James T. S. Taylor (2nd USCT)

James Thomas Sammons (T. S.) Taylor was born on January 14, 1840, in Berryville, Virginia, to Fairfax and Ellen Taylor. His free Black family moved to Charlottesville by 1850, and he trained as a shoemaker under his father. In 1862, Taylor ran away from Charlottesville to avoid being impressed into Confederate service as a laborer, escaping to northern Virginia and ultimately Washington, D.C. In a letter to President Abraham Lincoln dated November 15, 1864, Taylor described the ordeal he had undergone as he made his way to Union lines in Fairfax County. “I haveing left my home in Charlottesville Alb. Co: Virginia two years Ago to Avoid the Rebel service my Journey was All most imparellel in Deluding the Rebel pickets and finally Reaching the union lines in safety,” he wrote. “I reported at the Head Quarters of Gen. Hays witch ware at Union Mills Va. Immediate on the Orange & Alexandria R.R.—the General Retained me and those Accompaned me at his Hd: Qurs: two weeks During which time I give him All the Information respecting the enemy and whereabouts that I know of.”

When Taylor was 23 years old, the Union army drafted him into service, and he mustered into the 2nd USCT Infantry Regiment on August 24, 1863, in Washington, D.C. His enlistment records describe him as 5 feet, 8 1/2 inches tall, with black hair, black eyes, and a dark complexion. He served as a commissary sergeant and wrote letters for the New York Anglo-African, one of the country's leading Black newspapers. In January 1864, he reported that the regiment “received a most favorable and kind reception from the citizens, both white and colored,” when they passed through Philadelphia and New York. A few months later, however, the 2nd USCT received a very different reception when it passed through a southern city. Southerners, he observed, "looked at us with as much wonder as though it was the first sight they ever beheld, and the last one they ever expected to see in this world.” Taylor informed readers that the men of the 2nd USCT were eager “to strike a blow at rebeldom” and to fight to extend “liberty and freedom to the oppressed of our native land.” Army officials arrested him in November 1864 on suspicion of misuing regimental funds, but they released him four months later. It is unclear if he returned to his regiment in time to participate in the Battle of Natural Bridge on March 6, 1865.

On April 18, Taylor married Eliza Ann DeLancey, whom he had met while the regiment was stationed in Key West, Florida. As Eliza told a Works Progress Association interviewer in 1937, the couple married at the White Episcopal Church in Key West after six months of courtship. Taylor mustered out at Key West on January 5, 1866, and he and his wife returned to Charlottesville. They had $1000, which they used to purchase land and build a two-story brick house. They had eleven children together: Annie, born June 15, 1866; Fairfax, born November 23, 1867; Mary, born March 28, 1869; Ellen, born December 9, 1870; Louisa, born October 6, 1872; James, born June 9, 1874; John, born July 9, 1876; Lawrence, born June 10, 1878; Eva, born September 16, 1881; Allena, born July 10, 1882; and Broadie, born February 13, 1885.

In 1867, at the onset of Congressional Reconstruction, Taylor won a seat in Virginia's constitutional convention, where he championed Black civil and political rights. He declared the right to vote the "palladium of American liberty" and pointed out that “the disloyal men of Virginia are seeking by every means in their power to prevent the free exercise of the elective franchise." He helped persuade the delegates to adopt paper ballots instead of viva-voce voting, a principle they incorporated into Article III, Section 2, of the 1870 state convention. Taylor remained active in Virginia politics, supporting Republican candidates for state and federal offices and running two unsuccessful campaigns for a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates.

Except for a brief residence in Washington from 1883 to 1884, the Taylor family lived in Charlottesville for the rest of their lives. In 1893, Taylor secured an $8 monthly pension for "disease of heart," and by 1915, the government had increased the amount to $30 per month. Taylor died on January 4, 1918, and was buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Charlottesville. Eliza quickly received a $25 monthly pension of her own, which increased to $50 per month in 1926. She died of “cardis renal disease” on March 8, 1939, and was also buried at Oakwood.

