Abraham Taylor (Born ~1702)

6th Great Grandfather – FFFMFFFF1

Abraham Taylor was a prosperous Philadelphia merchant and friend of Benjamin Franklin, before the American Revolution.  He was my 6th great grandfather.

It is through the Taylors that the Nurse family is linked to the Gordons of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania- a junior branch of the Scottish Gordon clan, and the Luther family of Kelvedon Hatch, Essex, an important family of that county.2

Burke's Commoners states that Colonel Abraham Taylor “was the lineal descendent of George Taylor esq. of Derbyshire”. George Taylor was a magistrate for the county of Derbyshire and an East India merchant. However, no other information is given concerning the ancestry of Colonel Taylor.

Abraham was born in 1702 or 1703 in England, and immigrated to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from Bristol, entering into partnership in 1724 with John White as “Merchant-Adventurer" in the North Atlantic trade.3

The business was very profitable but in 1741, White, wishing to return to England sold his interest to Taylor for £7000 sterling.4

After John White had returned to England and established himself first at Bristol and afterwards, when he retired, at Croydon, Surrey, Abram maintained communications with his erstwhile partner and friend. In these letters there are a couple of references to the Swifts, who were the in-laws of John White. 5 In 1737 or 1738 John Swift had sent his children to Philadelphia and had then returned leaving them in the care of their maternal uncle, John White. When John White returned to England he left his nephews and nieces in the care of his partner and friend.

Abram Taylor moved freely in the colony's high society, aided no doubt by his wealth, but also by his marriage in 1733 to Philadelphia Gordon, daughter of Major Patrick Gordon 6, Deputy Governor and effective head of the Province of Pennsylvania from 1726 until his death in 1736.

Burke,7 states that Philadelphia Gordon was the only surviving child of Governor Patrick Gordon, but Keith6 mentions that in 1726, when Patrick Gordon arrived to take up the governorship, he brought “five of at least six children then living” with him to Philadelphia. I have a copy of Governor Gordon’s Will and Administration, in which 6 Gordons are mentioned by name, Captain Charles Gordon, Archibald Gordon, Elizabeth Gordon, Henrietta Gordon, the wife of Robert Charles, Agatha Harriet Gordon and Philadelphia Gordon, wife of Abraham Taylor. It is not expressly stated that they are all children although both Robert Charles and Abraham Taylor are referred to as “my son”.

During his life, Abraham Taylor was to play a considerable role in the life of the colony and in particular the city of Philadelphia. At the time of the dissolution of his partnership with John White he was a member of the City Corporation, and on December 22, 1741, were appointed by the then Governor, Honourable George Thomas, as a member of the Governor’s Council,8 although he apparently looked forward to an early departure from the colony, complaining that its climate was ill suited to his constitution, and the place afforded “little of what is either entertaining or amusing”.

In the latter half of 1744, the position of collector of the Customs became vacant by the death of Mr. Alexander and having a deputation from Grosvenor Bedford Esq. (the titular Collector of Customs) he assumed the duties, “rather than a friend should suffer by the office being depreciated and undervalued since the commencement of the French War.” He held the position for most of the next 15 years.9

In 1745 he was elected Mayor of Philadelphia, although he declined to serve his term, and was subsequently fined.10 He was one of the most active Councilors when, under Palmer’s presidency, the Council acted as Governor of the Province.

Figure 1 – The Family of Abraham and Philadelphia Taylor

Through these activities he formed a strong and lasting relationship with Benjamin Franklin. He was made colonel of the regiment of Associates for Defense that Franklin formed during the latter part of 1747 for the protection of Philadelphia during the Seven Years War,11 he was a member of the subscription Library that Franklin founded with others in 173112 and he was one of the original trustees of the Academy, now the University of Pennsylvania, which was established by Franklin and some friends in 1750-1751.13

Abraham and Philadelphia Taylor had at least three children, one son and two daughters, as their baptisms are documented in the baptismal records of Christ Church, Philadelphia.14

Figure 2 – Christ Church, Philadelphia

Both daughters died during childhood, Isabella before her first birthday and Jane at the age of four, their burials also being recorded in the records of Christ Church. However, their son John survived to become quite a well-known Landscape Painter.15

In the early 1750’s Abraham Taylor was in dispute with the Proprietaries (the descendants of William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania) over some land, which he had obtained, when he had dissolved his partnership with John White.16

White had purchased 2147 acres from the Crispin family. William Crispin had been one of the original Commissioners appointed by William Penn to represent him when the province of Pennsylvania was founded, and upon his death Penn gave 3000 acres to his seven children. In 1733, a warrant to White authorized him to locate his land where he found a desirable place.

