Wife of Declaration of Independence Signer: George Taylor
Image: George Taylor
And his signature on the Declaration of Independence
Ann Savage was born in Ireland in 1718. Ann’s grandfather came to Pennsylvania from Wiltshire, England in 1684, and became Surveyor General of Chester County, which then accounted for about one-third of the colony. Later, her father served as Chester’s Deputy Surveyor General. Ann’s family belonged to the Society of Friends or Quakers, but she was disowned as a Quaker in 1733 for marrying Samuel Savage, a non-Quaker.
George Taylor was born in Ireland, and came to America in 1716, when he was about twenty years of age, landing in Philadelphia in 1736. He was the son of a respectable clergyman, who gave to his son a better education than other young men received at that time. At his father’s suggestion, George began to study medicine, but the subject didn’t suit him, and he soon set sail for America.
Taylor became the indentured servant of Samuel Savage, who owned Warwick Furnace, an iron foundry outside Philadelphia. An indentured servant was a person who couldn’t pay for their passage to America. The trip was paid by a colonist already living here, and in exchange, the servant worked without pay for five to seven years for the person who paid their way. While some indentured servants were treated like slaves, most were treated like members of the family, and were taught a useful trade.
George started as a laborer, throwing coal into the furnace, but when Savage discovered that George could read and write, he made him a clerk in the counting room of his foundry. Within three years, George rose to bookkeeper-manager of nearby Coventry Forge, which was also owned by Savage.
Samuel Savage died in 1742, and later that year, George Taylor married widow Ann Savage, and took over the entire iron business. In a few years, Taylor’s fortune had considerably increased, and he purchased a large piece of land in Northampton County, where he built a spacious home, and took up his permanent residence there. George and Ann had two children together: a daughter Ann, who died sometime during childhood, and a son James, who was born at Warwick Furnace in 1746.
Over the next ten years, Taylor managed the two ironworks, which prospered under his direction. He later formed a partnership with an acquaintance and leased a large ironworks in Easton, Pennsylvania. Within a few years, he amassed a considerable fortune. In 1747, he distinguished himself as a captain in Benjamin Franklin’s volunteer private militia, protecting the colony from frontier violence.
In the 1750s, Taylor leased the Durham Iron Works in upper Bucks County from a group of men that included Franklin’s political protégé, Joseph Galloway. Shortly after, George entered public life for the first time, serving as a Justice of the Peace in Bucks County from 1757 – 1763. When the lease for the Durham mill expired, the Taylors relocated to Easton.
In 1764, George was commissioned as a Justice of the Peace in Northampton County, and William Allen, Pennsylvania’s chief justice, helped Taylor win election to the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly. There he opposed Franklin’s plans to replace Pennsylvania’s proprietary charter with a royal one, and gained the attention of the small merchants, artisans, and laborers, who would later join the radical cause of American independence.
In 1765, Taylor served on the committee that wrote instructions for Pennsylvania’s delegates to the Stamp Act Congress. He joined with other representatives from the colony’s internal counties to work for increased representation for the backcountry, a grievance that helped to precipitate the overthrow of the old political establishment.
Image: George Taylor House
During this period, George Taylor purchased 331 acres at Biery’s Port, near Allentown, PA. Employing Philadelphia tradesmen, he built an impressive two-story Georgian stone mansion on the east bank of the Lehigh River, about 15 miles west of Easton. The house was completed in 1768, but shortly after the Taylors moved in, Ann fell ill.
Ann Savage Taylor died in 1768, at age 50.
George Taylor continued living in his new house for the next several years, and for a time, leased half of the property for farming. For years, he carried on an affair with his housekeeper Naomi Smith, and they had five children out of wedlock.
As the revolutionary crisis intensified in 1774, Taylor became a member of Northampton County’s Committee of Correspondence. He attended a provincial Revolutionary convention, was elected to the Pennsylvania Assembly, served on the Council of Safety, and became a colonel in the Bucks and Northampton County militias.
That same year, he arranged a lease to operate the Durham Ironworks, which had just been acquired by Joseph Galloway, a Philadelphia attorney and Speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly. After failing to gain support in the First Continental Congress for his plan to avert a break with England, Galloway resigned as speaker, and refused to attend the Second Continental Congress in 1775.
