E. D. Taylor
Virginia is called "the mother of Presidents" because George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe and John Tyler were born, lived and died in that State. It was also the native commonwealth of William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor. The latter was of near kin to Edmund Dick Taylor, the subject of our sketch. The President was born in Orange County; the member of the family with whom we hare to do was born in Lunenburg County, October 18, 1804. His parents removed in his infancy to Kentucky. Mr. Taylor was a merchant, and after several changes of residence, he removed in 1814, to the Ohio Saline, nine miles from Shawneetown, Illinois, where he engaged in the manufacture of salt.
This was a pioneer settlement, and young Taylorís education was only such as the Territorial schools of half a century ago afforded. His time was mainly occupied in assisting his father in his business.
When he was only nineteen years of age, a merchant who was well acquainted with him Ė Mr. Timothy Gard Ė proposed to him a partnership involving great responsibility and fraught with no little hazard. Edmund had at the time three hundred dollars of his own. Mr. Gard offered to put with that amount, eight thousand dollars, and trust the junior member of the firm to sell the goods bought with the money, in the Indian country; the two to share equally in the profits, and in case of loss Mr. Taylor was to lose only the money he had invested.
The venture was eminently successful. Mr. Taylorís share of the profits was $14,000. Such goods as the Indians really needed and of a suitable quality were selected, and without resort to any of the tricks familiar to the modern Indian Ring, this large profit was realized. He spent two years in that part of the Indian country known as the White River Country. During that period he rode horseback to Texas five times. It was a rough life, but to a youth of daring and endurance a pleasant one.
The next event of note in Mr. Taylorís career was his, settlement in Galena. He entered into partnership with Gen. Dodge in the lead mining business. The Galena district was then almost as attractive as California in a later day. Messrs. Dodge & Taylor owned the rich Jackson lead, and were very successful.
Mr. Taylorís first really permanent settlement was in Springfield, where he continued to reside some twelve years. Always attentive to his business, which was very large for the place, he at the same time took an active part in politics. He was then, as he ever has been, a Democrat. In 1831 he was elected to the Legislature. Illinois had then been a member of the sisterhood of States thirteen years. Vandalia was the capital at the time Mr. Taylor was a member of the legislature. The question of the removal of the capital came up for settlement during his term of office. Mr. Taylor favored its removal to Springfield, and labored indefatigably for this purpose. Its final accomplishment was mainly due to his exertions.
In 1835 Mr. Taylor resigned his seat in the Senate to accept the position of Receiver of Public Moneys at Chicago. The appointment was tendered him by President Jackson as a recognition of his party sevices and personal worth. He came here in the discharge of his duties, April, 1835. The first land sale commenced the 15th of the following June. Lake shore land, now worth thousands of dollars a foot, then sold for $1.25 per acre. One hundred and sixty acres just South of the School Section, sold for $3.10 per acre. The rapids of the Illinois river ran up to $10.00 per acre, on account of the water-power. The sale continued two weeks. It was supposed that the amount realized would be only a thousand dollars or so. The price of land certainly did not indicate that any very large sum would accrue from the sale. But the amount received showed that there were not wanting those who foresaw, albeit vaguely, the destiny of Chicago, and was a cause of great surprise to the Government authorities at Washington. Their expectations may be indicated from the fact that the bond required of Mr. Taylor before he began the sale was only $30,000. After the sale was closed he deposited one half of the proceeds in one bank and one half in another at Detroit, to the credit of the United States Government (there being no suitable depository here,) and notified his superiors at Washington of the fact. They replied, saying, "your checks for $493,000 are received. Is this true, or is it a fiction? Where did the people come from?" To which Mr. Taylor replied that it did look like fiction, but was nevertheless true; and that the people who purchased had come from all the civilized world.
In these days of corruption and malfeasance in office, it would be a cause of surprise indeed to find a Government official with a bond of only $30,000 turning over every cent of a sum more than sixteen times as large as his bond. That was the largest public land sale ever made, before or since, in the United States.
