Memorable Manitobans: James Wickes Taylor (1820-1893)
Born at Starkey, Yates County, New York on 6 November 1819, eldest son of James Taylor and Maria Wickes, he received his early education at Hamilton College, Clinton, New York and Penn Yan, New York. From 1838 to 1842, he studied law under his father, moving to Cincinnati, Ohio in the latter year. He was admitted to the Ohio Courts in December 1843. He married Chloe S. Langford in 1845.
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 1849-1850 and moved a provision for a judicial reform commission, which was established with Taylor as secretary. For a short time he edited a newspaper at 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. He was a participant in the 1878 ceremony to mark the opening of the first railway to Winnipeg.
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.
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 founding 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.
He died on 28 April 1893 and was buried in the family plot at Utica, New York.
Pioneers and Early Citizens of Manitoba, Winnipeg: Manitoba Library Association, 1971.
Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by John M. “Jack” Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 19 May 2018