Image: James and Eliza Taylor after the Civil War (courtesy the Taylor family).

Essay:

A Black Soldier from Charlottesville Writes to Lincoln

Documents:

James T. S. Taylor to Abraham Lincoln

James T. S. Taylor Letter to the Anglo-African, January 1, 1864

James T. S. Taylor Letter to the Anglo-African, March 16, 1864

James T. S. Taylor Letter to the Anglo-African, May 18, 1864

James T. S. Taylor Letter to the Anglo-African, January 29, 1865

James T. S. Taylor Letter to the Anglo-African, July 26, 1865

Testimony of Dr. F. C. McCue and Dr. G. R. Ferguson on behalf of Eliza Taylor

Letter from Eliza Taylor to the Pension Commissioner

WPA Slave Narrative Testimony of Eliza Ann Taylor

2155
DATABASE CONTENT
Name:Taylor, James T. S.
Alternative names:
Roles:
  • Soldier
Gender:M
Race:Black
Regiment/Ship:
RegimentCompany
2nd Regiment Infantry U.S. Colored TroopsE
Branch of service:Army
Enlistment/Muster:
TypeDatePlaceAccepted/RejectedAgeStatusReason
Enlistment1863-08-24Washington, DCaccepted23Free
Muster In1863-08-24Washington, DC
Muster Out1866-01-05Key West, FLMustered Out
Residence at enlistment:Washington, DC
Rank In:Private
Rank Out:Commissary Sergeant
Highest rank achieved:Commissary Sergeant
Pensions:
Person 1Person 2NumberRelation Type
Taylor, James T. S.Taylor, James T. S.922520.0application-invalid
Taylor, James T. S.noneapplication-minor
Taylor, James T. S.noneapplication-parent
Taylor, James T. S.Taylor, Eliza Ann1118700.0application-widow
Taylor, James T. S.Taylor, James T. S.855062.0certificate-invalid
Taylor, James T. S.Taylor, Eliza Ann863849.0certificate-widow
Birth date:1840-01-14
Birth date certainty:Certain
Birth place:Berryville, VA
Death date:1918-01-04
Death place:Charlottesville, VA
Causes of death:disease: pneumonia
Occupations:Laborer, Cobbler, Politician
Relationships:
Person 1Relation TypePerson 2
Taylor, Eliza Annwife ofTaylor, James T. S.
Taylor, James T. S.parent ofTaylor, Annie
Taylor, James T. S.parent ofTaylor, Fairfax
Taylor, James T. S.parent ofTaylor, Mary
Taylor, James T. S.parent ofIrving, Ellen Taylor
Taylor, James T. S.parent ofTaylor, Louisa
Taylor, James T. S.parent ofTaylor, James
Taylor, James T. S.parent ofTaylor, John
Taylor, James T. S.parent ofTaylor, Lawrence
Taylor, James T. S.parent ofTaylor, Eva
Taylor, James T. S.parent ofTaylor, Allena
Taylor, James T. S.parent ofTaylor, Broadie
SOURCES

Compiled Service Records for James T. S. Taylor, RG94, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Washington, D.C.; Pension Records for James T. S. Taylor, RG15, NARA, Washington, D.C.; The Daily State Journal (Alexandria, VA), June 17, 1872; The Valley Virginian (Staunton, VA), November 2, 1876; Daily Progress (Charlottesville, VA), January 5, 1918;  Frederick A. Dyer, A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion, vol. 3 (Des Moines, IA: Dyer Publishing Company, 1908); Eliza Ann Taylor WPA Interview, transcribed in Charles L. Perdue and Thomas E. Barden, Weevils in the Wheat (University of Virginia Press, 1991), 284-285; Christopher T. Brooks, "James T. S. Taylor (1840–1918)," in Encyclopedia Virginia, https://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Taylor_James_T_S_1840-1918; Jonathan W. White, "A Black Soldier from Charlottesville Writes to Lincoln," http://naucenter.as.virginia.edu/black-soldier-charlottesville-writes-li....