Hugh Paul Taylor, Historian and Mapmaker
By David Scott Turk
Western Virginian Hugh Paul Taylor was a man of many talents. His various occupations included engineer, lawyer, soldier, cartographer, and historian. As a historical writer, Taylor was credited as having been the real author of parts of Alexander Withers's 1831 book, Chronicles of Border Warfare, an early treatise on Virginia Indian incursions from the 1750s to the 1780s. Taylor's interest in the early history and antiquity of his region led to contact with greater historical personages. He contributed to the economic needs of his home area, encompassing present-day Alleghany, Botetourt, Greenbrier, and Rockbridge counties, by taking a role as a county leader in the internal improvements movement. In this capacity he lobbied the state government for various public causes. Taylor's association and work with the Virginia Board of Public Works made him familiar with surveys and maps. He was closely involved in one of the state's earliest and most comprehensive tasks, the 1827 Herman Boye map of Virginia.
Little is known of Taylor's early life. His father was James Taylor, one of five brothers who emigrated from Ireland's County Armagh to Rockbridge County, Virginia, in 1760. The Taylor brothers speculated in land and slaves from their family homestead near Rockbridge Baths. James and his brother George married daughters of well-known Virginia Indian fighter Captain Audley Paul. Another brother William married Janet Paul, the sister of famed naval officer and Revolutionary War hero John Paul Jones. Hugh's brother Stuart was a man of great size and strength. The more bookish Hugh grew to manhood in Rockbridge County but later moved to Lewisburg, in present-day Greenbrier County, West Virginia. Lewisburg was home to Virginia's western district court and its law library. Taylor must have studied there, as he later practiced law in the area. Sometime later he moved to the new Alleghany County seat of Covington, where he became the county prosecutor in 1828. He married a member of the Woltz family from the Fincastle area in Botetourt County. He was also mentioned as a militia captain in Alleghany County for some unspecified period.1
Although an attorney and a soldier, most of Taylor's energies were spent in the promotion and execution of state transportation projects. His long career in public works originated from the Virginia General Assembly's passage of an Internal Improvements Act on February 5, 1816. There was a national movement for public-funded transport projects under the political banner of economic expansionists such as Henry Clay. Although the 1816 act created much interest in internal improvements in Virginia, former president Thomas Jefferson had been the motivation for statewide mapping to identify needed projects. From his summer residence, Poplar Forest in Bedford County, Jefferson wrote to Governor Wilson Cary Nicholas, urging him to undertake several mapping projects to determine improvements. Jefferson cited rivers, coastline, and mountains that needed surveys. The success of the project was important to western Virginia and Hugh Taylor. Andrew Alexander, an early western surveyor of the headwaters of the James River for the propensity of canal routes, was given two initial contracts by the governor. Taylor became a fledgling surveyor, working for Alexander in the border regions of the state.2
Taylor's early mapmaking was in the Bristol area.
In 1817 and 1818, I was engaged in Surveying for the New Map of Virginia,-partly in execution of Andw. Alexander's two contracts, and of W. D. Merriweather's contract, with the Executive-in those parts of Virginia binding on, and near, the states of North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, and Maryland; and in most of those counties north of the James river, between the Alleghany mountain and the Chesapeake bay. . . .3
His work was carried out under the general supervision of John Wood from the Board of Public Works; the Scottish-born Wood was a forty-one-year-old mathematician from Petersburg Academy and author of several political publications. His scathing critique of President John Adams's administration no doubt found favor with Jefferson, a bitter opponent of Adams. It is not surprising then that Jefferson, with his keen interest in accurate and scientific surveys and their economic impact, wrote on behalf of Wood to Governor Nicholas. Most surveys included in the new Virginia map were initiated under Wood's direction. The county maps were the most detailed surveys of the state completed to that date.4
Taylor remained in the state's employ as Wood's deputy on an intermittent basis until 1821. Like all surveyors, Taylor kept field books on his projects. Some of his field notes were included in several volumes of state projects, divided by region or "Grand Divisions." Taylor noted in 1819 that he worked closely with engineer Thomas Moore in official plans to extend the James River and Kanawha Canal to Covington and beyond. Most of the northwest Virginia portion of the Boye map was drawn from the results of Taylor's work in 1819 and 1821. The seventh annual report of the Board of Public Works credited Taylor as the surveyor with Asa Moore, leveller, in the "Engineers Report of the Monongalia [sic] River, in the Year 1821." This survey was important to officials of the Monongalia Navigation Company, which included nationally known politicians such as John George Jackson and Judge Edwin S. Duncan. Taylor surveyed Jackson's dam near a vital salt works to determine additional improvements.
