If you grew up in the Lehigh Valley you probably learned the name George Taylor in history class. Or maybe you've heard mention of him around the Fourth of July.
Taylor, who had homes in Easton and Catasauqua, earned favored-son status in local lore when he signed the Declaration of Independence. To honor his memory, Lehigh County and Catasauqua plan to erect a monument at his home in Catasauqua this year as part of the county's bicentennial celebration. But what many may not know is that Taylor's role as a founding father was the high-water mark of a rags to riches and back to rags story.
Through circumstance and acumen, Taylor rose to become a powerful businessman and one of the region's leading revolutionaries. But the war he helped set off was ultimately a factor in his financial downfall.
A rise to power
If Taylor's story has been lost it's because he was in fact an elusive figure, according to Joseph Garrera, executive director of the Lehigh County Historical Society.
Taylor was probably an immigrant from Ireland, but the historical record is murky. We don't know for sure what kind of education Taylor received, and there are contradictory reports about where he died. Taylor's physical appearance is also somewhat of a mystery. There is only one known image of Taylor and it comes with a catch: The historical society doesn't know when it was painted, when it came into its collection and whether it's what Taylor really looked like.
What we do know, or think we know, about his life, goes something like this:
Taylor arrived in America in 1736 when he was about 20, and became an indentured servant to Samuel Savage, owner of the Warwick Furnace in Chester County. He held a variety of jobs at the furnace, eventually becoming Savage's clerk and bookkeeper. When Savage died, Taylor married Savage's wife Ann and took over control of the Savage assets, including the furnace.
The iron master entered public life as well, becoming a justice of the peace in Bucks and later Northampton County. With the support of William Allen -- founder of Allentown -- Taylor was elected six times to serve in the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly, a public body that served England.
It was during this period that Taylor's revolutionary leanings appeared. He helped write to King George to demand the repeal of the Stamp Act. Unlike the Allen family, who protested against the king but didn't want to go to war, Taylor supported the cause.
He was named to the Continental Congress, but not until delegates refused to sign the Declaration of Independence. Taylor added his name on Aug. 2, 1776, a few inches below that of Benjamin Franklin. By signing his name, Taylor essentially sealed his fate as a traitor if the Colonies lost the war, said Jill Youngken, assistant director of the Lehigh County Historical Society.
"He's taking a huge risk. They all are," Youngken said of the signers. "It didn't take six, it didn't take 10, it took all 56 [delegates]. And he was one of them."
Ironically, his convictions led to his financial fall. He had long ceded the Warwick Furnace to Savage's son when he came of age. But he was doing well leasing the Durham Furnace in Bucks County, which turned out cannon shot for the British during the French and Indian War.
With his allegiance now switched, Taylor made a deal to make cannon shot for the Continental Army. But since Durham Furnace was owned by a British loyalist John Galloway, it was subjected to raids by the Continental soldiers, making it difficult for him to make money.
By 1779, he was ordered off the property when his lease ran out. That same year, he was forced to sell the house he had bought in 1761 in Easton at the corner of Northampton and what is now Second Street. The property, now known as the Bachmann Publik House, brought him worthless Pennsylvania dollars.
After a short stint running a furnace in New Jersey, he returned to Easton worn out and ill. Taylor's wife and two children had already died. He lived with his housekeeper, their five children and his two slaves in a rented house built by William Parsons at Fourth and Ferry streets. He died at age 65 on Feb. 23, 1781.
The Taylor House
Today, Lehigh County still has a piece of Taylor's life: The country home he built in 1768 in Catasauqua at what is now 35 S. Front St. The Georgian-style mansion was part of a more than 300-acre estate overlooking the Lehigh River, the Manor of Chawton.
Rising two stories above a half-elevated basement, the home features 24-inch thick walls topped with white stucco. The large windows are topped with flat, brick arches and trimmed with solid-paneled shutters. A pair of brick chimneys rise from the gable-ended roof.
Taylor had been living in his Northampton Street home when construction was started. When his wife died the same year, he had little reason to spend time at a summer home that was too far from his political and business interests. He sold it in 1776.
The Lehigh County Historical Society took over ownership in the 1940s and extensively restored it. The house has much of the original architectural features dentil molding, wood flooring and an ornate stone-paneled attic.
The Catasauqua home was named a National Historic Landmark in 1971. The borough of Catasauqua acquired it from the historical society in 2009. Today, the borough is hoping to earn grant money to perform a feasibility study to determine what can be done to prevent deterioration and to find ways for it to generate revenue.
The home is open for tours on weekends and Catasauqua hosts special events, like a reading of the Declaration of Independence.
Many locals, like Borough Councilwoman Jessica Kroope, toured the home as elementary school students. Kroope is fascinated by the home, but knows many residents have probably long forgotten its meaning.
Borough Manager Gene Goldfeder said Catasauqua wants the Lehigh Valley to understand the home's significance. "Everybody knows it's an old house," Goldfeder said. "But they don't know how old or what it is."
610-820-6168Copyright © 2015, CT Now