White had surveys made and patents were issued to him for 300 acres adjoining Richard Penn’s Manor. Later, for some unexplained reason, the Proprietaries granted the 300-acre tract to Peter Klop, Conrad Sharp and Henry Sellars. White was on good terms with Thomas Penn and made an amicable arrangement with him that White should have 300 acres of as good land in some other place.

When White and Taylor dissolved their partnership in 1741, the patent for this land fell to Abraham Taylor, as did a further 478 acres that White had purchased from the Crispin family. Taylor requested that the 300 acres as well as the 478 acres be located on a strip of land cut off from the manor of Andolhea, giving as his reason, that Conrad Weiser and Surveyor-General Parsons had assured him that he could get a good price for it. Thomas Penn refused to allow him to have more than the original 300 acres at that location, and Abraham Taylor refused to take any of it if he could not have it all there. This controversy went on for a number of years.

Taylor went to London in 1750, with the intent of selling his right to the land. While there he presented an elaborate argument to show that the southern boundary of Pennsylvania should not be south of Latitude 40º, and that Virginia and Maryland had a right to all the land below this line. He threatened to give this information to the buyer.

The Proprietaries declared this a dishonest attempt to force them to accede to Abraham’s wishes and wrote to Lieutenant-Governor Hamilton, ordering him to strike Taylor’s name from the list of the Council and to be deprived of all powers in the provincial government.

The Proprietaries had also discovered that Taylor had signed an agreement with Lord Baltimore to the effect that if the information to be furnished by Taylor was sufficient to establish Maryland’s territorial claims, he was to receive one-seventh of all the land thus recovered from Pennsylvania or equivalent compensation. Although the Proprietaries’ letter was to be forwarded to the City Corporation, Taylor continued as one of its members from his return to Philadelphia until his final departure from the Province.

On July 1st 1762, Abraham Taylor was guest of honour at a dinner arranged by more than a hundred of the most prominent residents of Philadelphia.17 Soon afterward he returned "home" to England, like many others who had prospered in the North Atlantic trade. By this time, he was quite a wealthy man, and he settled down in Bath to live out his remaining years as the gentleman of means, he had become. The family occupied a townhouse in the Circus, which at that time was still under construction.

In 1765, the long drawn out controversy over Taylor’s 778 acres was finally settled. That year Penn agreed that Taylor should have the entire 778 acres where he had first requested it, but now Taylor refused to accept it and demanded money with interest. Two years more went by and the Proprietary, weary of the struggle finally capitulated and agreed to pay Taylor the sum of £788 4sh., for the 778 acres, and the long dispute was over.

Within 10 years of the family's return to England Abraham Taylor was dead.18 His estate with the exception of a small annuity for his wife, passed to his son.19,20 Although, he had suffered some financial setbacks after his return to England, his estates were still considerable.

Thus, his son John Taylor was a man of sufficient substance that he was able to continue his life as the amateur gentlemen artist, without any financial worries.

Bibliography and Notes

  1. When showing relationships F means Father, M means Mother. So FFM is my father’s father’s mother.

  2. I will go into more detail on the Luther, Taylor and Gordon history in future articles.

  3. The Provincial Councillors of Pennsylvania,1733-1776, Charles P. Keith, Philadelphia, 1863, p219.

  4. In a deed, dated at Philadelphia the 27th day of July, 1741, John White of the City of Philadelphia Merchant of the first and Abram Taylor of the said City Merchant of the second part agreed “WHEREAS, a copartnership and Joint-trade was entered into by and between the said parties to these presents in the year of our Lord 1724 as Merchant Adventurers, which they, the said parties, have ever since until the date hereof carried on by the name and title of White and Taylor, ..... And the said John White being minded shortly to remove out of the said Province into the part of Great Britain,” &c., &. John White for a consideration of £7000 stirling conveyed to Abram Taylor all his rights &c. to all lands goods &c. purchased with funds arising from his said copartnership.

