Thursday, February 9, 2023

Local Former Governor Tells All


If you ever wanted to know the details on, say, a Hollywood celebrity, leave it to the society columnists and social media "influencers" to dig up all the dirt. But our Richard Taliaferro, possible subject of two conflicting documents we've found, lived in the mid-1700s—and in a place unlikely to have many newspapers published with gossip columns.

Not to worry. There was another way to find all the snark a nosy family historian might desire: the tell-all book published by a former governor of the state of Georgia, George Rockingham Gilmer.

Governor George just happened to be born in Georgia to parents whose lines reached way back into colonial Virginia times: Thomas Gilmer and Elizabeth Lewis. The fourth of nine children, our George grew up with eight other opportunities to intermarry with descendants of early American family lines. 

He also, perhaps owing to his upbringing in what was then "frontier" territory of his home state, developed a habit of bluntly saying what he thought. Maybe it was his training as an attorney, or perhaps the years he spent serving in the Georgia state legislature, or the United States Congress, or his terms as governor, but those who have read his book, Sketches of Some of the First Settlers of Upper Georgia, have noticed a high snark factor in his writing.

I am not sure we can call ourselves "lucky" that Governor Gilmer happened to be related to the Taliaferros in question for my research project this month, but he did have something to say about all the elder Zachariah Taliaferro's children. In particular, he mentioned the son we've been wondering about yesterday, Richard T.

The governor's commentary seems to confirm that Richard was son of the senior Zachariah and brother of my fourth great-grandfather, the junior Zachariah. Note how his assessment shows us that Richard did not seem to have a wife, let alone any children. In the governor's words:

Richard Taliaferro was deformedhis legs and thighs being only a span or two long, whilst his body was of ordinary length and size, and his head unusually large. His mind was of good capacity, but his deformity so soured his temper, and mortified his pride, as to drive him from society. He never married, became very penurious, and died without ever having enjoyed the love or commiseration of any but his nearest kin.

Whether that commentary was actually mean-spirited or simply the bluntness of a self-appointed social critic, it does provide us with some further hints about this Richard Taliaferro. For one, it rules out the guardianship document we found concerning two children orphaned about the same time someone by the same name as Richard died in Coweta County, Georgia. Since the passage was inserted in pages devoted to listing remembrances of the Taliaferro siblings, it makes for interesting reading—though not guaranteed to be accurate reporting. 

A note inserted by the author along with that text mentioned that Richard lived near his brother-in-law, Thomas Watkins. With the will we found yesterday—seeming all the more likely to be our Richard's document—we now have two sibling leads to follow up on. Besides Frances Penn and her family, mentioned in Richard's will, we now also need to find other explanations of how Thomas Watkins might have been related to our Taliaferros.



  1. Gosh, he certainly was very blunt!

    1. And the rest of the book reads pretty much just the same as this excerpt. Just inconceivable that he got away with publishing such blunt remarks.


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