Henry W. Taylor


A Passenger on the Underground Railroad?

The adult life of Henry W. Taylor is well documented. He was a teacher, school administrator, and a leading citizen of Litchfield, Maine. His early years are largely undocumented but what evidence we have leads to some fascinating questions. Henry was almost certainly of mixed Caucasian and African American ancestry. Census records of Litchfield show him at different times as white, black, mulatto, and negro. A local historian and genealogist, David Colby Young says that Henry’s father was a white physician from Virginia and that his mother was one of the doctor’s slaves. (See: Selected Families from the History of Webster, Lincoln County, Maine.) The story passed down in Litchfield is that Elias Plimpton, a mill owner from Purgatory, met the teen- aged Henry at the train and took him to his home to live. The first time that Henry appeared in Litchfield records was in the census of 1870. He was described as a white male, aged twenty, living in the home of Elias Plimpton who was aged seventy five. Henry’s death certificate lists his date and place of birth as March 7, 1850 in Warrington, Virginia. It lists his father as Thomas Taylor and his mother as Elizabeth Hamlin. A check of Virginia census records shows a Simon T. Taylor who was a physician in Warrington, Virginia, in 1850. It also shows that he owned a female slave, age nineteen. More research is required to determine if this is Henry’s father.

Perhaps the least understood aspect of Henry’s early years is just how he happened to arrive in Litchfield, Maine, sometime between 1860 and 1870. This is obviously the decade in which the United States was torn apart by civil war. If Henry came to Litchfield after the War, it is possible that he had been befriended by one of the several Litchfield men who served with the Union army in Virginia. At that time he might have been able to make his way to Litchfield unaided. If he came during the war (legend says that he was fourteen when he made the trip), he would almost certainly have needed help. The most obvious source of help at that time would have been the network of abolitionists known as the Underground Railroad. Once again, more research is required before any conclusion can be reached. Please help us to solve this fascinating riddle! At present, we can but honor Henry W. Taylor for his long and successful career as an educator and leading citizen of Litchfield. To quote from The Litchfield Town Report of 1874, Henry’s second year of teaching, “Mr. T has placed himself in the very front rank of teachers in Litchfield.”

A final note of interest to genealogists, Henry’s wife, Marietta (Goodwin) Taylor was a descendant of four Mayflower Passengers. Her father of record, Samuel Goodwin, had his name changed from Ballou to Goodwin when he was a boy. Another mystery to be solved!


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