|Name||Margaret Mackall Smith Taylor|
, Louisiana , United States
|| September 21, 1788
|| August 18, 1852
Feb 18, 2013 08:39am
|Info||Born: September 21, 1788 - Calvert County, Maryland |
Died: August 18, 1852
Father: Walter Smith, wealthy farmer, officer
Mother: Ann Mackall Smith
Siblings: No information available
Physical Description: There is a dearth of information on Mrs. Taylor�s physical appearance and only a possibility of an actual photograph of her, which is in private hands. Aside from references to a very genteel and ladylike appearance, there is little to go on. Her desire for privacy has covered everything about her under a veil that time has done little to reveal.
Education: Margaret�s father, Walter Smith, came from a very wealthy, influential family and had served as an officer in the Revolution. His wife, Ann Mackall, also came from wealth and position. This belies the old legends that Margaret Taylor and her daughters were from frontier stock, poorly educated and barely able to read or write. While we have little information, it would only be fair to assume that Margaret Smith received an education that reflected her class and station in life. Little in the way of letters, diaries or papers relating to her have survived.
Husband: Zachary Taylor (1784 � 1850)
Courtship and Marriage: While visiting an older sister in Louisville, Kentucky, Margaret Smith, then 21, met the young army officer, Zachary Taylor. They married the next year at her sister�s home on June 21, 1810. As a gift, his father gave the young couple 324 acres of land at the mouth of the Blargrass Creek in Kentucky.
Age at marriage: 21 years, 273 days
Personality: While there are references to her genteel and kindly manner, it should be remembered that Mrs. Taylor served as an army officer�s wife for nearly 40 years and moved constantly in that length of time. She survived losses, reversals and other hardships, all the while making a home for her husband and children. In 1820, she suffered a bilious fever that took two of her children � typical for life on the frontier. She would strive to see that all her children were educated, even her daughter, who was educated in convents.
1. Ann Margaret Mackall Taylor Wood (1811 � 1875)
2. Sarah Knox Taylor Davis (1814 � 1835) � her husband was future Confederate President Jefferson Davis
3. Octavia Pannel Taylor (1816-1820)
4. Margaret Smith Taylor (1819-1820)
5. Mary Elizabeth �Betty� Taylor Bliss Dandridge (1824 � 1909) - * See Separate Heading *
6. Richard Taylor (1826 � 1879)
Years Before the White House (1810 � 1849): In their forty years of marriage, the Taylors would live in the frontier, going from one command to another. Eventually they would buy land in Louisiana, but that was later in their marriage. The image of Margaret Taylor as an �old crone, smoking a pipe�, living as a recluse, came out of misreadings of her life with her husband. Actually she disliked smoking and the chewing of tobacco � Jackson had to do both far from her sight. From 1828 � 1836, the couple and their children lived in places as far in the frontier as Fort Snelling in Minnesota and later in Wisconsin. In both territories, Margaret lived in relative comfort and saw to her children�s educations.
Though Margaret Taylor sacrificed much to get her children educated, all three of her daughters married military men and her son served as a lieutenant general in the Confederate army. She was very distressed by the 1835 marriage of her second daughter, Sarah Knox, to Lieutenant Jefferson Davis, who was disliked by his father in law. Sarah�s death six month later saddened her parents. When ordered to Florida to fight the Seminoles, Taylor�s wife accompanied him and earned praise from other wives for her care of the sick, her high morale and steadfast nature. In 1840, she bought an old Spanish cottage that she fixed up as a home � her first. She had her daughter Betty and son Richard stay with her while her husband was absent. In 1846, with Taylor leading forces in the war with Mexico, Margaret stayed at �the Spanish cottage� as she called it. After the war, with his fame growing, Margaret Taylor (described as a woman with medium height, slender, erect with gray hair and an agreeable voice) was furious at the thought of her husband running for public office. She vowed that she would go with him if he won the Presidency, but wound not serve as hostess. It was a threat she would fulfill. She regarded the entire campaign of 1848 as a plot to shorten her husband�s life and deprive her of her spouse.
First Lady (1849 � July 9, 1840): After praying mightily for her husband to lose, Margaret Taylor viewed the image of Washington with horror after the election. His victory rang hollow for her. Her refusal to be seen extended to refusing the Polk�s invitation to dinner the week before the inauguration. The only time the public saw Margaret Taylor was when she went daily to church at St. John�s on Lafayette Square. The rest of the duties of First Lady went to her third and prettiest daughter, Mary Elizabeth Taylor. Mary Elizabeth was 25 in 1849 and had married Taylor�s aide, Colonel William W.S. Bliss in December 1848. �Miss Betty�, as she was called, was educated in New Orleans by nuns and was to prove a popular and vivacious hostess for her absent mother. 15 slaves brought from the Taylor�s plantation, but assigned only to the family quarters aided the white servants at the White House.
Margaret Taylor spent her time in the family quarters decorating it as she had her �Spanish cottage�. She rarely left those quarters, but did entertain her daughter Ann�s family and other relatives. She left state dinners to Betty. Varina Davis, Jefferson Davis� second wife, found Mrs. Taylor to be frail but interested in the life around her. By May 1850, Margaret Taylor found herself lonely and often chilled by the rampant fevers in the Capitol. However, it was her husband who became ill after becoming overheated from sitting in the sun on July 4, 1850. When he returned to the White House, he drank a glass of cold milk and ate a bowl of cherries. That night he became very sick with cholera. When he died on the 9th, Margaret Taylor had to be dragged away from the body. She demanded to feel for his pulse, his breathing, at anything that might prove him still living! She cried out that he wouldn�t leave without speaking to her. The funeral was a terrible ordeal for her; she trembled constantly as she listened to the funeral music. The day the body left the White House for burial in Kentucky, she prepared to vacate the White House so that the Fillmores could move in. When she left, rumors suggested that she might have poisoned him; rumors not rested until his exhumation 140 years later.
Death: August 14, 1852 in East Pascagoula, Mississippi at the plantation of her daughter, Betty Bliss. She never again mentioned the White House except in reference to her husband�s death.
Age at Death: 63 years, 331 days
Burial: The Zachary Taylor plot in the cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky
Legacy: Like Anna Harrison, the life of Margaret Taylor reads like a chapter from a frontier tale. She knew hardship, loss, lack of steady living accommodations and the loss of her husband to a demanding job for which he was too old and unprepared. Also like Anna Harrison, Margaret Taylor was an educated, well brought up woman who ran her household well. Unlike Anna Harrison, however, who never had the chance to show the world her capabilities, Margaret Taylor refused to take part in any of the official duties of First Lady, leaving them to her daughter Betty Bliss instead. Although claiming to be fearful for her husband, Mrs. Taylor�s refusal to be of any help couldn�t have made his life easier. It is important to note that it is within the wife�s realm to refuse to perform the job as First Lady, but then she must also expect a certain censure for that refusal. This Margaret Taylor did. There is no reason to cling to the image of �the corn-cob pipe smoking old crone� to justify the censure. Margaret Taylor had the ability and the education to do the job and refused. That is censure enough.