J. S. Taylor

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James T. S. Taylor, Sr (1840–1918) was a prominent African-American businessman who represented Albemarle County at the Constitutional Convention of 1867–1868. Born to free parents, Taylor served with the United States Colored Troops (USCT) during the Civil War (1861–1865).

Taylor was the first African American elected to represent Albemarle County in the Virginia General Assembly and at a Virginia Constitutional Convention. A Republican, Taylor fought for universal manhood suffrage, the establishment of a statewide and racially integrated public school system, and more democratic local governments.


James Thomas Sammons Taylor was born free in Berryville, Virginia, on January 14, 1840, to Fairfax Taylor, a shoemaker who had purchased his freedom from enslavement, and Ellen Sammons Taylor. The family moved to Charlottesville in 1850. His father, a leader in the local Black community, is said to have hired a private tutor for his son in addition to teaching him the cobbler’s trade. In 1862, Taylor ran away from Charlottesville to Union lines in Fairfax to avoid being forced into Confederate service as a laborer. [1] In 1863, James enlisted in the United States Colored Troops' 2nd Infantry Regiment in Washington DC, where he was quickly promoted to acting commissary sergeant. Over the course of his three-year military career, he sent letters to the New York Anglo-African, a prominent Black publication, protesting the lack of African American officers and racism within Union ranks. He also wrote to President Abraham Lincoln in 1864 requesting reinstatement while he was detained by white officers after he was accused of theft. [2]

While stationed in Florida in 1865, Taylor met and married Eliza Ann Delancy (February 14, 1842-March 8, 1939), the freeborn daughter of Bahamian immigrants born at Key West, Va. He was discharged in 1865 and returned to Charlottesville with his wife, where he bought an acre of his father's land with help from the local Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands. [3]

Taylor and his wife had at least eight daughters and five sons. (Ella Irving, lived on West Street Charlottesville, Va. in 1939)

During the 1882 Congressional election as a poll worker for the Readjuster Party, Taylor was accused of helping ineligible voters cast ballots.

After the 1902 Virginia Constitutional Amendment, Taylor was one of the few Black men in his his neighborhood who successfully registered as a voter. Taylor's home was located at 534 NE Taylor St.

Taylor died of pneumonia on January 4, 1918 and is buried in Oakwood Cemetery.

Political Career

At the state Constitutional Convention in 1867–1868, Taylor was one of two representatives elected by Albemarle County. His father, Fairfax Taylor, publicly opposed his nomination refused to support his son because he believed that moderate white Republicans would be more effective in representing the interests of African Americans in the Reconstruction revisions. However, he was overwhelmingly supported by Albemarle's African American population, and was elected with white radical C. L. Thompson by a margin of around 300 votes out of approximately 4,000 cast. This was the first Virginian election in which African American men could vote.[4]

At the Convention, Taylor was one of the thirteen members of the committee tasked with organizing the committees and duties of the convention. He also sat on the Committees on the Basis of Representation and Apportionment and on Prisons and the Prevention and Punishment of Crime.

In 1869, Taylor was nominated by the Republican Party as a candidate for the House of Delegates. He lost that election with 43 percent of the vote, although the newly revised Virginia Constitution passed, allowing Virginia to fully rejoin the Union. In 1875, he ran with another African American and a white candidate on a Republican ticket for Albemarle County’s three House of Delegates seats. Taylor finished 105 votes behind the third place candidate, and the Republicans lost the race. Despite his defeats, he spent the 1870s participating in Republican Party politics, and attended conventions at the local and state level.

In 1881, Taylor was a supporter of the Readjuster Party, the shortest-lived and most radical reform party in Virginia history.[5] The Readjuster Party was created in 1879 in response to the debate of how to pay off the 45 million dollars of Virginia's debts. Taylor, seeing that a popular Democratic Party solution would be to cut public school funding, joined the coalition with the intent to help save public schools. This succeeded: the debt was refinanced with the passing of the Riddleberger Act of 1882.


  1. Web. James T. S. Taylor (2nd USCT), Black Virginians in Blue, UVA Nau Center for Civil War History, 2020, retrieved May 28, 2021.
  2. Web. A Black Soldier from Charlottesville Writes to Lincoln, White, Jonathan W., Black Virginians in Blue, UVA Nau Center for Civil War History, 17 January 2017, retrieved May 28, 2021.
  3. Web. Virginia History: Albemarle County elects an African-American man for the first time, Burnett, Miranda, This Week In Virginia History, WTJU Charlottesville, 21 October 2020, retrieved May 24, 2021.
  4. Web. Taylor, James T. S., Brooks, Christopher, Encyclopedia Virginia, Virginia Humanities, 12 Feb 2021, retrieved May 24, 2021.
  5. Web. Brent Readjuster Party, Encyclopedia Virginia, Virginia Humanities, 14 Dec 2020, retrieved May 24, 2021.