Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from William D. S. Taylor, with Jefferson’s Note, 25 August 1803

From William D. S. Taylor, with Jefferson’s Note

Lexington August 25th 1803:


Presumptuous as an epistle from one entirely unknown to your Excellency may generally be considered, yet conscious that I am addressing our common Father,—The friend and patron of liberty and liberality—I am induced to become a petitioner. Before I state my wish to your Excellency, I will give you as good an account of myself as I possibly can.

Being blessed with an indulgent Parent, He gave me as liberal an education as an early emigration to an almost uninhabited Country would admit of; intending me for the profession of the law: but as my Father and most of my relations had been officers during the revolutionary contest, and bore honorable testimony of the confidence their fellow Citizens had in their zeal for the cause of liberty, I imbibed the love of patriotism from my infancy, and impatiently longed for an establishment in the Army or Navy that I might always be in readiness (should ever an occasion offer) to signalize myself against the enemies of my Country.

Nothing but the hopes I had of such an establishment induced me to persue my Studies, always entertaining the opinion that a good education was as requisite in a military Character as in any profession whatever.

As I am acquainted with the present disbanded situation of our military force, I should not have presumed to have troubled you, had I not supposed there would (in all probability) be wanting some more troops to Garrison our newly acquired Teritory of Louisiana.

If Sir you will interest yourself in my favour and procure me a Commission in the Army or Navy that a gentleman need not blush to accept, I will exert myself to make it reflect some small degree of Credit on my patron.

With pleasure I will risk the untried climate of that extensive Teritory or brave the more perulous dangers of the ocean. As grating as a disappointment will be to a young and sanguine mind, should you think proper not to favour me, I shall immediately conclude your reasons sufficient and shall always wish for the health & prosperity of our worthy President, the Father of his Country.

Yrs with much veneration & esteem

William D S Taylor

P. S. If your Excellency should have any doubts respecting who I am: My Father is Colo. Richd. Taylor, who I presume is not unknown to you,—and should you consider letters of recommendation, or further particulars as to my character necessary, they shall immediately be forwarded—upon your condescending to have this answered.


[Note by TJ:]

the writer of this is not personally known to me. his father & several of his family were well known. they are of the most respectable families in the county of Orange, highly republican, and I never heard of an indifferent character among them. Th:J.

RC (PHi); with note by TJ on address sheet below endorsement; addressed: “His Excellency Thomas Jefferson Esqr President of the U.S. Washington City” with “Milton Va” later written in another hand in place of “Washington City”; franked; postmarked Lexington 26 Aug.; endorsed by TJ as received 12 Sep. and “for commn. in army” and so recorded in SJL; also endorsed in Dearborn’s hand: “enquire of Mr. Brackinridge as to Mr. Taylors private character.”

A native of Orange County, Virginia, and a second cousin of James Madison, William Dabney Strother Taylor (1782-1808) was a son of Richard Taylor and Sarah Dabney Strother as well as the older brother of Zachary Taylor, the twelfth president of the United States. The Taylor family moved to frontier Kentucky in 1785 and settled at “Springfield,” a farm near Louisville where William Taylor received a classical education from his father and a Connecticut tutor, Elisha Ayers. Taylor pursued a military career and held a commission as a midshipman in the navy from 1806 until February 1807, when he resigned out of “filial obedience” to his parents’ concern for his safety, as well as a desire for a higher rank. On 25 Feb. 1807, he received an appointment as second lieutenant in the army artillery, but was killed the following year in a skirmish while serving at Fort Pickering, Tennessee (Christopher McKee, A Gentlemanly and Honorable Profession: The Creation of the U.S. Naval Officer Corps, 1794-1815 [Annapolis, 1991], 426; Anna Robinson Watson, Some Notable Families of America [New York, 1898], 7; Holman Hamilton, Zachary Taylor, Soldier of the Republic [Indianapolis, 1941], 25, 33, 261-2, 264; Madison, Papers, Sec. of State Ser., 9:100-1; William D. S. Taylor to Madison, 17 Jan. 1807, in DLC: Madison Papers; Robert Smith to Taylor, 10 Feb. 1807, in DNA: RG 45, LSO).

my father: Richard Taylor had been a colonel in the Virginia Continental line during the American Revolution and became active in Kentucky state and local affairs thereafter. From 1792 to 1799, he was a member of the Convention of Kentucky and helped frame the state’s first and second constitutions (Baltimore Patriot & Mercantile Advertiser, 7 Feb. 1829; Kathleen Jennings, Louisville’s First Families [Louisville, 1920], 129; Heitman, Register description begins Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army during the War of the Revolution, April, 1775, to December, 1793, new ed., Washington, D.C., 1914 description ends , 534).

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