Also in 1821 Taylor drew plats of the James River and Kanawha Turnpike with creeks and roads tributary to main routes in Greenbrier County. Major tavern houses were symbolically marked by use of a small etching of a residence next to the owner's name. The scale of the map was four hundred perches to one inch. Another Taylor map, miniature in size, covered water sources from Covington to the Great Kanawha River. In 1822 Taylor mapped many newly founded Virginia counties for the state project before engaging in a survey of public works near the Mississippi River. While Taylor was on these assignments, Wood became sick in Washington, DC, and died in May of that year. The Virginia map project was completed under the direction of German engineer Herman Boye. The final product was nine large sheet plates. An act to engrave and publish the final surveys passed the Virginia General Assembly on February 14, 1825. The map was advertised in the Richmond Enquirer on August 3, 1827, and again in December. It was available in reduced form and promoted in the advertisement as a "portable luxury" for only six dollars per copy from William H. Richardson in Richmond. The total cost to create the map booklet was seventy thousand dollars in state funds.5
On his own, Taylor wrote incessantly of early Virginia cartography, history, and internal improvements. He drew research material from civil engineer William Tatham, who in the late 1790s published a comprehensive study on Virginia topography. After Tatham's death in 1819, Taylor likely accessed his papers in assembling a promotional treatise for improvement initiatives in the western portion of the state. There are indications that he began this work, which would ultimately be called Historical Sketches of the Internal Improvements of Virginia, as early as 1818. In March 1825 publisher John Holt Rice of the Virginia Literary and Evangelical Magazine advertised the bound volume for $2.50. The advertisement claimed the book included a long history of Virginia cartography and charts for the "new map" of the state. An attached prospectus offered the following outline:
1. A history of the laws, surveys, maps, and charts for a new map of Virginia. 2. A detailed history of the James and Kanawha road and canals from their origin. 3. History of the Board of Public Works. 4. History of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, and of the Dismal Swamp Canal. 5. History of the improvement of Ohio, Monongahela, Roanoke, Appomattox and other rivers, roads, etc., in Virginia. 6. Appendix-Treatise in behalf of the energetic consummation of the James and Kanawha scheme of improvements.6
By publicizing his book's prospectus, Taylor furthered the call for canal improvements. However, almost a century later, economic historian Alfred J. Morrison questioned whether the book was published, for he was unable to locate the manuscript.7
While working on Historical Sketches, Taylor became acquainted with Thomas Jefferson, probably through John Wood. Taylor visited Jefferson's home, Monticello, in August 1823. The next month in Lewisburg, Taylor wrote Jefferson on several topics, primarily requesting books and notes on Indian antiquities and early Virginia exploration. However, Taylor's letter outlined his own service in public works, his engineering career, travels across the country, and, in particular, his role in the mapping project. He revealed an interest in writing a Virginia history as a sort of addendum to Jefferson's own work, Notes on Virginia.8
When I was at Monticello, in August last, I took up an impression from what you said, that you were in possession of a collection of documents relative to the history, antiquities, and first settlements of Virginia and the N. Western states, in manuscript, which had never been published . . . and that you would have no objections to their being published by any other person who would wish to use them for that purpose.9
Taylor indicated his intentions, should he obtain the requested material:
And in all my travels I have been diligent in collecting information of the kinds before alluded to, particularly with regard to Virginia and the N. W. states . . . which would be interesting to the public, and which ought not to be permitted to drop into oblivion with me. If, therefore, you will favour me with your assistance before alluded to, I think it will be time for me to commence them for publication.10
In a postscript Taylor sent greetings to Jefferson's son-in-law, Virginia governor Thomas Mann Randolph.11
Jefferson wrote back on October 4, 1823. He did not mention the Boye map but addressed Taylor's request for historical record books on Indian artifacts.
