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Biography of William Taylor (1804-1890)

by Sally Knutson

(Return to Biography title page)

Page 1--Early years
Page 2--First journey to California
Page 3--Life in Nevada County
Page 4--Later years

Page 1

(Paragraphs in italics are the exact words of William Taylor--spelling, punctuation and grammar as he wrote it.)

Great, great grandfather William Taylor is the perfect example of a Gold Rush Californian. His father and mother were born in North Carolina in the mid 1700s. His father, Daniel, served as a Captain in the Revolutionary War. Daniel moved his family to Sumner County, Tennessee in the late 1780’s where William, the last of ten children, was born in 1804.

“Father first settled in Sumner County, middle Tennessee, where all the balance of his ten children was born. I was the youngest by seven years, born we may say in their old age, (colts born of old sires never amount to much).”

“Father moved to Montgomery County when I was only a month old, and bought land six miles north of Clarksville the county seat, and six or eight miles from the dividing line between Tennessee and Kentucky, where my first recollections of myself, and things surrounding me commensed.”

William spent a delightful boyhood in Montgomery County Tennessee and when he was twelve; his father moved the family again. They built a raft and sailed down the Mississippi River to Pike County, Mississippi.

“Well, father sold his farm, had a boat built; how I watched the building as anxious to start as if I expected to travel over the world. As I am so anxious to start, we will consider "Broad Horn" finished. Launched, loaded, not forgetting the barrel of mellow peach brandy; we must not forget that. We will want it for medicinal purposes. All aboard, now cut the cable! Glorious! Smoothly we float down the Red River into the Cumberland, a little larger, thence into the Ohio, still larger, now we float into the great Mississippi. My! Oh!! How grand it appeared to me when first presented to my view.”

They reached Fort Adams where a sister’s husband who had traveled overland, met them with wagons. Daniel bought an “improved” tract of land. They settled in Pike County on Topisaw Creek. William was sent to school in Monticello on the Pearl River. He hadn’t been to school for a long time. He was behind and he didn’t like school and being away from home. He found a storekeeper in town who hired him and he learned the business. His father by now was getting along in age. William was called home to care for the farm. He raised a crop of cotton and took it to market in New Orleans where he was hoodwinked by the buyer. On his way home he stopped to see a friend and met his first love. She was fifteen and his mother dissuaded him from marrying her.

“Father departed from the "fudal' system and gave his real estate to his youngest son, and Bro. John and I concluded to build a water gin and "griss" mill on my side of the creek”

In 1826 he did marry Rachel Hamilton, they moved north to Yazoo County, (a better area for farming). By 1833, he had buried his father, his mother, and Rachel. He had 5 children under the age of eight.

“Soon after this my mother died. She died very suddenly without a groan. I carried and buried her alongside of father. Not long after the death of mother, my wife died in giving birth to Rachel”

Within 6 months he had courted and married Catherine Jane Cameron. He writes:

“One Saturday I went to a Baptist meeting with our preacher. The church was within three or four miles of Mr. Cameron's. Of course, I looked at the congregated ladies. I saw a rose with black eyes. She must have looked at me at the same time, for the cupid's dart had pierced a vital part. After the meeting was dismissed, through a friend and acquaintance I received an introduction to Miss Cameron. I asked permission and was granted the pleasure of riding home with her, I found her parents such as I considered qualified to bring up a daughter in the way she should go. I gave a good deal on the mother. The old folks and brothers were sociable and friendly and my black eyes and rosy cheeks seemed friendly also. After good many pleasant visits I put the ring on her finger!”

Catherine and William had 10 children together. Nine of them were born in Mississippi. William did many things before he decided to join the Gold Rush to California. He built several mills, he ran a mercantile business, he farmed, he was a justice of the peace and a postmaster. He made several fortunes and lost them. He was a man very discouraged with himself by 1850.

“While living at this place the Mexican war occurred. Franklin, my oldest son, although not more than eighteen, volunteered, went with the first Mississippi rifles, served his line with credit, married, went to California, when the gold excitement broke out, had a hard time going and coming home, but returned in twenty months with his pocket full of fifty dollar slugs. Franklin's favorable report, with all the wonderful newspaper stories, no wonder that I was anxious to build up my former losses and had the gold fever!”

“Well, to cut it short, for it is unpleasant to think about, our machinery was too heavy, the mill would cut only about as much lumber as our little mill did working in the water and being so much around it, gave me the chill and fever, and I became discouraged. I had been two years working at this enterprise.Brother John had made me a visit while I was working at the mill, and I said to him, if this enterprise fails, I will go to California, being sick and discouraged I determined to carry out my threat.”

His sawmill failed so he gathered three sons: Thomas 23, William 16 and Robert 15, and with a friend, Hiram Norman, made ready to head for California.


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This page last updated: 4 July 2015

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