A Guide to the Taylor (Zachary) Letter, ca. 1847
President of the United States Zachary Taylor (1784-1850) was born in Virginia in 1874 and grew up in Louisville, Kentucky. Taylor joined the army as a Lieutenant in 1808 and fought in the Black Hawk War (1832) and the Seminole Wars (1837-1840) before becoming commander of the American forces during the Mexican War. After a string of military victories which helped bring about U.S. victory in the Mexican War, Taylor was elected president in 1848. He died in 1850 while still in office.
In 1841 Taylor purchased the 1,923-acre Cypress Grove Plantation in Mississippi, which included 81 slaves. While commanding American forces during the Mexican war, Taylor received news of severe flooding of his estate from his overseer Thomas W. Ringgold. His letter in reply to the news touched on the management of the plantation as wells as his plans for the war effort.
K. Jack Bauer, "TAYLOR, ZACHARY," Handbook of Texas Online http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fta29., accessed December 16, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Mr. Thos. W. Ringgold,
Your letter of the 19th, ulto, communicating the sad intelligence that the plantation was overflowed in consequence of the giving away of our neighbor's Levee, has just reached me, altho I was measureably [sic] prepared for something of the kind by your previous letter, and the great flood in the Mississippi, yet I was in hopes that a sudden fall in the river might possibly have had the effect of saving us in part from the calamity which seem[s] to have befallen us, which it seems there is no hope for any remedy, and which I am free to say has distressed me not a little; but as this misfortune appears to have overtaken me not by any neglect on my part; but by that of others over whom I have no control, I must bear up against it the best way I can. I am now satisfied where there are no laws for regulating the making levees, with provisions for inspectors to be appointed to see they are properly made, there is no security on the river; for when such men fail as Mr. Hunt to put up a proper and safe work of the kind in question, where would you look for one that would- I hardly know how to advise you in your present dilimma [sic]; if the hands could be employed to advantage under your supervision and keep togather [sic] and build at some healthy place, at fair wages, I would employ them in that way, except a few to take care of the plantation, and to cultivate what little which has not been destroyed by the overflow; for I have no hope the river will fall in time to make anything like a crop; nor do I know how you can get out timber from the swamps so as to enable the hands to make wages at it if that could be done, it would be better than doing nothing, as by making what timber that could be got out and cut, such as was suited for shingles, could be worked up in that way, picketts [sic] for fencing, staves for sugar Hogsheads, wood, etc. -, as it would answer for the same respectfully.
But you must as you are on the spot, do the best you can; if the river falls in time to plant what ever you think will make or mature, to get out wood or timber as you may think most advisable; the above remarks were made to call certain things to your notice, so that you might reflect on them and adopt them as far as you might think most advisable- I need hardly say I have every confidence in your doing all you can for my interest under the circumstances in which you are placed. Let your first consideration be the health of the servants. Altho late corn is quite an uncertain crop, yet if the water falls it would be well to plant even as late as the 20th of June, as it might make a partial crop, which is so important an item in carrying on the establishment the coming year- The rivers are all falling above, but my fears are the Mississippi will not fall as low down as you are in time to replant cotton to any extent; but things must take their course. I apprehend Richard [Taylor's son Richard, who later fought for the Confederacy] will not be able to go up to the plantation as you have requested and which I wish he could have done, as his health is quite bad, so much so that the physicians have advised him to go north for the summer-
I am now engaged in discharging or sending to N. Orleans the twelve months volunteers whose term of service is about to expire where they will be mustered out of service and returned to their homes-this leves [sic] me with a very small force, which will compell [sic] me to act on the defensive or rather to continue inactive for a short time, or until the arrival of the new levies, which have been ordered to the mouth of the Rio Grande where they have I understand commenced arriving and as soon as they do so in sufficient numbers and can be brought here, I will move into the heart of the enemies country and take possession of some of his large cities, unless there is peace, or I am otherwise instructed by higher authority. I can but entertain the hope that a peace will be brought about between the two countries in a few months; if not there is no telling when this war will be brought to a close- Be this as it may, if my life is spared I shall return home in the fall. Wishing you continued health and prosperity, I remain with respect and esteem
Your Obt. Servt,
I am so constantly interrupt[ed] that I fear you will be hardly able to make out what I have written
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Taylor (Zachary) Letter, ca. 1847, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.
This collection was processed by Esther Kirchner, December 2014.
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