The account of the two first volumes you will see in the preface to Stith's history of Virginia. They contain the records of the Virginia co. copied from the Originals, under the eye, if I recollect rightly of the Earl of Southampton, a member of the company, bought at the sale of his Library by Doct. Byrd of Westover. . . . I shall deposit them in the library of the University, where they will be most likely to be preserved with care.12
Taylor's interest in Virginia's early history may have influenced other historians of the western settlement period. In an introduction to Alexander Withers's Chronicles of Border Warfare, historian Lyman Copeland Draper described Taylor as "a local antiquary, from Covington," whose contributions to early Indian history in Virginia were the core of the book's opening chapters.13 More than a century after his death, Taylor was described as being the author of a large portion of the material in Withers's compilation. In February 1943, West Virginia historian Boyd B. Stutler wrote Dr. Roy Bird Cook that "the Hugh Paul Taylor papers cover a full hundred pages-I would like to know how much Withers was indebted to him."14 Cook, who had compiled a short biography on Withers, found ". . . a lot of stuff bearing directly on the subject under review-Withers picked from Taylor and others. In fact, so far as I've gone there is very little original matter in the first half of his book."15 Cook wrote in Withers's biography:
. . . it is stated that he derived some assistance in the earlier chapters of his work from Hugh Paul Taylor, one of the first of the early school of historic gleaners, who in 1829 published and collected much material relative to southwestern Virginia. Returning to the field, however, it may be said that to Edwin S. Duncan, perhaps more than any other, was Mr. Withers indebted for help. . . .16
It is ironic that a major contributor to Chronicles of Border Warfare was Circuit Court Judge Edwin S. Duncan of Clarksburg, who must have met Taylor while the latter was involved in the 1821 survey for the Monongalia Navigation Company. Duncan collected various materials on Virginia Indians, which included Taylor's sketches. Draper's introduction does not specify whether Duncan had a series of newspaper articles or original documents. Duncan gave his entire collection to Withers, who in turn wrote his famous work.17
Undoubtedly, there were other influences on both Withers and Taylor. Noah Zane of Wheeling and John Hacker of the Hacker's Creek settlement provided valuable source material. Both were interested in recording the early history of the region.18
Taylor corresponded with his contemporaries to add to his research. A rare look at this process is found in Taylor's letter to General John George Jackson in August 1823. Jackson, brother-in-law to James Madison and a powerful politician, was involved with Duncan in the aforementioned Monongalia survey. Not as formal as the letter to Jefferson, Taylor asked Jackson to provide him historical information on seventeen different topics such as Indian antiquity, warfare, settlement, and local tradition. Taylor stated he was not representing his own interests but those of civil engineer Herman Boye, who was new to the region. However, there was no mistaking the goal of Taylor's inquiry. He was aware of Jackson's interest in the same subjects and hoped his research would find a publisher under the general's name.19
Answers to the above, or any of them, written to me, will be very thankfully received; in which case you will please to prepare them, as near as possible, for publication; as they will be published with your name as author, unless otherwise directed. . . .20
Taylor also wrote that the notes of another writer, Dr. Joseph Doddridge, were not yet published, and that both drew their research from "some of the same sources whence they came."21 The response from Jackson is not known, but Taylor did not appear to pursue the idea further. During this time, General Jackson was deeply involved in personal matters and was not in good health. He died in March 1825.22
Taylor may have used his research on Indian conflicts in Virginia for a series of nine newspaper articles printed in the Fincastle Mirror in 1829. Publishing under a fictitious name was fashionable in editorials and articles of opinion at that time. The pseudonym used in this series of articles on Virginia frontier history was "Son of Cornstalk." Although no written proof exists that Taylor was Son of Cornstalk, there are enough clues within the text of the articles to link Taylor to them. The phrasing resembles that of Taylor's known writings. For example, endnote three of part nine states "it can be found in the Journal of the Executive, January 6th 1785."23 Taylor's application to Richmond as assistant engineer later that year contained several similar phrases. Son of Cornstalk had to be someone familiar with the official journals of the state. Article four references specific details of former Nova Scotia governor John McNutt and his burial at the Falling Springs Church "in the forks of the James river."24 The writer was someone who intimately knew the area topography. Falling Springs, near Covington, was relatively obscure in Taylor's day. It was also the site of a Presbyterian church, the denomination to which Taylor belonged. In addition, Son of Cornstalk wrote much about Captain Audley Paul, Taylor's maternal grandfather.25
However, the greatest clues to the identity of the writer come from his apologetic nature.
