Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Life and Times of Buck Taylor

John "Buck" Taylor was a Chapel Hill character from the early days. After serving in the Continental Army during the Revolution, Taylor was hired as the first Steward of the University of North Carolina. As Battle's History relates: "In addition to furnishing food, the Board required the steward to give the floors, passages and staircases a fortnightly washing, to have the students' rooms swept and beds made once a day, and to have brought from ‘the spring' at least four times a day a sufficient quantity of water."

Evidently Taylor's meals were not popular with the students and after three years of service, Taylor quit. Not long after, Taylor began the operation of tavern on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill. The tavern stood more or less where Graham Memorial Hall is today and was in operation up into the 1820's. Later in life, Taylor served as the Clerk of Court for Orange County. Taylor also had a brief stint as Superintendant of Buildings and Grounds at UNC.

It has long been reputed that Taylor was overly fond of whiskey, so much so that local legend tells us that Taylor was buried standing upright - with a whiskey jug in each hand! While I doubt that he was buried upright, claims about Taylor's dipsomania are apparently substantiated by an entry I found in the minutes of the November 1799 Orange County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions:

"John Taylor Esquire appearing in open Court intoxicated with liquor and having shewn and committed great contempt to the authority of this court sitting in its judicial capacity . . .It is commanded by the said Court that the said John Taylor be fined in the sum of ten pounds and that he be committed to close custody in the Gaol of this County until the end of this present term (about a week) without bail . . ."

Mind you, this happened while Taylor was serving as the Clerk of Court!

The tale of Taylor's upright burial has an alternate (but similarly apocraphyl) explanation, as Battle's History relates: "When he came to his death-bed he requested to be buried on the summit of a woody hill overlooking cultivated fields, so that he could watch the negroes and keep them at their work." I haven't found anything which demonstrates how Taylor treated his slaves, but there is certainly plenty of evidence in the Orange County deed books and the Hillsborough Recorder that Taylor owned several slaves.

At some point, Taylor apparently bought a farm in the vicinity of what is now the Cates Farm and Cobblestone neighborhoods in Carrboro. His name is memorialized by the street named Buck Taylor Trail in Cates Farm, and his much-discussed grave is in the yard of one of the houses on Buck Taylor Trail. Battle relates that "The monument is a sandstone slab, and on it. 'To the Memory of John Taylor. Born June 22, 1747; died May 28, 1828. A Patriot of 1776.'"

It has long been said around this area that Taylor was also the owner of the now-ruined gristmill on Bolin Creek. While no deeds have yet been found that would prove whether John "Buck" Taylor owned that mill, I just yesterday stumbled across an ad in the Nov 19, 1828 Hillsborough Recorder: "PUBLIC SALE. THOMAS D CRANE will offer for sale, on accomodating terms, on the second day of next County Court, being the 25th instant, all his interest in the mill formerly owned by John Taylor, Esq."

Well . . . wrong again. So I looked up Thomas D. Crain deeds in Hillsborough and it turns out that the mill he owned (formerly the property of John Taylor Esq) was on the Eno River. The mill was best known as Dimmocks Mill and was located near the confluence of Seven Mile Creek and the Eno River (where Dimmocks Mill Road crosses the river today). So apparently Buck Taylor owned Dimmocks Mill; that does not rule out the possibility that Taylor also owned Castleberry site. But we are just back to rumor and conjecture on that. Orange Deed Book 28, pg 436 Thomas D Crain to Dr. J S Smith conveying three parcels including Dimmocks Mill.

1 comment:

  1. I recommend Alma Cheek Redden's "A Chronicle of To Pioneer Families: The Bentons and the Taylors of The North Carolina Back Country." "Buck" Taylor was reappointed Steward of the University in 1805, but student unrest again provoked his departure in 1808. The Clerk of Court for more than forty years was not Buck Taylor, but his son, John Taylor the Younger who married Samuel Benton's daughter Tempe. It was another of Buck's sons, Thomas, who operated the tavern on the Graham Memorial site and who served as Superintendent of the University and Finances. Buck Taylor received several grants for military service during the Revoluntionary War including a 268 acre tract on Morgan Creek adjacent to the lands of Christopher Barbee, Rosie Sears and Solomon Morgan. The ailing Taylor's wife, Winifred Horton Taylor delivered a gift of 1000 acres to John Haywood for the Trustees of the University in August 1824. Buck Taylor was also a major donor of funds for the building of South Building.