Discovery and Loss of the Puritan Poet: Rev. Edward Taylor

Reverend Edward Taylor’s original manuscripts of unpublished poems and writings sat quietly on a shelf in the library of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. The descendants of Edward Taylor were given strict instructions by Rev. Taylor himself not to publish his works.  His poems written in the late 1600’s and early 1700’s were personal spiritual meditations and were not written for the public eye.  His descendants respected his wishes, but eventually in 1883, they were given to Yale and placed in the library for safe keeping.  The manuscripts were so safely kept that they were forgotten for fifty-four years. They were discovered in 1937 and were soon edited and published by Thomas H. Johnson.

Almost from the first reading, Reverend Taylor was heralded as the greatest Puritan poet. His poetry has a flare not expected from a person with Puritan attitudes and beliefs.  His most common form of poetry sprang from his meditations before each celebration of communion at the Lord’s table with his congregants.  Considered a metaphysical poet his imagery is vibrant and lively. He was a very pious man so most of his writings are devotional in nature.  And that would stand to reason since these poems were for his own personal meditation and not intended for a public audience.

Rev. Edward Taylor came to Massachusetts Bay in 1668 and almost immediately enrolled in Harvard.  A couple of years later, he was encouraged to take a pastorate 100 miles away in Westfield, Massachusetts.  He became their pastor and for a time was their physician as well.  He met his wife Elizabeth Fitch in Westfield and they had eight children, three of whom lived to adulthood.  Elizabeth died in 1689 and he later married Ruth Willys and had six more children. He continued as pastor there until his death in 1729.

He was serious about his relationship with God and firm in his doctrinal beliefs. He corresponded with early Massachusetts pastor Increase Mather, son of Rev. Cotton Mather. At Harvard Rev. Taylor was classmates with Samuel Seward whose fame came later as the judge of the Salem Witch Trials for which he later apologized. He disagreed sharply in practice with Solomon Stoddard, a fellow pastor who was allowing non-church members to partake of communion.  Reverend Taylor vehemently opposed this idea partly because he saw it as just that, a sacred communion with Christ, which is evident in his many writings about the Lord’s Supper.

This is the part where I let the reader know that Rev. Edward Taylor is my eighth great-grandfather.  But that would be amiss. After spending many hours studying and researching this very interesting man, my efforts resulted in realizing that this is a case of mistaken identity.  Genealogists like me copy and paste people from other people’s family trees only later to discover that an entry was in error.  Many people connect Reverend Edward Taylor as the father of Sarah Taylor the wife of Deacon Samuel Bacon.  But this is not the case.  She is the daughter of Edward Taylor of Barnstable, MA who married Mary Wood, not the Rev. Edward Taylor of Westfield, MA who married Elizabeth Fitch. Both Edward Taylors lived in the same area at about the same time so confusion is expected.  This is another lesson in careful research while we are building our family trees.

To say I was disappointed would be an understatement.  I felt like a family member had died.  But even though I have lost him as a relative, I have been introduced to a very interesting friend. I can’t wait to read his book!

© 2013 Melinda Holloway All Rights Reserved

3 thoughts on “Discovery and Loss of the Puritan Poet: Rev. Edward Taylor

  1. I want to read the Rev. Taylor’s works now too, thanks to you. The Puritans seem to have a tarnished image for many, who see them as either hopelessly out-of-touch Neanderthals or unpleasant and scary bigots, but they were so much more interesting than that, and you’ve uncovered a little more of their fascinating story here.

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