The exclusive motive of my actuation has been, merely to introduce the subject of our early history, for the purpose of calling forth from others better acquainted with it than I am the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth; that it may be thrown within the access of some future historian, for the use of posterity.26
Son of Cornstalk also disclosed his reason for writing the articles-this was a call to Jefferson's contemporaries for their notes-and the writer's emphasis on the "truth" reflects his legal training. These assembled clues convinced Lyman Draper that Hugh Paul Taylor was Son of Cornstalk.27
The text comprising the Son of Cornstalk articles encompassed Virginia's border history from the 1750s to the 1780s. Starting with Captain Paul and Captain Samuel Lewis, the writer recounted General Edward Braddock's march and the fatal ambush by French and Indian forces on the journey to Fort Duquesne in 1755.28 In doing so, the writer recounted the fate of local participants:
Not more than half, of Grant's [captain of Culpeper County] men lived to reach the river bank, and a large number of Lewis's were killed and wounded, amongst the wounded were, Captain Samuel Lewis, George Mathews, Andley Maxwell, Robert Renyx, Alexander Blane, and William Lewis.29
Son of Cornstalk had great respect for George Washington in this early adventure. He spoke of Washington as "the man who was subsequently destined by Providence, to be the scurge [sic] of tyranny."30
Article four was the writer's account of the Sandy Creek Expedition, an early exploratory mission in modern-day Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia, which was published in the Mirror on August 8, 1829. In this article Son of Cornstalk showed sympathy for the various Indian tribes and their lands which ". . . were mostly taken up at first, as 'corn rights.' . . . Those frontiers were much harassed by the Shawnees, Delawares, Wattawgas, and Cherokees."31 The 1777 deaths of Shawnee chief Cornstalk and his son Elinipsico were chronicled in a letter of Colonel John Stuart of Greenbrier County, an early leader of the area, printed as an addendum to the articles.32 In 1820 the seventy-one-year-old Stuart wrote Memoir of Indian Wars, and Other Occurrences, which provided Taylor with a valuable primary source. However, both the colonel's son and later historian Otis K. Rice noted that the material was written well after the events and contained some inaccuracies. Taylor did not analyze Stuart's account of the Cornstalk murder, but rather presented the facts as they were written. Stuart viewed Cornstalk's death sympathetically. Against the colonel's wishes, a band of soldiers killed Cornstalk and his son while in custody.33
The Corn-stalk, from personal appearance and many brave acts, was undoubtedly a hero. Had he been spared to live, I believe he would have been friendly to the American cause. . . . On the day he was killed we held a council, at which he was present. His countenance was dejected; and he made a speech, all of which seemed to indicate an honest and manly disposition.34
Like Stuart, Son of Cornstalk's recounting of the Sandy Creek massacre appeared sympathetic to the Indians:
In August 1784 the Surveyors went down to the Ohio, to Mississippi, to explore the country apart west of Green river, in Kentucky by this Act, to be surveyed as military bounty lands . . . the presence of the Surveyors, at once brought a war, upon our frontiers,-as the Indians always viewed, with just indignation, our attempts to take from them, their lands. . . .35
Son of Cornstalk's articles created a stir among scholars of early Virginia history such as Lyman Draper, who in 1851 wrote editor William Maxwell of the Virginia Historical Register that Taylor was not precise in citing sources for his history. As an example Draper noted a mistake made in Withers's book, drawn from Taylor's work, pertaining to the exact year of the Sandy Creek Expedition. Son of Cornstalk was a year off the correct date. Draper also mentioned that many major works of the period contained similar errors, and that most of Withers's and Taylor's accounts could be corroborated by other sources. John L. Peyton of Greenbrier County wrote editor Maxwell a letter with an enclosed attachment by his relative, William I. Lewis of Campbell County, Virginia. Lewis claimed Taylor's account of the early Lewis family settlement was inaccurate.36
Col. Lewis stated that the account given by the "Son of Cornstalk," in his essays, of the native country and the causes of the removal of his family to the colony of Virginia, was incorrect. . . . [T]he true history of the matter, [was] as he had obtained it from his father, the late William Lewis, of the Sweet Springs, who died in the year 1812, at the age of 85 years. . . .37
In the late 1820s Taylor publicly aired his views on internal improvements as well as Virginia history. The Mirror published a three-page exposition on his views, which stressed surveys and maps. It was used as political weaponry in the struggle to extend the James River and Kanawha Turnpike. The exposition appeared as a long open letter to William Smith of Lewisburg, a career politician who lobbied the state to build in his district. One of Taylor's key points was the public's view toward the use and management of state funds for roads and canals in the mountain region.38
And because the management, or if you please, mis management on the rivers heretofore has damped the ardour of the Legislature and people. . . . Not being practically able to investigate the subject throughout they view it superficially.39
The politically charged Mirror articles allowed Taylor an unrestrained critique of the state's funding processes.