Mr. Taylor held the position of Receiver for four years. In the meanwhile he became attached to Chicago and transferred his permanent residence from Springfield to this City, where he has remained most of the time ever since. After giving up his position, under the Government, he opened the first wholesale jobbing house ever established in Chicago. It was under the firm name of Taylor, Breese & Co. The late Seth Payne, Esq., was book-keeper for the house. After continuing in the business five years, Mr. Taylor sold out his interest here, and returned to Springfield, where he resumed commercial business. After another five years he came once more to Chicago, but presently went to Michigan City, where, in company with Thomas Dyer, a former Mayor of Chicago, he bought the branch of the State Bank of Indiana located there. It was owned by Gen. Oher, an old man of great wealth, and somewhat eccentric withal.
An incident in regard to the purchase deserves to be told. The General had been provoked beyond measure at some transaction at the central office of the State Bank, and was eager to sell out. Learning this, Mr. Taylor went there and investigated the affairs of the institution. He ascertained that it was thoroughly solvent and every way prosperous. But he had not the money at command to purchase it. Finally Gen. Oher proposed to Messrs. Taylor & Dyer to pay five hundred dollars down, to bind the bargain, and give their note for $35,000, payable in sixty and ninety days; he in turn to deliver over to them the entire bank, not only its franchises and notes payable, but the gold in the vaults, and everything else. The proposition was accepted, and when the notes became due, they had only to draw on the money they had bought to promptly and fully meet them. Consequently they soon found themselves in possession of a large and prosperous bank, for the real sum of five hundred dollars. Mr. Taylorís superior financial ability soon placed the bank upon even a better standing than formerly.
The time came in Indiana finances when the more prudent bankers, Mr. Taylor among the number, thought best to wind up their old concerns and begin anew on a better basis. Mr. Taylor at that time paid every dollar of the old obligations. The new plan proved a great improvement, and in its passage through the Indiana Legislature, Mr. Taylor took a leading part. The Governor vetoed the bill. It was passed over his veto, notwithstanding it took a two thirds majority to do it. The bill created a State Bank with a capital of twelve million dollars, and six million dollars actual cash.
In the Winter of 1853-4, Mr. Taylor returned to Chicago, where he has since resided uninterruptedly. He opened a bank here, the firm being D. Kreigh & Co. He has since been engaged in various enterprises, besides being a heavy real estate owner, He became the President of the Illinois Coal Mining Company, one of the largest in the State, owning three thousand acres of coal land.
Having entered the Legislature while yet a young man, Mr. Taylor took a deep interest in politics, and in time became the leader of the Democratic party in this State, and so continued until the appearance of Judge Douglas upon the political arena. Mr. Taylor became a warm friend of the Judge, the pleasant relations between them continuing until the death of the latter.
The Democratic party in Illinois was only once divided. This was on the occasion of Judge Douglasí seeing fit to secure the nomination of William A. Richardson, as Governor of Illinois, thereby displeasing many members of the Democratic party, among whom was Mr. Taylor, who determined to defeat the plan. He therefore secured the nomination of Dr. Bissell, of Belleville, as Governor, and "stumped" the State in his interest. The battle was a hard one, but Dr. Bissell was triumphant, and to no one did he owe his victory so much as to Mr. Taylor. Immediately after the contest was over, the party reunited, and all worked together harmoniously as before.
Mr. Taylor was married on the 28th of September, 1828, to Margrett, daughter of the venerable Col. John Taylor, of Springfield. She is still the sharer of his lifeís joys and sorrows. Mrs. Taylor is a member of the First Baptist Church, and is beloved for her many Christian graces and charities. They have had thirteen children, seven of whom are now living. One of the daughters is the wife of Hon. S. S. Hayes. Another married Mr. Strother, a rising lawyer, now deceased. The oldest son, a young man of brilliant promise, died when he was nineteen years old. At the very age the father began to test the realities of life upon his own responsibility, his first-born was called away from life.
It is by noting the record of such a man as Mr. Taylor that the benefits of true manliness and of our Democratic institutions can be made most appreciable. We see what may be wrought through personal exertions, if only one is blessed with good natural gifts, and the unwavering purpose to use his opportunities aright. Mr. Taylor is a standing argument in favor of honorable dealing in all things and at all times. He has been and is successful because he always improved the aids to success which a new and thrifty country affords. From such a life go out benedictions upon all who are familiar with its springs of action and its beneficent fruitage...Reprinted from Biographical Sketches of the Leading Men of Chicago, Chicago, 1876. E. D. Taylor died in 1891.
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