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Reverend Edward Taylor’s original manuscripts of unpublished poems and writings sat quietly on a shelf in the library of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.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


Pilgrim Swept Overboard!

“I’ve got to go topside to fill my lungs with some fresh air,” thought agitated John Howland to himself as he began to climb the ship’s ladder up to the main deck. Water sloshed around his ankles and storm tossed waves splashed down on him from the hatch above. The Mayflower rocked back and forth and pitched side to side bobbing like a cork in the storm.  The fierce October tempest would eventually throw the ship far off course from its intended destination in the Virginia colony.

The other passengers shouted at John over the loud creaking of the Mayflower’s wooden frame as the ship rocked with every passing wave. “Don’t go up there, John!  We’ve been ordered to stay below until this terrible storm has passed!” The ship’s hold was filled with passengers as well as the stench that permeated everything in their close quarters.

“This storm has been raging for weeks! I’m going to take a look,” his shouts drowned out by the roar of the waves crashing above. “Don’t worry!”

John and most of the other passengers were en route from England to America to start a new life where they would not be persecuted for practicing Christianity the way they believed they should.  England and all of Europe had been going through tumultuous times since the beginning of the Reformation.  Catholic or Protestant?  The decision for England to embrace one or the other swayed back and forth almost as much as the Mayflower did during this storm.  Even when England was Protestant, as it was at the time of the Pilgrims in 1620, it was not Protestant enough for this group of Christians.

As John climbed the ladder and opened the hatch, water poured down on him and drenched every stitch of clothing on his body.  The wind and spray of the sea swirled around him as he came on deck.  The rocking of the ship caused him to stumble, slip, and slide.  He quickly grabbed a sail that had been furled because of the storm.

Illustration by H.B. Vestal - 1966

Pilgrim John Howland overboard – Illustration by H.B. Vestal – 1966

A crew member barked out an order for him to get below deck, but just as John turned around to look at him a monstrous wave crashed onto the deck.  The force of the water swept John overboard out into the watery depths.  As he slipped under the water he felt something next to him. He latched on to it as his head came above the surface and then dunked back underneath.  He had grabbed hold of the ship’s halyard!  He was hanging on for dear life!  The crewmen quickly grabbed the rope and pulled him back into the boat.  Wet, water-logged, and shaken, John Howland went back below deck, but he was thankful that he had been miraculously rescued!

William Bradford, in the only primary source account of the Mayflower voyage, writes of the experience:

“In sundry of these storms the winds were so fierce, and the seas so high, as they could not bear a knot of sail, but were forced to hull, for divers days together. And in one of them, as they thus lay at hull, in a mighty storm, a lusty young man (called John Howland) coming upon some occasion above the gratings, was, with a seele of the ship thrown into the sea; but it pleased God that he caught hold of the topsail halyards, which hung overboard, and ran out at length; yet he held his hold (though he was sundry fathoms under water) till he was hauled up by the same rope to the brim of the water, and then with a boat hook and other means got into the ship again, and his life saved; and though he was something ill with it, yet he lived many years after, and became a profitable member both in church and commonwealth.”

This Thanksgiving I have one more reason to be thankful — thankful that John Howland caught hold of that topsail halyard!  John Howland is my 10th great-grandfather, a Plymouth Pilgrim, and a signer of the Mayflower Compact.   (

John Howland’s signature on the Mayflower Compact

*A Footnote to “Savagery in the Susqhehanna” – Frederick Stump (Part 1a)

It was said that Frederick Stump’s release from jail was accomplished by the “Paxton Boys” who were a group of pioneers frustrated with the lack of protection from Native American attacks during the Pontiac Wars of 1763-64.

The worst raid of Native Americans against white settlers in 1764 was by four Delaware who killed and scalped a school teacher and ten children.  After these types of attacks, the Pennsylvania legislature, with Gov. Penn’s approval, reinstated the “scalp bounties” of the French and Indian War.   These promoted attacks against Native American men and women above the age of ten.

The Iroquois were not part of the Pontiac War confederacy of tribes.  They had made a previous “covenant chain” with the British.  This is one reason the British were so quick to make amends with the Six Nations of Iroquois after the murders committed by Frederick Stump.

The Paxton Boys eventually turned vigilante and murdered Native Americans — some of whom were living peaceably among them.  Benjamin Franklin accurately described the prevailing attitude in Pennsylvania surrounding the attacks of the Paxton Boys: “the Spirit of killing all Indians, Friends and Foes, [has] spread amazingly thro’ the whole Country.”  (Benjamin Franklin to Richard Jackson, February 11, 1764, in The Papers of BenjaminFranklin)  There seemed to be little difference between “self-defense” and “revenge” against Native Americans on the Pennsylvania frontier in the 1760’s.  It is against this backdrop in which Frederick Stump committed the murders in 1768.  He may well have been a Paxton Boy.

