Monday, October 13, 2014

Cornelius Taylor Part 1

For the next week this blog will feature a serialized story about Cornelius Taylor.  Published first in the Robinson Daily News on Oct 1, 2008 the story may, at first, appear to be about events that transpired in Crawford County. But remember that land  North of the mouth of the Embarrass River including what would become Petty, Bond, Russell, and the northern parts of Lawrence and Allison townships was included in the boundaries of  Crawford County between 1816 and 1821.   As you are reading, watch for the links to what would later become Lawrence County.  

Robinson Daily News Oct 1, 2008

“Cornelius Taylor: 'A Complex, Colorful Character'
Crawford County’s First Murder Case Has Links To The Founding Of A Florida Community, Counterfeit Money, The California Gold Rush And Even The U.S. Congress — Links Forged By A Big Frontiersman Who Played A Small But Pivotal Role In The Case.
No doubt about it, Crawford County was a rough place in its early days and one of its roughest residents may have been Cornelius Taylor. Standing more than 6 feet tall and weighing in excess of 200 pounds, Taylor was a large man who admittedly "gloried in fighting." Those who knew him in later years described him as well-educated, bold and fearless, but "not over(ly) scrupulous in his means of action for the accomplishment of his object(ive)."

Others took a dimmer view. "He was a bad man and a detriment to the prosperity and welfare of the community," one history book claimed.

Indeed, Taylor's name was a common sight in the early annals of the Crawford County Circuit Court, but he was also a successful businessman and community leader.

"He was, apparently, a very complex, colorful character who left his mark on local history wherever he went." according to Volusia County, Fla., historian Lani Friend. "He seems to have been very anti-social, but influential enough to have played roles in the political development of more than one frontier territory."

Life along the Embarras

Taylor was born about 1785, possibly in Pennsylvania, southeastern New York or what would become the West Virginia panhandle. His father was reportedly a miller and millwright named Isaac and his mother may have been Native American.

Some histories list him as a first cousin of future U.S. President Zachary Taylor, but his great-great grandson, Pittsburgh historian Edgar R. Taylor Jr., believes this is a misconception that began with Taylor's son. It is certainly possible the two Taylors met, however.

After serving in the War of 1812 in Ohio, Taylor came to the Illinois Territory around 1815. The following year, he settled in part of Crawford County that would eventually be split off as Lawrence County.
He was licensed to operate a "still house," or tavern, and also apparently operated a sawmill and a ferry on the Embarras River north of modern-day Lawrenceville.

But if Taylor wanted to live in a community where he could still get into a scrap, he had come to the right place.

"For some 10 years after the organization of the county most of the cases tried in the circuit court were for assault and battery; a few being for debt, and an occasional one for larceny," according to W.H. Perrin's "History of Crawford and Clark Counties, Illinois" (1883).

"From the great number of assault and battery cases, it may be inferred that fighting was the popular amusement of the day," Perrin wrote. "To get drunk and fight was so common that a man who did not indulge in these pastimes was considered effeminate and cowardly. To be considered the 'best man," that is, the best fighter, or as we would say to-day, the greatest bully, and rough, was an honor as much coveted and sought after by a certain class, as in this enlightened age, is honor and greatness."

On Dec. 30, 1816, what has been called "The Great Crawford County" of the Illinois Territory was formed by legislation passed at Kaskaskia. It extended north to Canada from a southern boundary beginning at the mouth of the Embarras River. The county would be whittled down over the years, finally achieving its present size in 1831.

The same act that created Crawford County also designated the Palestine home of Edward N. Cullom as its seat of justice. The log house would be the site of a variety of court proceedings, ranging from cases to determine if wolf pelts could be used as legal tender to the county's first murder trial, a trial in which Taylor may have been called as a witness.”
(To be continued tomorrow.)