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Memorable Manitobans: James Wickes Taylor (1820-1893)

Click to enlargeDiplomat.

He was born in Starkey, Yates County, New York on 6 November 1819, the eldest son of James Taylor and Maria Wickes. In 1845 he married Chloe S. Langford. He received his early education at Hamilton College, Clinton, New York and Penn Yan, New York and from 1838 to 1842 he studied law under his father. In 1842 he went to Cincinnati, Ohio and in December1843 he was admitted to the Ohio Courts.

In 1846 he established the Cincinnati Morning Signal and began to take an active part in political affairs. He was elected to the Ohio State Constitutional Convention of 1849-50 and moved a provision for a judicial reform commission, which was established with Taylor as secretary. For a short time he edited a newspaper in Sandusky, Ohio, later moving to Columbus. He served as State Librarian from 1852 to 1856. In 1856 he moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, practising law, but spent most of his time writing newspaper articles and studying the resources of the North-west. In 1857 he was appointed secretary of the Minnesota and Pacific Railroad Company, but the panic of 1857 spelled doom for the proposed line.

From 1859 to 1869 Taylor served as a special agent to the Treasury Department, being particularly charged with the investigation of reciprocal trade and transportation relations between the United States and Canada. In December 1869 he was issued a secret commission appointing him special agent of the State Department to provide full details on the Red River disturbance and the relations of British North America with the American North-west. By September 1870, he was appointed Consul of the United States at Winnipeg, a position he held until his death. Throughout this period he continued his investigations of the resources of the North-west and the promotion of commercial relations between the United States and the Canadian North-west. He was an enthusiastic supporter of reciprocal trade, international railways, settlement, western agriculture and the development of natural resources.

In 1871 he was successful in preventing a Fenian raid on Manitoba, and in the same year obtained from the American Treasury Department bonding regulations which facilitated the movement of immigrants to Manitoba. In 1885, on Taylor’s recommendation, an American force patrolled the Canadian-American boundary to prevent aid from reaching the insurgents under Louis Riel.

He was a founding member of the Manitoba Historical Society.

For his vigorous advocacy of the merits of Canada he was called “Saskatchewan Taylor,” a title that did not seem to be a source of annoyance to him. The zeal with which he advocated the interests of his “other country “ was only limited by the duties he owed to his own. Consul Taylor also played an active role in the work of the Manitoba Historical Society, in which he was a charter member. Although he never wrote or published a paper under the Society’s auspices, he added much to the value of the papers read by an eloquent comment from the richness of his own mental store.

Taylor died on 28 April 1893, and was buried in the family plot at Utica, New York.

More information:

The James Wickes Taylor Correspondence,1859-1870 edited by Hartwell Bowsfield (1968).

“James Wickes Taylor: A Biographical Sketch” by Theodore Blegen, Minnnesota Historical Bulletin 1 (1915-16): 155-212.

James Wickes Taylor, Dictionary of Canadian Biography XII, 1,029-31.

Sources:

Pioneers and Early Citizens of Manitoba, Winnipeg: Manitoba Library Association, 1971.

Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by J. M. Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.

Page revised: 23 January 2010

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