In July 1775, as colonial forces prepared for war, Taylor was commissioned as a colonel in the Third Battalion of the Pennsylvania Militia. Two weeks later, he secured a contract with Pennsylvania’s Committee of Safety for cannon shot. On August 25, 1775, with a shipment of 258 round balls weighing from 18 to 32 pounds each, Durham Furnace became the first ironworks in Pennsylvania to supply munitions to the Continental Army. Taylor was re-elected to the Assembly in October 1775, and served with distinction on important committees and helped draft instructions to delegates to the Continental Congress in November.
The Continental Congress voted in favor of independence on July 2, 1776, and adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4. Five Pennsylvania delegates, all Loyalists (British supporters), opposed a break with the mother country, and were forced to resign. On July 20, 1776, the Pennsylvania convention chose new delegates to the Continental Congress. John Morton, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Morris, and James Wilson, who had voted in favor of the Declaration, were re-elected, and the following men were appointed in place of the Loyalists: George Taylor, George Ross, George Clymer, Dr. Benjamin Rush, and James Smith.
One of George Taylor’s first duties as a member of Congress was to affix his signature to the Declaration of Independence, which he did on August 2, along with most of the other delegates. Of the 56 signers, he was one of only eight who were foreign born, the only one to have been indentured, and the only one to hold the position of ironmaster.
Taylor’s service in the Congress was brief, just over seven months. On February 17, 1777, when the Assembly appointed a new Pennsylvania delegation, Taylor was not re-nominated. But his more important role during the war for independence was to supply grapeshot, cannonballs, bar shot, and cannon to the Continental Army – for which he was not well paid.
In March, 1777, the voters of Northampton County elected Taylor to the new Supreme Executive Assembly of Pennsylvania, which was formed to govern the province under its new constitution. Taylor attended all of the council’s daily meetings for six weeks, but fell ill and was bedridden for more than a month. He subsequently retired from public life, but continued to support the Patriots.
Taylor continued to oversee production at Durham Furnace. Not long after independence was declared, however, Joseph Galloway fled Philadelphia, first seeking refuge with British General William Howe, and later escaping to England. In 1778, Galloway was convicted as a traitor, and the Commissioner of Forfeited Estates sold Durham Furnace to a new owner.
Taylor then moved to Greenwich Township, New Jersey, and leased Greenwich Forge, which he operated until his death. His private business affairs had been ruined largely by the Revolution, and he died without ever knowing how the Revolution turned out.
In failing health, Taylor moved back to Easton in April 1780. George Taylor died there on February 23, 1781, at the age of 65. He was buried in St. John’s Lutheran Church cemetery across from his residence at Fourth and Ferry Streets in Easton. The house he leased in his final days is now known as the Parsons-Taylor House. It was built by Easton founder William Parsons in 1753, and is today the city’s oldest house.
When the church property was sold in 1870 for construction of a public school, Taylor was re-interred at Easton Cemetery. Local residents dedicated a monument there in Taylor’s honor in 1855, and his body now rests in front of the memorial.
His will was filed in January 1781, the month before his death, and was entered into probate in Northampton County on March 10. Taylor bequeathed ₤500 to George, his eldest grandchild, and another ₤500 to Naomi Smith, his housekeeper – “in Consideration of her great Care & Attendance on me for a Number of Years.”
The remainder of Taylor’s estate was to be divided equally between his grandchildren and the five children he fathered with Naomi Smith: Sarah, Rebecca, Naomi, Elizabeth, and Edward. Apparently, these bequests were never fulfilled. Taylor had been experiencing financial difficulties in the last few years of his life, and legal entanglements over the Durham and Greenwich forges dragged on until 1799, at which point his estate was judged insolvent.
George Taylor was one of our Founding Fathers and a signer of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 as a delegate from Pennsylvania. The internal political revolution that swept across Pennsylvania in the 1770s carried men into power who would otherwise have remained outsiders, and allowed them to bring the ideals of the common people to the American Revolution. Irish immigrant George Taylor, who arrived in Pennsylvania as an indentured servant, was one of those men.