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Tim White, James Taylor's Official Biographer tells the story best in Long Ago And Far Away: James Taylor - His Life And Music about the Isaac Taylor House in New Bern. Click to purchase the book.
GENEALOGY TIES PROMINENT 18TH CENTURY NEW BERNIAN TO POPULAR 21ST CENTURY SINGER
Taylor Family Keepsakes Conserved by Historical Society
By Jim Hodges, Curator
New Bern Historical Society
NEW BERN, NC - Genealogy is, indeed, fascinating and reveals both the highs and lows of a family history.
Growing up in New Bern, I have always been aware of the Isaac Taylor House on Craven Street. The William Ward Family lived there as far back as I can recall. Today the house serves as an art gallery and venue for special events. In recent years, learning more about Isaac Taylor and his family has been a priority.
Isaac Taylor was born in Scotland in 1762, and, after the death of his parents, he and his brother James sailed to Wilmington, NC, probably in the mid-1780’s. With the proceeds from his parents’ estate and the sale of their brig, Isaac settled in New Bern, married a local girl, Hannah Justice, in 1792, and began his career as a maritime merchant. Being a savvy businessman and a respected citizen in town, he greatly prospered – accumulating ships, retail stores, warehouses, and a working plantation named Glenburnie.
By 1796, the house on Craven Street was completed and the Taylor Family eventually grew to include six daughters and one son. Three of the daughters (Janet, Mary, and Louisa) married and three of the daughters (Phoebe, Catherine, and Frances) remained unmarried. More about the son Alexander later.
Isaac Taylor died July 4, 1846, leaving the Craven Street property to his wife Hannah. The inventory of his estate lists “75 slaves, a sizeable plantation, an unusual amount of cash and bonds in various New Bern and New York Banks, and the furnishings of his house on Lot 50 on Craven Street.” Taylor’s will made provision for his wife and six daughters, but completely left out his son Alexander because Alexander’s drinking habits were considered excessive.
When Hannah Taylor died in 1853, she gave her three unmarried daughters lifetime rights to the Craven Street house. It is unclear whether or not the sisters stayed in the house during the Civil War, but it is fact that they were in residence during the summer of 1864.
I greatly respect Isaac Taylor and what he stood for. He was a smart, hardworking man who contributed to the fabric of what New Bern is today. Obviously you can’t rewrite history, but let’s give Isaac and Hannah’s son the benefit of the doubt. Imagine if you had six sisters, you would probably drink excessively too. Adding insult to injury, I believe he was the youngest of the seven children. Despite Alexander Taylor’s alleged shortcomings, he graduated from Princeton where he earned a medical degree. Dr. Taylor returned to New Bern where he established his medical practice, married Sarah Ann Cole, and eventually had two sons. Sadly, he died in 1859 at the relatively young age of forty-five. He is interred at Cedar Grove Cemetery, not in his father’s plot but in the Cole plot next to his wife. His younger son, Isaac M. Taylor, became a medical doctor whose son Alexander had a son, Isaac M. Taylor, who became a medical doctor and whose son, James Taylor, became a celebrated folk singer. Very impressive!
In 1997 Gertrude W. Taylor, mother of singer James Taylor, gifted to the New Bern Historical Society some special Taylor Family keepsakes. Firstly, the medical shingle that Alexander Taylor, M.D. hung on his practice door in New Bern, in the 1840’s. Secondly, a pair of shirt studs and cuff links worn by Alexander Taylor, M.D. on his wedding day and gifted to their grandson, Alexander Taylor, by his grandmother, Sarah Cole Taylor. The New Bern Historical Society is very honored and proud to be custodian of these unique treasures celebrating New Bern’s rich history.