© 2011 Melinda Holloway All Rights Reserved

Savagery in the Susquehanna – Frederick Stump (Part 1)

Depending on which account one reads about the life of Frederick Stump, he was considered a notorious “Indian killer” who was never brought to justice, or he was a feisty, German tavern owner and distiller of rum who successfully overcame insurmountable odds, more than once, when he found his life in shambles.

The controversy surrounding his life began on a cold, January evening in 1768 in what is now middle Pennsylvania on the edge of the wilderness land of the Six Nations (Iroquois) and Delaware Nations. Those settlers who lived on the border (“borderers”) were an agitation to the peace-loving Quaker communities which were found in much of the Pennsylvania area at that time.   The borderers were also an agitation to the surrounding Nations because they had little regard for treaty agreements when these agreements conflicted with their way of life.

The following account of that wintry evening and the following day is attributed to Stump as he was relating it in the home of George Gabriel (account personalized):IMG_3151-001

“White Mingo, Cornelius, John Campbell, Jones, and two women, came to my house and were “drunk and disorderly!”  I tried to get them to leave and they refused.  I was afraid I was putting myself in danger, so I killed them all.  I then dragged their bodies to the creek, made a hole in the ice, and shoved their bodies into the water.  


Near the mouth of Middle Creek – located south of present-day Selinsgrove, PA where Frederick Stump lived and the initial killings took place.

“I was afraid that news of this might be carried to the other members of the tribe, so the next day I took my servant, John Ironcutter, and we traveled some fourteen miles up the creek. There we found one woman and two girls and a child in two cabins.  We killed them, put them in the cabins, and burned them.”


Stump’s Run in Middleburg, Pennsylvania where the second killings occured, fourteen miles up Middle Creek from Frederick Stump’s place.

William Blythe, a member of the community who personally heard Stump’s account of the murders, immediately traveled to Philadelphia and, under oath, swore that he heard Frederick Stump admit to the murders when he had been in Gabriel’s home.

John Penn, the provincial governor, offered a reward of 200 British pounds for Stump and Ironcutter. Penn promised that they would be punished with death and that the leaders of the Six Nations and Delawares would be notified of what they had done.

Before the proclamation made its way back to the community, Stump and Ironcutter were swiftly arrested by a force of nineteen men led by the local British commander, William Patterson, of nearby Fort Augusta.  After a defiant struggle, they were brought directly to the sheriff in the town of Carlisle in Cumberland County.


Site of the jail in Carlisle, Pennsylvania where Frederick Stump was held. Present structure was built in 1854.


A letter was sent by the British commander to the Six Nations expressing condolences and restitution for the murders. A portion of the letter follows:

“The inhabitants of the province of Pennsylvania do disapprove of the said Stump and Ironcutter’s conduct; and as proof thereof, I have taken them prisoners, and will deliver them into the custody of officers, that will keep them ironed in prison for trial; and I make no doubt, as many of them as are guilty, will be condemned, and die for the offence.

“Brothers, I being truly sensible of the injury done you, I only add these few words, with my heart’s wish, that you may not rashly let go the fast hold of our chain of friendship, for the ill-conduct of one of our bad men.”

A reply from the Six Nations was magnanimous:

“Loving Brother: I am glad to hear from you. I understand that you are very much grieved, and that the tears run from your eyes. With both my hands I now wipe away those tears; and as I don’t doubt but your heart is disturbed, I remove all the sorrow from it, and make it easy, as it was before. I will now sit down and smoke my pipe. I have taken fast hold of the chain of friendship; and when I give it a pull, if I find my brothers, the English, have let it go, it will then be time for me to let go too, and take care of my family. There are four of my relatives murdered by Stump; and all I desire is, that he may suffer for his wicked action; I shall then think that people have the same goodness in their hearts as formerly, and intend to keep it there. As it was the evil spirit that caused Stump to commit this bad action, I blame none of my brothers, the English, but him.”

But before they could come to trial, Frederick Stump and John Ironcutter were rescued from jail by a large group of settlers, called the Paxton Boys, who sympathized with Stump’s actions.  In the past, local white settlers had been scalped and brutally murdered as well.   The mob overpowered the sheriff and the jailor and released Stump and Ironcutter.

Description Frederick Stump

Description of Stump and Ironcutter in a local paper after their rescue from the Carlisle, Pennsylvania jail

For a time it seems the Stumps lived near Fort Augusta at least until after Frederick, Jr. was born in 1769.  Then he removed himself from the Pennsylvania country that had been their home and eventually settled near Augusta, Georgia.  At the time, Frederick had a wife, Ann, a son, Jacob, 11, two daughters, Barbara, 7, and Anne, 6 and infant Frederick, Jr.  It’s not certain if they went with him immediately because after the birth of Frederick, Jr., there is a seven year gap before his next child was born.

Read more about Frederick Stump in the post entitled “*a footnote to Savagery in the Susquehanna – Frederick Stump (Part 1a)” and in the post “Fugitive, Fighter, Founder – Frederick Stump (Part 2).”

Frederick Stump is my 5th great grandfather.  His daughter Anne is my 4th great grandmother who married Jonathan Guice.

© 2011 Melinda Holloway All Rights Reserved