort Johnston

on 19 February as “Captain John D. Taylor’s Company

of Heavy Artillery NC Volunteers.” 

 

 

When the Thirty-sixth Regiment North Carolina Troops

(Second Regiment, NC Artillery) was organized on

12 May 1862, Captain Taylor was promoted to major

(effective 14 May 1862) and transferred to field and

staff under Col. William Lamb.  First Lt. Daniel K.

Bennett then became captain and the battery was

officially designated Company K, Thirty Sixth NC Troops

and also called “Captain Bennett’s Company.” 

When Captain Bennett was dismissed of 13 April 1863

for stealing a leather cargo from the blockade runner Kate,

First Lt. William F. Brooks became captain and the battery

called “Captain Brook’s Company.”  Major Taylor was

promoted to lieutenant-colonel on 23 January 1864.

Soon after its enlistment the battery was stationed at

Fort Caswell at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, then to

Fort Campbell on Oak Island, west of Caswell. In late

1864 the battery was transferred to Fort Fisher where it

participated in the late December and mid-January

engagements with the enemy, and many of its men

captured in the latter.  

Those who escaped capture, including Lt. Col. Taylor,

united with other batteries to form a detachment of the

Thirty-sixth North Carolina and on 21 January 1865

were assigned to the Fortieth North Carolina (Third NC

Artillery) at Fort Anderson and under the command

of Wilmingtonian Col. John Hedrick.  

After evacuating this fort on 20 February, they took

part in the Town Creek engagement and retreated through

Wilmington with Gen. Robert Hoke’s division.  Col. Taylor

and his men were entrenched with Hoke at Duplin Roads

(now Wallace) through early March, then departed with

him to oppose the advancing enemy at Kinston on 8 March.

It is ironic that the skirmishes and battles near Town Creek

saw Col. Taylor fight on and around his own family plantation.  

Sons John Allan and Walker were born 15 August 1862,

and 26 October 1864, respectively, while their mother

“refugeed” at Marion, South Carolina.

Like many Wilmingtonians, Col. Taylor sent loved ones

to the interior to escape the yellow fever epidemic and

wartime activity in Wilmington.  Son John Allan named

a son born in 1892 after his father, John Douglas Taylor, II.

 

Arm Lost at Bentonville

 Assigned to Gen. Johnson Hagood’s Brigade of Hoke’s

Division, Gen. William Hardee’s Corps, Col. Taylor led

his 267 “Red Infantrymen” (because of their traditional

artillery uniform red-facings) of cannon-less artillerists

against the enemy at Bentonville in mid-March 1865.

At the front of his advancing men as they reached the

enemy breastworks, Col. Taylor was shot down by

a Yankee from no more than twenty paces away, his left

arm shattered by the rifle fire. 

An enemy counterattack drove back Col. Taylor’s men

and by the time they regrouped only numbered 115 men

unscathed or fit for duty. In that sharp engagement every

officer of his regiment was either killed, wounded or

captured, except Taylor and one other. 

Col. Taylor was sent to the rear for hospitalization at

Raleigh.  The battle ended in a stalemate more or less,

and demonstrated the high casualties the South could

expect when their muzzle-loading Enfield rifles opposed

the new Henry repeating rifles of the well-equipped invader.

 

The surrender of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s army took

place on 26 April 1865, which released Col. Taylor for his journey

home to enemy-occupied Wilmington and his family.  

Postwar Life

After the war Colonel Taylor resumed his agricultural work

at The Oaks, and in 1877 he was called upon to fill the

unexpired term as the Clerk of Superior Court in Wilmington

in place of a Republican who had been deposed for

malfeasance in office.

In 1884 he was elected City Clerk and Treasurer

of Wilmington and served several terms; in 1890 was

elected Clerk of the Superior Court and filled that

position for twenty-two consecutive years, being

re-elected five times without opposition.

He also served as a probate judge.

He was the first Commander of the Cape Fear Camp

of United Confederate Veterans, and throughout his life

remained deeply loyal to the fine traditions of the old South

and its military glory. 

 

Upon the death of President Jefferson Davis in early

December, 1889, Col. Taylor presided at the large mass-meeting

and memorial service in Wilmington. In addition to his remarks,

"eloquent and feeling addresses were delivered by

Hon. George Davis, ex-Attorney-General of the

Confederate States; ex-Lieutenant-Governor

[Charles M.] Stedman, Hon. A.M. Waddell,

Dr. T.H. Pritchard, and Rev. W.S. Creasy."

For over twenty-six years, Col. Taylor was ruling elder

in the First Presbyterian Church of Wilmington.

On November 9, 1859 Col. Taylor married Miss Sarah

Elizabeth Walker, a niece of Daniel Russell, Sr., of

Brunswick County. She had been reared from infancy

by Russell after the death of both parents in Mississippi.

Born on 21 August 1839, she was educated in the

French Academy conducted by Madam Clements

at Wilmington, and at Raleigh’s St. Mary’s College. 

Mrs. Taylor is described as “a woman of the greatest

nobility of character, and she and Colonel Taylor for more

than half a century shared each other’s troubles and

triumphs and the joys and sorrows incident to the

rearing of a large family of children.” 

