Mount Airy, Richmond County, Virginia


The purchase for £500 of three thousand acres of productive land in Charles County, on the Potomac, gave a big boost to the fortunes of the Tayloe family of Virginia. This shrewd purchase was made by Colonel John Tayloe, the son of William Tayloe (or Taylor) who came from England in the seventeenth century. William Tayloe was a member of the House of Burgesses in 1710. His son John became a member of the Colonial Council in 1732, while his son John, who was born in 1721, also had the honor of serving in the Council under Lord Dunmore, as well as in the first Republican Council, during the administration of Patrick Henry. He married the sister of Governor George Plater of Maryland. Of his eight daughters one married Richard Lightfoot Lee, a Signer of the Declaration of Independence, while another married Colonel William Augustine Washington, a nephew of George Washington, by whom he was educated.

Colonel John Tayloe, the father of three daughters, was the builder of Mount Airy, which was for many years the most superb mansion in Virginia, and was so different from all other mansions that it attracted many visitors, even in the days when transit was difficult. Its twenty-five spacious rooms afforded generous accommodation for the guests who were eager to accept the invitations of Colonel and Mrs. Tayloe. Among the entertainments provided for these guests by the thoughtful hosts were concerts by a band made up entirely of slaves who had been instructed by their master. On occasion this band was taken to the town house at Williamsburg, the capital of the State.

The letters of Washington show that the builder of Mount Airy was an ardent patriot, and his friend and associate. These two men were joint executors of the estate of one of the Lees. From his headquarters in the Craigie House at Cambridge the General wrote to Mount Airy a letter about the estate, asking Tayloe to become sole executor.

The varied interests of Colonel Tayloe were indicated by his remarkable will, which asked, among other things, that one part of his estate in Prince William County, Virginia, and Baltimore County, Maryland, be kept intact and worked for the making of pig iron. Not only did he own a number of other plantations, but he was a large shipowner, and reaped unusual profits from trade.

Perhaps the best known owner of Mount Airy was John Tayloe, III, who was born in 1771, and was the only son in a family of twelve. He was educated at Eton and Cambridge, England. Before going abroad he had learned patriotism from his father, and on his return he was ready to administer his estate for the benefit of the country as well as his own family. When his inheritance was turned over to him the income was sixty thousand dollars. Within a few years he ii creased this to seventy-five thousand dollars. His father’s iron- and ship-building interests were conserved and enlarged. His master ship-builder at Occoquon was his slave Reuben.

During his residence at Mount Airy the splendor of the mansion was increased. Among his guests were men who had stood shoulder to shoulder with Washington during the Revolution, and those who later be-came prominent as associates of Hamilton, Jay, Mar-shall, and Pinckney. He married the daughter of Governor Ogle of Maryland, and had fifteen children.

The memorial by one of his sons, Benjamin Ogle Tayloe, says that ” his manners were refined and elegant. He was distinguished for his nice sense of honor, and a scrupulous regard to his word at all times. His wife was esteemed for sincerity and kindness of heart, graceful and dignified manners, and true and unaffected piety.”

He took time for the services of his country. As Captain of Dragoons he went to Western Pennsylvania, to help put down the whiskey insurrection. When President Adams made him a Major of Dragoons, General Washington wrote to him a warm letter of con-gratulation, but Tayloe hesitated to accept the commission. He had just been elected as a Federalist to the Virginia Senate, and he feared, as he wrote to Washington, that if he resigned his seat the place would be filled by an opponent of the administration. On February 12, 1799, Washington replied that he was inclined to believe his civil service would be more important than military service, but he asked that decision be delayed until they could have a personal interview. Later, on the breaking out of the War of 1812, he was made commander of the cavalry of the District of Columbia, and saw active service.

Washington’s friendship led him to make his winter home in the District of Columbia. In 1801 he occupied the Octagon House, then the finest private residence in the city. When the British burned the White House he was at Mount Airy. At once he sent a mounted messenger to President Madison, offering the use of the Octagon as the temporary Executive Mansion.

His establishment at Mount Airy was maintained in remarkable splendor. His household and equipages were the talk of the neighborhood. A lover of fine horseflesh, he was the owner of some of the swiftest animals of his day.

The eldest son, John Tayloe, inherited his father’s ardor for public service. He was engaged brilliantly in the battles of the Constitution with the Guerriere, and with the Cyano and the Levant. After the action his native State gave him a sword, and he was promoted to a lieutenancy. Though he was captured by the British, he lived to return to Mount Airy, where he died in 1824. His father died four years later, while his mother lived until 1855.

Mount Airy has always been in the hands of a Tayloe. It is now in possession of the family of the late Henry Tayloe.

( Originally Published Early 1900’s )