    Recorder of Deeds, Philadelphia, “Book G 2” page 463.

    The Swift Family of Philadelphia, Thomas Willing Balch, Pennsylvania Magazine of History, XXX, (1906), 129

  5. Extracts from letters of Abram Taylor to John White

    Oct 20, 1741 to John White at Bristol: “Everything here is just as it used to be at this season of the year and the generality appear much the same as when you left us. But to one who has parted with an acquaintance, with whom he has had the strictest Intimacy, and the most sincere Friendship for so great a number of years, things appear with a different face. Pray remember us all in the kindest manner to Jack Swift.”

    Oct 30, 1741 to John White at Bristol: “Thank God we are at present, well, which I know will give you pleasure to hear, as I assure you, it would afford the greatest to me to have the same account from you and that your voyage has been agreeable to you.”

    Aug 11, 1744 to John White, in London: Dear Sir. My last was by Peter Reeve, wherein I inclosed you a bill of Lading for Pistoles and 8/8 to the value of about four hundred pounds, but to my great mortification I hear he is since taken by the French. This is not so great a loss but it might be bourne, had not a much greater immediately succeeded; two days after that bad news, the Tartar, a Privateer, a fine new ship in which I was interested 3/20ths overset in Our Bay, and is irrecoverably lost, together with eighty odd men who were all drowned, and upwards of a thousand pounds of mine along with her.

    Mr Allen has just buried a fine child, which is a loss that sits very heavy upon him, and has prevented my knowing his thought about the proposal of selling your Land to him.

    I have spoke to Mr. Peters about the Land in Right of Samuel Lee, and will take care to do what is necessary in it, of which I will write in my next, for at this time, I am too much mortified to say any thing more, except that I am Messrs Swifts and Dear Sir, Your most affectionate humble servant, Abram Taylor .

    Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, XXVII, (1903), p125

  6. Chronicles of Pennsylvania, vol II, Charles P. Keith, Philadelphia, 1917, p686.

  7. Burke's Commoners of England and Wales, Vol 4., p7.

  8. Minutes of the Provincial Council, Colonial Records, Vol IV, 1736-1745, p 506ff. Google Books

  9. Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, XXV, (1901), p576.

  10. Wikipedia, List of Mayors of Philadelphia.

  11. The Pennsylvania Men of the American Regiment, William A. Foote, Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, LXXXVII, (1963), p35.

  12. John Dickinson, Historical Revolutionary, H. Trevor Colbourn, Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, LXXXIII, (1959), p278.

  13. The Papers of Benjamin Franklin," Leonard W. Larabee, ed. III, pp. 422ff.; V, pp. 8ff., 437, 513; VI, pp. 29ff., 71ff.

  14. "Records of Christ Church, Philadelphia, Baptisms, 1709-1760," Charles R. Hildeburn, Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, XVII, (1893), p357.

  15. An Eighteenth-Century American Landscape Painter Rediscovered: John Taylor of Bath, A. S. Marks, The American Art Journal, Nov 1978, pp. 81ff.

  16. Richard Penn’s Manor of Andolhea, George Wheeler, Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, LVII, (1934), p209.

  17. In an except from the Pennsylvania Gazette “An elegant Entertainment was prepared in the State House by a number of the principal Gentlemen of this City to bid adieu and to take their final farewell of Abraham Taylor Esq. late one of the Council; an Alderman of the City, and Deputy Collector of Customs in this Port, now going to reside in England. Upwards of One Hundred Gentlemen attended.”

  18. Obituary in The Bath Chronicle, February 27, 1772.

  19. The Will of Abraham Taylor, dated 10 Mar 1772; Consistory Court of Canterbury Wills, Public Record Office.

  20. Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, XXXI, (1907), pp. 480ff.


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