This Day in History: The indentured servant who became a Signer of the Declaration
On or around this day in 1716, a signer of the Declaration of Independence was born. Or maybe his birthday wasn’t in July after all. Maybe it was closer to Christmas—or Easter. He could have been born in the middle of a rare Irish tornado for all we know.
Almost nothing is known about the circumstances of George Taylor’s birth.
Isn’t it crazy that we know so little about one of the signers of our Declaration of Independence? Yet without the bravery of this man and others like him, America as we know it would never have come into existence.
Most historians believe that Taylor was born in Ireland, but it’s at least possible that he was born in England. He was probably the son of a clergyman; he seems to have been well-educated. He became discontent with life in Europe and decided to sail for America. Taylor came to our shores as an indentured servant: He otherwise lacked the resources to make the trip on his own.
Once in America, he was indentured to an ironmaster by the name of Savage. Taylor was initially tasked with the job of throwing coal into a furnace to keep it hot. But Savage soon realized that Taylor was better educated than most; he would be more useful elsewhere. Taylor was transferred to a job as a clerk.
Life would change drastically for Taylor in the years that followed. He worked hard, learned the business, and was valued in his new job. Savage passed away. Taylor eventually married his widow. (His biographers are usually quick to note that he married the widow after an appropriate period of time!)
The man who had once come to the ironworks as an indentured servant was now master of the business. What an odd turn of events!
Taylor became involved in public life. As early as 1764, he represented his county in a provincial assembly. He would undertake many such duties in the years that followed, and he was serving in the assembly when delegates were appointed to the Second Continental Congress.
This is the same Congress that would approve the Declaration of Independence.
Taylor wasn’t appointed to serve in that Congress—at least not at first. A few months later, however, several of Pennsylvania’s delegates had indicated that they would not vote for the Declaration. Pennsylvania’s legislature decided to appoint new delegates in their stead. Taylor was one of these delegates, sent to sign the Declaration when others were reluctant to do so.
Of course, the man who had formerly been an indentured servant knew the value of freedom. Perhaps it is unsurprising that he was willing to risk everything in order to ensure that his country would be free.
Taylor unfortunately wouldn’t live to see the day when American independence was finally secured. He passed away in February 1781, just eight short months before the British surrender at Yorktown.
Benson John Lossing, Biographical Sketches of the Signers of the Declaration of American Independence (1866)
Charles A. Goodrich, Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence (1832)
Dennis Brindell Fradin, The Signers: The 56 Stories Behind the Declaration of Independence (2003)
Nathaniel Dwight, The Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence (1852)
Sanderson’s Biography of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence (Robert T. Conrad ed. 1865)