George Taylor of Pennsylvania: Coal Worker, Ironmaster, Second Continental Congress Delegate, and Signer of the Declaration of Independence
George Taylor was a foreign-born patriot who began his adult life as an indentured servant, but rose to be one of the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence. This relatively unknown man’s life is emblematic of the many everyday Americans who helped in our cause for independence.
Taylor’s story began in Ireland where he was born sometime in 1716, though we do not know the exact date or location. Interestingly, Taylor was one of eight foreign-born Signers. Button Gwinnett, Francis Lewis, Robert Morris, James Smith, George Taylor, Matthew Thornton, James Wilson, and John Witherspoon were the others, all from the British Isles.
It is generally agreed that his father was a Protestant minister, but not much else of his childhood was documented. We do know that to obtain the money required for passage to America in 1736, Taylor agreed to become an indentured servant to Samuel Savage, Jr., an ironmaster at Coventry Forge near Philadelphia.
Indentured servitude was a system by which a person would agree to teach someone (the indentured servant) a profession or pay the fare for them to come to America and, in return, the indentured servant would agree to work for room and board, but no wages, for that person for a period of about three to five years.
Interestingly, this practice of indentured servitude was quite common in early America. It is estimated over half of all European immigrants to America between the early 1600s and the 1770s came as indentured servants. Not surprisingly, they tended to be the very poor. Taylor was the only one of the Signers who was ever an indentured servant.
In any event, Taylor began his time for Mr. Savage as a shoveler of coal into the blast furnace at the forge. Probably owing to some education he received as a boy, Taylor was brighter than most and soon moved into a clerk’s position. He must have done well and impressed those around him because when his boss died in 1742, Taylor married Savage’s widow, Ann, just a few months later. Eventually, they had two children together.
Incredibly, in the space of six years, Taylor had gone from a penniless laborer who could not afford passage to America to the ironmaster of two iron works with a wealthy wife thrown into the bargain. Moreover, in 18th century British America, Taylor’s position as ironmaster, which was essentially an entrepreneur of a large-scale operation, made him a person of significance in the local community. Not surprisingly, Taylor was the one and only ironmaster among the Signers.
In 1752, when Taylor’s stepson, Samuel Savage III, came of age, Taylor had to relinquish the family business to him. The next year, George and Ann moved to Durham, Pennsylvania, and took out a five-year lease with an option for five more at the Durham Iron Works. The business prospered and even manufactured munitions for the Pennsylvania Provincial militia during the French and Indian War.
In 1763, when the Durham lease expired, the Taylors moved to Easton, about ten miles away. Here, George got more involved in politics and was elected to the Provincial Assembly from 1764-1772 and was elected as Justice of the Peace for Northampton County. He also built a beautiful stone mansion which still stands today overlooking the Lehigh River. Unfortunately, Ann died soon after completing the house. George lived there for a couple years before moving in with his son James in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
Perhaps bored and missing work, Taylor returned to Durham in 1774 and took out another five-year lease at the iron works. By 1775, relations with England had deteriorated and war had broken out at Lexington and Concord on April 19. Taylor soon signed a contract to produce cannon balls for the Continental Army, becoming the first foundry in America to supply this new force.
In the summer of 1776, the Second Continental Congress was prepared to declare our independence from England. Unfortunately, five of the nine delegates, a majority, from Pennsylvania were opposed to this declaration. The Pennsylvania Assembly quickly fired these unwilling men and found five that were more willing to vote in favor of the resolution. George Taylor was one of these new delegates and he proudly signed his name to our Declaration of Independence.
Taylor’s health soon declined and his time in Congress was limited to only seven months. When his lease at Durham expired in 1779, Taylor returned to Easton where he leased a small stone house. When he died on February 23, 1781, George was with his companion and housekeeper, Naomi Smith, a woman he met after Ann passed away and by whom he had fathered five children.
WHY IT MATTERS: So why should George Taylor and what he did for America matter to us today?
George Taylor was a patriot who began his adult life as an indentured servant, but rose to be one of the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence. Perhaps no other Signer so greatly exemplifies the opportunity our great country affords to those willing to work to better themselves.
While most people are unfamiliar with George Taylor, he was a significant man and a great patriot, nonetheless. George Taylor was there when his country needed him and you cannot ask more than that of anyone.
SUGGESTED READING: The History of Weapons of the American Revolution by George Newman is an excellent book published in 1967. It provides a thorough analysis of the weaponry of the 1700s.
PLACES TO VISIT: Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site near Elverson, Pennsylvania (50 miles east of Philadelphia) is a beautifully restored “iron plantation” of over 800 acres and includes 14 buildings from the early 1800s. Founded in 1781, this sort of site was key to America’s Industrial Revolution. It is a great place to visit.
Until next time, may your motto be “Ducit Amor Patriae,” Love of country leads me.
Tom Hand is creator and publisher of Americana Corner. Tom is a West Point graduate, and serves on the board of trustees for the American Battlefield Trust as well as the National Council for the National Park Foundation. Click Here to Like Tom’s Facebook Page Americana Corner. Click Here to follow Tom’s Instagram Account.
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