Margaret Smith Taylor life and biography

Margaret Smith Taylor picture, image, poster

Margaret Smith Taylor biography

Date of birth : 1788-09-21
Date of death : 1852-08-18
Birthplace : Calvet County, Maryland, U.S.
Nationality : American
Category : Famous Figures
Last modified : 2010-08-10
Credited as : First lady of the United States, wife of US President Zachary Taylor,

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Margaret Smith Taylor, also known as Mrs. Zachary Taylor born September 21, 1788 in Calvert County, Maryland, United States - died August 18, 1852 in Pascagoula, Kentucky, United States was the First Lady Of the United States.

By the time her husband, General Zachary Taylor, announced his candidacy for president in 1848, Margaret Mackall Smith Taylor was already worn out by life. She was sixty years old and had spent half her days moving her family up and down the Mississippi River, from the Great Lakes to southern Louisiana, depending on her husband's latest commission. She had borne six children and buried three. Taylor's nomination by the Whig party was a conspiracy to shorten his life and separate the two yet again, claimed Mrs. Taylor. No one had any idea how right she would turn out to be.

Life on the Frontier

Margaret Mackall Smith was born in Maryland in 1788 to Ann Mackall and Walter Smith, a wealthy Maryland planter and former major in the Revolutionary War. While visiting her sister in Kentucky in 1809, "Peggy" fell in love with a young Virginia-born army officer, Lieutenant Zachary Taylor. The lieutenant and Peggy married on June 21, 1810, and a year later, on the farm they received from Taylor's father as a wedding gift, Peggy gave birth to their first child, Ann Mackall, named for the young mother's own mother. But Taylor's life was the army, and the couple was soon on the move. (Taylor, in fact, having no official residence, never voted until age sixty-two; Mrs. Taylor, of course, did not live to see women get the vote in 1920.)

Whenever possible, the good-natured yet willful Mrs. Taylor followed her husband from outpost to outpost. Despite a genteel upbringing that accustomed her to finer surroundings, Mrs. Taylor set up homes in cottages and tents in the wilderness frontier, often in Indian territory. Clearly, she was a woman of courage and devotion. During the times when she was unable to travel with General Taylor, she oversaw the children's education and her husband's plantations in three states (Louisiana, Kentucky, and Mississippi), all the while counting the days until his return.

A succession of children followed the couple's daughter Ann. In 1814, Sara Knox was born, followed by Octavia Pannel (1816), Margaret Smith (1819), Mary Elizabeth (1824), and a son, Richard (1826), who would become a Confederate Army general. An admiring civilian who had met Mrs. Taylor during her stay at one of her husband's garrisons found her "delicate ... reared in tenderness" with "worthy and most interesting children." Sadly, many of the children did not live long. In 1820 Octavia (age four) and Margaret (about a year old) died of, as Taylor reported, "a violent bilious fever," which also eroded his wife's health. Three daughters and a son reached adulthood but Sarah Knox, their second daughter, died of either malaria or cholera only three months after her 1835 marriage to Lieutenant Jefferson Davis, who later became president of the Confederacy.

An End to Wandering

In the 1840s, General Taylor was given command of a fort at Baton Rouge. Mrs. Taylor, who had by then traveled hundreds of miles and lived in dozens of places, found herself pleased with Baton Rouge. She decided to settle the family there, and for nearly a decade, Baton Rouge remained home for Mrs. Taylor and her remaining children.

When President James Polk ordered General Taylor into Texas in May 1845 for the purpose of expanding its borders, war with Mexico was a certainty. This was one expedition from which Mrs. Taylor and her children were forbidden, and from Louisiana they anxiously awaited General Taylor's return. The Mexican-American War lasted two years, and by its end in 1848, the country had won from Mexico territory that today includes California, much of the Southwestern states, and, of course, Texas. General Taylor not only made it home alive, but he returned a national hero, "Old Rough and Ready."

Southerners supported General Taylor, who was a slave owner with land in various states. They hoped he would be a backer of states' rights and allow slavery in the territories recently won in the Mexican-American war. Northerners hailed General Taylor as a selfless martyr to the American dream of Manifest Destiny (the idea that the United States was destined to control the continent from coast to coast). But no one really knew the soldier's political beliefs. General Taylor himself had conflicts with both Democratic and Whig parties. In the end, he threw his hat in with the Whigs.

First Lady in Shadows

Because Taylor had the curious habit of refusing mail with postage due, notification of his nomination for the presidency did not arrive until several days after the nominating convention chose him. His wife was miserable. She had been looking forward to finally spending some uninterrupted time with her husband, who had left the army late in 1847. No sooner had he come home from war than it appeared he was about to leave her again, this time to lead the country rather than an army. On November 7, 1848, the nation voting simultaneously for the first time in its history elected Zachary Taylor twelfth president of the United States, with Millard Fillmore as his vice president.

Margaret Mackall Smith Taylor, First Lady, dutifully moved into the White House following her husband's inauguration. She spent most of her time there in seclusion, however, in her quarters upstairs, where she entertained friends and family. Her withdrawal from the world of state receptions and fancy dinners spawned outlandish rumors. The First Lady was coarse, some gossipmongers whispered, and smoked a corncob pipe. In reality, Mrs. Taylor came from people of high social standing and despised tobacco. And far from being a recluse, the First Lady and her husband often strolled the White House lawn hand-in-hand, warmly greeting tourists and well wishers. She also oversaw and attended the family dinners, greeted people when her husband was by her side, and attended daily services as First Lady at St. John's Episcopal Church. She seemed to want to live simply, as she had done at the military posts where her husband had been stationed years before.

The Taylors' youngest daughter, Mary Elizabeth ("Betty"), had recently married Lieutenant Colonel William Bliss, adjutant and secretary to the president. Betty seemed to take on many of the traditional roles of the First Lady effortlessly. Acting as hostess for official social functions, the twenty-five-year-old was said by one guest to possess the "artlessness of a rustic belle and the grace of a duchess."

When President Taylor died from cholera only fifteen months into his term, it was shock from which the First Lady never fully recovered. Just before he died, he called for his wife and trying to comfort her told her not to weep. "I have always done my duty," he said, "I am ready to die." During the remaining two years of her life, Mrs. Taylor refused to speak about her days in the White House. She returned to relatives in Kentucky and died in 1852 while visiting her son Robert at his Louisiana home.

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