Portrait of Zachary Taylor

On July 4, 1850, President Zachary Taylor most likely ate something that contained deadly bacteria that led to his death five days later. Taylor died at 10:35 p.m. on July 9, 1850. [Wikimedia Commons]

Zachary Taylor - Facts

November 24, 1784 – July 9, 1850

Key facts about Zachary Taylor, twelfth President of the United States.

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Full Name:

  • Zachary Taylor

Birth Date:

  • November 24, 1784

Birth Location:

  • Orange County, Virginia

Parents:

  • Richard and Sarah Dabney (Strother) Taylor

Education:

  • No formal education

Occupation:

  • Military officer
  • Politician

Career Summary:

  • Twelfth United States President
  • Major General (USA)

Spouse:

  • Margaret Mackall Smith (June 21, 1810)

Nickname:

  • Old Rough and Ready

Place of Death:

  • Washington, DC

Date of Death:

  • July 9, 1850

Place of Burial:

  • Taylor estate near Louisville, Kentucky

Significance:

  • Zachary Taylor was the third of nine children born to Richard and Sarah Dabney (Strother) Taylor.
  • Richard Taylor descended from a prominent Virginia planter family and he was a Continental Army officer who attained the rank of lieutenant colonel during the American Revolution.
  • In 1785, Richard Taylor moved his family to a log cabin in Kentucky and established a successful plantation known as “Springfield” that housed as many as twenty-six slaves.
  • Zachary Taylor received little formal education growing up in the Kentucky wilderness, but he acquired frontier skills in hunting, tracking, horsemanship, and musketry that prepared him for life in the military.
  • On June 6, 1808, Zachary Taylor accepted a commission as a first lieutenant with the 7th Infantry Regiment of the United States Army, launching a military career that spanned four decades.
  • Zachary Taylor’s first military assignment was recruiting soldiers for his regiment in Kentucky.
  • During May and June 1809, Zachary Taylor temporarily commanded Fort Pickering near Memphis where American Indians had killed his brother, William, the year before.
  • Zachary Taylor married Margaret Mackall Smith on June 21, 1810. Their union produced five daughters (two of whom did not survive childhood) and a son.
  • Zachary Taylor’s daughter, Sarah Knox Taylor, was the first wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
  • Zachary Taylor’s only son, Richard Taylor, became a lieutenant general in the Confederate Army during the Civil War.
  • Zachary Taylor was promoted to captain on November 13, 1810.
  • During the War of 1812, Zachary Taylor distinguished himself commanding an out-manned garrison during the Siege of Fort Harrison (September 4–15, 1812) near Terre Haute, Indiana.
  • For his leadership during the Siege of Fort Harrison, Zachary Taylor was brevetted to the rank of major.                     
  • On February 1, 1815, Zachary Taylor received a promotion to the full rank of major effective May 15.
  • In the spring of 1815, Congress downsized the army and Zachary Taylor reverted to his previous rank as captain. Refusing to accept the demotion, Taylor resigned from the army.
  • With the support of President James Madison, Zachary Taylor was recommissioned as a major on May 17, 1816, and sent to Fort Howard, Wisconsin.
  • In April 1819, Zachary Taylor was promoted to lieutenant colonel and ordered to Louisiana.
  • While stationed in Louisiana, two of Zachary Taylor’s daughters died of a “bilious fever” in the fall of 1820.
  • In 1822, Zachary Taylor established Fort Selden and Fort Jesup in Louisiana.
  • In 1822, Zachary Taylor purchased a cotton plantation near Bayou Sara, Louisiana. 
  • Zachary Taylor was promoted to colonel of the 1st Infantry Regiment on April 4, 1832.
  • In 1832, Zachary Taylor took part in the Black Hawk War against the Sauk Indians.
  • On December 25, 1837, Zachary Taylor led American forces at the Battle of Lake Okeechobee, one of the larger and last major encounters during the Second Seminole War.
  •  In May 1838, Zachary Taylor was brevetted to the rank of brigadier general “for distinguished services” at the Battle Lake Okeechobee and he was placed in command of all American troops in Florida.
  •  Zachary Taylor earned the nickname “Old Rough and Ready” due to his willingness to share the hardships of field duty with his men.
