Skip to main content
Main Content

John Taylor (December 19, 1753 -- August 21, 1824) of Caroline County, Virginia was a politician and writer. He served in the Virginia House of Delegates (1779-81, 1783-85, 1796-1800) and in the United States Senate (1792-94, 1803, 1822-24). He was the author of several books on politics and agriculture. He was a Jeffersonian Democrat and his works provided inspiration to the later state's rights and libertarian movements. His father died when he was a small child and he was raised by his uncle Edmund Pendleton, a leading Virginia politician. He attended a school sponsored by his uncle with fellow students: James Madison (a distant cousin), and George Rogers Clark. Taylor attended William & Mary and then studied law under his uncle. He served in the American Revolutionary War, rising to the rank of colonel, and serving under Patrick Henry and General William Woodford, and leading a regiment under the Marquis de Lafayette. After the war Taylor lived as a lawyer, slave-holding farmer and part-time politician, serving several partial U.S. Senate terms. He was a leader of the Quids, opposing the election of Madison as President and supporting James Monroe. Taylor wrote in defense of slavery and called for the deportation of free African Americans. He criticized Thomas Jefferson's ambivalence towards slavery in Notes on the State of Virginia. Taylor agreed with Jefferson that the institution was an evil, but argued that it was "incapable of removal, and only within reach of palliation," and took issue with Jefferson's repeated references to the specific cruelties of slavery, arguing that "slaves are docile, useful and happy, if they are well managed," and that "the individual is restrained by his property in the slave, and susceptible of humanity . . . . Religion assails him both with her blandishments and terrours. It indissolubly binds his, and his slaves happiness or misery together." His approach, defending the preservation of slavery as it was and claiming that proper management could benefit the slave as well as the master, anticipated the more emphatic defenses of slavery as a "positive good" by later writers such as John C. Calhoun, Edmund Ruffin, and George Fitzhugh. Taylor's estate, Hazelwood, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Taylor County, West Virginia was formed in 1844 and named in Senator Taylor's honor.

Want to find out more?

To search for further material, visit the Special Collections Research Center's Search Tool List for other resources to help you find materials of interest.

Questions? Have ideas or updates for articles you'd like to see? Contact the Special Collections Research Center at or 757-221-3090.

A note about the contents of this site

This website contains the best available information from known sources at the time it was written. Unfortunately, many of the early original records of William & Mary were destroyed by fires, military occupation, and the normal effects of time. The information in this website is not complete, and it changes as we continue to research and uncover new sources.