In 1909 they had celebrated their golden wedding

anniversary in the midst of their children and grandchildren. 

Death separated them only a short time, she having passed

away March 8, 1910, a little more than a year before the

death of Colonel Taylor.  Their eight children were: 

Mrs. P.B. Manning, John Allan Taylor and Col. Walker

Taylor, all of Wilmington; Mrs. C.E. Borden of Richmond,

Virginia; Mrs. A.M. Scales, of Greensboro;

Miss Fannie Taylor, Mrs. W.H. Pemberton and E.T. Taylor. 

Miss Fannie later married Samuel W. Travers

of Richmond, Virginia.”

 

Col. Taylor passed from this life in his eighty-second year,

21 May 1912.

He was eulogized with vivid

descriptions of his exceptional character in life:

“There are few men more popular and more deservedly so than

Col. Taylor. Of genial manners and pleasant address he endears

himself to all.  He is one of those men whom one in trouble

would go and not hesitate to unbosom himself freely,

for he would feel assured of warm sympathy,

kindly advice and generous assistance.”

Also: “It is doubtful if he has an enemy in the world, and

he enjoys the fullest confidence of all classes, irrespective

of color or “previous condition of servitude.” He is a man

of the strictest integrity, of great amiability of character,

and above all a Christian gentleman, the highest type

of a true manhood.” 

 

 

"A Southern Christian Gentleman"

This tribute was published in the Wilmington Star

on 22 May 1912:

"A fellow-townsman recently said to the writer: "I never

passed Col. Taylor upon the street without exercising

the privilege of shaking his hand, because I believe he

exemplified in his daily life, to a remarkable degree,

those virtues which adorn the character of a

Southern Christian Gentleman."

His old-time urbanity, his winsome smile, his almost

womanly tenderness, his general patience, his childlike

faith, drew him to our hearts and we loved him. 

Probably no citizen of our community was more

generally respected. There was a quiet dignity

in this serene, devout Christian, which told of conflicts

won while leanring to endure hardness as a good

soldier, and of a peace which passes the under-

standing of this world, which enabled him to look

o'er the heights of toil and sacrifice and find his

chief meed in thoughts of duty alone.

During his long and honored life he inspired the hearts

and guided the steps of worthy sons and daughters in

the way of life, to the end that they might "glorify

God and enjoy him forever." His children rise up

and call him blessed.

In public life he discharged his official duties with diligence,

ability, impartiality and uprightness.  Party lines vanished in

the pure light of his moral excellence, and his return to

office at the expiration of each term, without a dissenting

vote, attest the abiding confidence of his fellow-citizens.

Eminent among the local leaders of the Lost Cause,

he believed, with his great chieftain, that Duty is the

sublimest word in our language, "and by it as a pilot

star, he ever steered his steadfast course."

He went into his last battle at Bentonville with

Company A, Captain [Robert G.] Rankin, Company B,

Captain Taylor, Comapny C, Captain Brown, and

Captain [James L.] McDougal's Company, and a

remnant of the Thirty-sixth Regiment, in all 350 men;

and he emerged with nineteen other survivors,

an honorable record, and an empty sleeve.

He sheathed his sword when the cause for which he

fought was lost, but he put on the invisible armor of

the soldier of the Cross, and has fought a good fight

and laid hold on eternal life. The greater number of his

devoted comrades have crossed over the river,

and rest with their commander under the

shade of the trees.

We read that at roll call of the flower of Napoleon's army,

the Imperial Guard, as silence fell upon the utterance of a

name which death had claimed from the arms of victory,

a comrade would step forward from the ranks, and,

raising his hand in grave salute, would answer,

"Died on the field of honor!"

The thin gray line of Appomattox, diminishing day by day

as it yields to the call of the great Conqueror, still closes

up its broken ranks of hoary heads and feeble knees. 

Soon it will vanish away and there will be no reverent

comrade's voice to answer the roll call of the dead. But

"Death's truer name is Onward. No discordance in

the roll of that eternal harmony whereto the worlds beat time!"

"The glory born of goodness never dies,

Its flag is not half-masted in the skies!"

In the sessions of his beloved church, our friend will be

gratly missed -- in no circle beyond his beautiful home

life was he more welcomed than in that church of

his fathers.

David Worth, DuBrutz Cutlar, Kenneth Murchison,

William DeRosset, Alfred Waddell, John D. Taylor,

classmates all at Chapel Hill, were the flower of

Wilmington, and they are gone; but to live in the

hearts of those we love is not to die. By the light

of their lofty deeds and kindly virtues, memory gazes

back into the past and is content; by the light of

Revelation, hope looks beyond the grave into the

bright day of immortality and is happy."

 

Compiled by Bernhard Thuersam

 

Sources:

North Carolina, Rebuilding an Ancient Commonwealth,

Volume IV, American Historical Society, 1928, pg. 401

Cyclopedia of Eminent and Representative Men of the Carolinas

of the Nineteenth Century, Volume II, Brant and Fuller,

1892, pp. 366-367 

Catalogue of Members and Historical Sketches

of the Dialectic Society, UNC, 1793-1962

The Jefferson Davis Memorial Volume, J.W. Jones, pg. 643