Taylor, Margaret Smith (1788–1852)

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Taylor, Margaret Smith (1788–1852)

American first lady (1849–1850) who was an "invisible" presence in the White House. Name variations: Peggy Taylor. Born Margaret Mackall Smith on September 21, 1788, in Calvert County, Maryland; died on August 18, 1852, in Pascagoula, Mississippi; daughter of Walter Smith (a planter and veteran of the Revolutionary War) and Ann (Mackall) Smith; married Zachary Taylor (1784–1850, 12th president of the United States), on June 21, 1810, in Louisville, Kentucky; children: eight, including Ann Mackall Taylor (b. 1811); Sarah Knox Taylor (b. 1814, who married Jefferson Davis [1808–1889], later president of the Confederacy); Octavia Pannill Taylor (b. 1816); Margaret Smith Taylor (b. 1819); Mary Elizabeth Taylor Bliss (1824–1909); Richard Taylor (b. 1826).

The story is told that Margaret "Peggy" Taylor considered her husband's presidential nomination in 1848 "a plot to deprive her of his society and shorten his life." She even prayed for his defeat. Nevertheless, "Old Rough and Ready" was victorious and Margaret was thrust into the White House, where she lived in seclusion on the second floor, amid rumors that she was uncultured "poor white of the wilds" and smoked a corn-cob pipe. In truth, she was Maryland gentry, the daughter of Walter Smith, a plantation heir and major in the Revolutionary War, and granddaughter, on her mother's side, of General James Mackall. As for the pipe, tobacco smoke made her quite ill.

Little is known of Margaret's early life. She was born in 1788 in Calvert County, Maryland. It is believed that she had two brothers and a sister, and that her mother Ann Mackall Smith died when Margaret was in her teens, leaving her in charge of the household. She met young Lieutenant Zachary Taylor in Kentucky, while visiting her sister, and they were wed in June 1810. Throughout most of their marriage, Margaret cheerfully followed her husband to various remote military garrisons. While he distinguished himself against Tecumseh, and in the Black Hawk and Seminole wars, she raised five daughters and a son in primitive and dangerous outposts. Two of the girls died of malaria in the Bayou country of Louisiana, where Zachary was transferred in 1819. The losses were devastating. When another son and daughter were born, the Taylors sent the children to live with relatives, rather than risk exposing them to further dangers. In 1835, their second daughter, Knox Taylor , also died of malaria, three months after eloping with Jefferson Davis, then a soldier under the command of her father and later president of the Confederacy.

In 1841, the Taylors finally settled on a plantation on the Mississippi, only to be parted again by the Mexican War. This time Margaret vowed that if her husband were spared, she would never set foot in society again. She kept her promise. In the White House, she welcomed the visits of friends and relatives in her private upstairs sitting room, ate with the family, and worshipped regularly at St. John's Episcopal Church. All official social functions, however, were presided over by her youngest daughter Mary Elizabeth Bliss , wife of Taylor's adjutant and secretary, William Bliss, or by Varina Howell Davis , second wife of her former son-in-law Jefferson Davis.

Bliss, Mary Elizabeth (1824–1909)

First daughter and White House hostess. Name variations: Betty Taylor; Betty Bliss. Born Mary Elizabeth Taylor in 1824; died in 1909; daughter of Margaret Smith Taylor (1788–1852) and Zachary Taylor (1784–1850, president of the United States); sister of Knox Taylor ; married William Wallace Smith Bliss (1815–1853, Zachary Taylor's adjutant and confidential secretary); married Philip Pendleton Dandridge; no children.

Mary Elizabeth Bliss, known as Betty, was the youngest of the Taylor daughters and functioned as social hostess for her mother Margaret Smith Taylor . She was educated at a finishing school in Philadelphia and at age 25 married Lieutenant Colonel William Wallace Smith Bliss, who was an aide and confidential secretary to her father. Betty was a charming hostess, often called the "Wild Rose of the White House." After the death of her husband, she married Philip Pendleton Dandridge. She had no children by either marriage, and remained sympathetic to the Southern cause throughout her life. She died in 1909, at age 85.

Margaret's fears that the presidency would take her husband's life were not unfounded. Just over a year after assuming office, Zachary fell ill after a long exposure to the summer sun during a cornerstone-laying ceremony. He died five days later, on July 9, 1850. Margaret left Washington shortly after the funeral and never spoke of the White House again. She spent the last two years of her life surrounded by her children and grandchildren, and died at age 64. She is buried next to her husband in the Zachary Taylor National Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky.


Healy, Diana Dixon. America's First Ladies: Private Lives of the Presidential Wives. NY: Atheneum, 1988.

Klapthor, Margaret Brown. The First Ladies. Washington, DC: White House Historical Association, 1979.

Melick, Arden David. Wives of the Presidents. Maple-wood, NJ: Hammond, 1977.

Paletta, LuAnn. The World Almanac of First Ladies. NY: World Almanac, 1990.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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Taylor, Margaret Smith (1788–1852)

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