In 1829 Taylor applied for the position of assistant engineer in the James River and Kanawha Company for surveys on the Big Sandy River. In his application, he recalled his long list of civil engineering projects. However, it was unlikely he obtained the appointment, as he was prosecuting attorney in Covington later that year.40
Aside from his newspaper writings in his last years, Taylor was active in civic affairs and petition drives for new laws and educational issues. In 1828 he was among the several signers of a petition to refund money to a man confined for contempt of court. On December 17, 1829, Taylor petitioned the Virginia General Assembly as an Alleghany County school commissioner. He sought restoration of the county's missing 1822 Literary Fund differential. The county, formed that year, was never given its annual allotment from the fund. On December 15, 1830, Taylor asked again for the missing money. It was his last civic effort.41
Taylor died about age forty in January 1831. He never lived to see the Lewisburg and Covington internal improvements conventions that continued his early lobbying. Taylor willed his son Henry six engineering books, letters, plat books, and field notes contained in his home office for Henry's "future use . . . when he comes to maturity."42 He asked to be buried in the yard of Lewisburg's stone Presbyterian church. However, he was interred in the family cemetery near Rockbridge Baths. 43
Politically, William Smith and the Greenbrier elite learned from Taylor's example and lobbied until a railroad finally reached Covington in the mid-1850s. However, the loss of Taylor's experience in surveys, logic, and political savvy left a vacuum that was never filled. A footnote in the intertwined history of Taylor and the Boye map arose in the 1850s, when a new map was proposed by engineer Claudius Crozet. Crozet wrote to the Board of Public Works on November 22, 1855, that he had examined the surveys and was unimpressed by Wood's and Boye's "costly operations" which produced only a "skeletal map." Crozet then proposed a newer map. Had Hugh Paul Taylor lived to know of Crozet's ultimate intentions in the creation of further improvements in the region, it is likely he would have tolerated the insult to his work with Wood and Boye.44
1. Oren Morton, History of Rockbridge County, Virginia (1920; reprint, Baltimore: Regional Publishing Co., 1973), 274-75; ibid., A Centennial History of Alleghany County, Virginia (Dayton, VA: J. K. Ruebush, 1923), 138, 211; and Charles W. Turner, "'California' Taylor of Rockbridge: Bishop to the World," Proceedings of the Rockbridge Historical Society 9(1982): 97.
2. William Couper, Claudius Crozet: Soldier-Scholar-Educator-Engineer (1789-1864) (Charlottesville: Historical Publishing Co., 1936), 33-34; Thomas Jefferson to Governor Wilson C. Nicholas, 19 April 1816, in The Writings of Thomas Jefferson , vol. 14, ed. A. A. Lipscomb (Washington, DC: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1904), 471-87; and Hugh Paul Taylor, Application for Employment as Assistant Engineer, 24 March 1829, Box 49, Board of Public Works, Library of Virginia, Richmond, VA, hereafter referred to as Application for Employment.
3. Taylor, Application for Employment.
4. "Maps Relating to Virginia in the Virginia State Library and other Departments of the Commonwealth with the 17th and 18th Century Atlas-Maps in the Library of Congress," Bulletin of the Virginia State Library, comp. Earl G. Swem (Richmond: Davis Bottom, 1914), 109; and Hamilton Bullock Tompkins, comp., Burr Bibliography-A List of Books Relating to Aaron Burr (New York: Burt Franklin, 1970), 79.