  •  Zachary Taylor was assigned to the command of the Second Department of the Western States in 1841.
  •  In 1842, Zachary Taylor purchased Cypress Grove Plantation in Mississippi for $95,000. The deal included 1,923 acres of land and eighty-one slaves.
  • In March 1846, President James K. Polk ordered Zachary Taylor to advance U.S. forces into the Nueces Strip, the disputed area between Texas and Mexico.
  • On May 8, 1846, Zachary Taylor’s outnumbered Army of Occupation defeated a force of 3,400 Mexicans at the Battle of Palo Alto, near present-day Brownsville, Texas.
  • On May 9, 1846, Zachary Taylor’s Army of Occupation routed the Mexican army at the Battle of Resaca de la Palma, forcing the enemy back across the Rio Grande.
  • In mid-May 1846, Zachary Taylor was brevetted to major general.
  • On June 27, President James K. Polk nominated Taylor to be promoted to the full rank of major general. The Senate approved the nomination on the same day.
  • Zachary Taylor’s Army of Occupation defeated approximately seven thousand Mexican soldiers commanded by General Pedro de Ampudia at the Battle of Monterrey (September 21-24, 1846).
  • After the American victory at the Battle of Monterrey, President Polk and others severely criticized Zachary Taylor for his generous terms, which allowed General Pedro de Ampudia’s army to retreat south.
  • Despite being outnumbered nearly four to one, Zachary Taylor’s Army of Occupation defeated Antonio López de Santa Anna’s army at the Battle of Buena Vista (February 22–23, 1847).
  • By the end of the Mexican-American War, Zachary Taylor was a national hero.
  • At the Whig National Convention on June 7, 1848, in Philadelphia, it took the delegates only one day to choose Zachary Taylor as their presidential candidate.
  • On November 7, 1848 Zachary Taylor won the presidential election collecting 1,361,393 votes (47.3%) to 1,223,460 votes (42.5%) for Democratic candidate Lewis Cass and 291,501 votes (10.1%) for Free Soil Party candidate Martin Van Buren.
  • In the 1848 Electoral College vote, Zachary Taylor and Lewis Cass each carried fifteen states, but Taylor won the larger states and defeated Cass 163 to 127.
  • Zachary Taylor took the presidential oath of office on March 4, 1849.
  • Zachary Taylor favored avoiding disputes over the extension of slavery in California and New Mexico by urging residents of the area to petition Congress for statehood and bypass territorial status.
  • In 1850, when some Southern leaders threatened secession, President Taylor responded that if it were necessary, he would personally take the field to enforce the laws of the nation and that he “would hang . . . with less reluctance than hanging deserters and spies in Mexico” anyone who attempted to disrupt the Union by force or by conspiracy. 
  •  On July 4, 1850, President Taylor most likely ate something that contained deadly bacteria that led to his death five days later.
  •  Zachary Taylor died at 10:35 p.m. on July 9, 1850.
  •  Following Zachary Taylor’s death, his remains were temporarily interred in the Public Vault of the Congressional Cemetery in the nation’s capital from July 13, 1850 to October 25, 1850. His body was then transported to Kentucky, where it was buried on the grounds of his estate near Louisville.
  •  At the time of his death in 1850, Zachary Taylor was a wealthy man who owned plantations in Kentucky and Mississippi, including over 200 slaves.
  •  In 1991, Dr. Sarah rising convinced Zachary Taylor’s descendants to authorize an exhumation of the president’s body to determine if he had possibly been poisoned by arsenic. Tests performed on hair and fingernail specimens proved negative.
  •  Although Zachary Taylor could have been murdered by some untraceable poison, there is no hard evidence to support such speculation. The most warranted explanation currently is that Taylor died of natural causes.
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Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Zachary Taylor - Facts
  • Coverage November 24, 1784 – July 9, 1850
  • Author
  • Keywords u.s. president, general, mexican-american war
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date March 7, 2021
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update February 17, 2021