5. Taylor, Application for Employment; and "Engineer's Report on the Monongalia River, in the Year 1821," in Seventh Annual Report of the President and Directors of the Board of Public Works, to the General Assembly of Virginia, part 2 (Richmond: Thomas Ritchie, 1822), 12.
6. G. Melvin Herndon, William Tatham, 1752-1819: American Versatile (Johnson City: Research Advisory Council, East Tennessee State University, 1973), 84-85; and A. J. Morrison, "Colonel Tatham and Other Virginia Engineers," William and Mary College Quarterly Historical Magazine , 2d ser., 2(1922): 82.
7. Morrison, "Colonel Tatham," 82.
8. Taylor to Jefferson, 23 September 1823, in Correspondence of Thomas Jefferson 1778-1826-Printed from the Originals in the Collections of William K. Bixby, ed. Worthington C. Ford (Boston: Worthington C. Ford, 1916), 278.
10. Ibid., 279.
11. Ibid., 280.
12. Jefferson to Hugh P. Taylor, 4 October 1823, in The Writings of Thomas Jefferson , Vol. 15, ed. A. A. Lipscomb (Washington, DC: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1905), 471-72.
13. Lyman Copeland Draper, "Memoir of the Author," in Chronicles of Border Warfare , by Alexander Scott Withers, ed. Reuben Gold Thwaites (1895; reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1971), ix.
14. Stutler to Cook, 22 February 1943, Roy Bird Cook Collection, West Virginia and Regional History Collection, West Virginia University Libraries, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV.
15. Typed page attachment, undated, ibid. Cook further wondered about the background of the Chronicles work. He seemed concerned about the publisher, Joseph Israel, who he suspected might have lived in Washington, PA.
16. Roy Bird Cook, Alexander Scott Withers-Author of Chronicles of Border Warfare-A Sketch (n.p., 1921), unnumbered.
17. Ibid.; "Engineer's Report on the Monongalia," 13; and Draper, "Memoir of the Author," ix.
18. Draper, "Memoir of the Author," x; Stephen W. Brown, Voice of the New West: John G. Jackson, His Life and Times (Macon, GA: Mercer Univ. Press, 1985), 10.
19. Taylor to Jackson, 15 August 1823, Jackson MSS, Manuscripts Department, Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN.
20. Ibid .
22. Brown, John G. Jackson , 240-42.
23. Fincastle Mirror , 19 September 1829.
24. Ibid., 8 August 1829.
25. Morton, A History of Rockbridge , 274-75.
26. Fincastle Mirror , 19 September 1829.
27. Draper, "Memoir of the Author," ix.
28. Fincastle Mirror , 25 July 1829.
31. Ibid., 8 August 1829.
32. Ibid ., 5 September 1829.
33. John Stuart, Memoir of Indian Wars, and Other Occurrences; By the Late Colonel (1833; reprint, Parsons, WV: McClain Printing Co., 1971), 1, 6-7, 33; and Fincastle Mirror, 8 August 1829.
34. Stuart, Memoir of Indian Wars , 27.
35. Fincastle Mirror , 19 September 1829.
36. "The Shawnee Expedition in 1756," Virginia Historical Register 5-6(1852-1853): 21; and John L. Peyton, "John Lewis," ibid., 211.
37. Peyton, "John Lewis," 211-12.
38. Taylor to Smith, Esq., Fincastle Mirror , 28 March 1829.
40. Taylor, Application for Employment ; and Morton, Alleghany County , 138.
41. H. J. Eckenrode, "Virginia State Library-A Calendar of Legislative Petitions Arranged by Counties-Accomac-Bedford," Fifth Annual Report of the Library Board of the Virginia State Library 1907-1908 (Richmond: Davis Bottom, 1908), 88-89.
42. Hugh P. Taylor Will, 28 December 1830, Alleghany County Courthouse. Taylor was deceased by the January 1831 term of court. Information on the Lewisburg and Covington conventions can be found in the Journal of the House of Delegates, 1844-45 and 1846-47, repsectively.
43. Morton, History of Rockbridge , 274.
44. Couper, Claudius Crozet , 145.
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