TAYLOR, John (1655-1729), of Bifrons, Patrixbourne, Kent

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Constituency

Dates

1695 - 1698
Feb. - Nov. 1701

Family and Education

b. 7 Dec. 1655, 1st s. of Nathaniel Taylor† of St. Giles, Cripplegate, Mdx. by Mary, da. of John Bridges of Hackney, Mdx.  m. 14 June 1677, Olivia (d. 1716), da. of ?Nicholas Tempest, 8s. (4 d.v.p.) 4da.  suc. fa. by 1684.1

Offices Held

?Asst. Dyers Co. by 1685; ?member R. African Co. 1702–12.2

Freeman, Sandwich 1695, Canterbury 1696.3

Book-keeper to treasurer of navy by 1698.4

?Commr. surveying lands in England 1707, ?taking subscriptions to S. Sea Co. 1711; surveyor of woods in America by 1717.5

Biography

Taylor’s father, Nathaniel, was ‘a radical Puritan lawyer’ who sat in the Barebones Parliament of 1653–4. He was a friend, and later probably a neighbour, of the Congregationalist minister George Cokayn, whom he remembered in his will. Nothing is known of Taylor’s early career, apart from a phrase in a letter to John Povey* in 1694 in which he described himself as ‘bred to the trade of importing naval stores’ which suggests that he was the John Taylor who was a factor at Narva in the 1680s. A reference in his will to the ‘customs’ of the city of London suggests that he was a liveryman, and he may well have been the ‘John Taylor’ named in the charter granted in 1685 to the Dyers’ Company. His marriage to Olivia Tempest has prompted some sources to connect him to the Tempests of Stella in county Durham, but Sir Nicholas Tempest, 1st Bt. (d. 1626), was too old to have been her father and Sir Nicholas, 6th Bt. (b. c.1664), too young. Even the date of death of Taylor’s own father can only be surmised from the provenance of the will. In 1681 Taylor imported nearly £3,000-worth of goods from the Baltic into London. A letter from Henry Guy* to the navy commissioners in February 1684 suggests that much of Taylor’s business was in naval stores as he had promised to provide 200 tons of Riga hemp from Koningsberg and Stockholm. In 1685 he imported from the Baltic over £16,000-worth of goods, and he became a major naval contractor in the 1690s. However, it is possible that his interests were wider still as in 1685 a namesake imported goods from Hamburg-Bremen, Holland, Spain, Italy, the West Indies, Virginia-Maryland and Scotland. Over ten years later a John Taylor part-owned a ship sent to the West Indies (1695), petitioned the Treasury over the tobacco trade (1696) and between 1702 and 1712 sent six consignments to Africa. Even more suggestive, given Nathaniel Taylor’s religious sympathies, is a report in 1695 that a subscriber to the land bank, one John Tailor, had lent Sir Edward Harley* a work by Spanheim on toleration. Before 1696 Taylor was based in Hackney, several of his children, including Septimus (1691) and Bridges (1695), being born in the parish of St. John’s. This makes it probable that he was the John Taylor ‘of Hackney’ who in 1694 subscribed £2,000 to the Bank of England. In September 1694 Taylor purchased the estate of Bifrons in Kent and presumably made this his main residence, for the baptisms of his son Upton (1696) and daughter Hannah (1700) were recorded in the parish of Patrixbourne. Some sources, however, continue to refer to him as John Taylor ‘of London’.6

Given the nature of Taylor’s business with the Navy Board, a seat in Parliament could only have helped him in competing for contracts. Likewise, it gave him a voice in determining general matters of trading policy and in deciding on parliamentary dispensations relating to individuals. In April 1694 he himself had been unsuccessful on one such occasion when a clause on his behalf was rejected which, had it passed, would have exempted from the bill granting tonnage duties goods contracted for him before 1 Dec. 1694. Nor would possession of a Commons seat have come amiss in Taylor’s dealings with the Board of Trade over such matters as the protection of his agents from Indian attack, the related matter of improving the defences of New Hampshire by annexing it to the government of neighbouring Massachusetts, or, indeed, the protection of his nascent American interests and Baltic trade from the speculative schemes of other merchants. Taylor’s parliamentary opportunity came as a result of his Kentish interests, not least his purchase of Bifrons, almost mid-way between Canterbury and Sandwich. Judging from the evidence against his return, reported to the Commons on 31 Jan. 1696, both Taylor and the corporation of Sandwich were well aware of the mutual advantages to be gained from his election to the Commons. In particular, the corporation were impressed by the economic stimulus which Taylor had given neighbouring Ramsgate and were attracted by the possibility that he could be a key agent in revitalizing Sandwich. At the election Taylor had had to defend himself against the charges of favouring a general excise and being a courtier. The latter charge was the more difficult to rebut as several witnesses accused Taylor of offering the town one half of the profits accruing to him of any office he obtained by virtue of his becoming a Member. Taylor’s response was to ask the rhetorical question: ‘Do you think I would leave an employment I was in for an office at Court?’ Bearing in mind that Taylor’s contracts with the Navy Board in 1694–5 were worth in excess of £50,000, he could easily demonstrate the absurdity of exchanging one role for the other, but, in reality, office and naval contracting were not incompatible. Having beaten off an election petition, Taylor’s attitude was supportive of the ministry. He was forecast in January 1696 as likely to support the Court over the proposed council of trade, a subject in which he had detailed knowledge. On 3 Feb. he was given leave of absence for ten days, and, although listed as having signed the Association later that month, he was not present on 13 Mar. when nominated to a committee of seven charged with auditing the East India Company’s accounts, being replaced by Robert Harley*. He may also have been absent later in March as he was not listed as having voted on the question of fixing the price of guineas at 22s. In the following session, on 25 Nov. 1696, he voted for the attainder of Sir John Fenwick†. On 10 Mar. 1698 he received further leave of absence for three weeks. On a list of placemen dated July 1698 he was ascribed two offices, one in the Exchequer (which was wrongly attributed) and one entitled ‘book-keeper to the treasurer of the navy’, which can be corroborated by correspondence in 1705, when it was claimed that the undeclared accounts of Viscount Falkland (Anthony Carey*) as treasurer of the navy (1681–9) were still in the hands of his ‘accountant’, Mr Taylor. Asked for these accounts, Taylor wrote from Bifrons blaming his successor ‘Mr Coupland’ for any transgressions. Further, an undated commentary belonging to Sir Robert Rich, 2nd Bt.’s* period as an Admiralty commissioner (1691–9) refers to Taylor as ‘clerk of the cheque’ to the Earl of Orford (Edward Russell*), the treasurer of the navy, and stated that Taylor was the Earl’s ‘creature’. Subsequently, on a comparative analysis of the old Parliament and the new one elected in 1698, Taylor was classed as a Court supporter.7

It is not known if Taylor was one of the defeated candidates for Sandwich at the 1698 election, but it would seem probable on the basis of his involvement in the next two general elections. By now he had made his mark on local society, being appointed both a deputy-lieutenant and j.p. during 1699. Being out of the House did not preclude his applications to the Commons in furtherance of his own trading interests. On 12 Apr. 1699, he petitioned, albeit unsuccessfully, that a bill currently under consideration for making the Hope a free ship, should extend to include a foreign-built ship which he had purchased for importing large masts for the navy. Taylor regained his seat at the general election of January 1701. On 9 Apr. he was granted leave of absence for a fortnight. On 3 June he was a teller, successfully opposing an amended resolution from the committee of ways and means to apply to public use the poundage deducted out of the defalcations made by the paymasters of the navy for sundry services provided for the seamen. Whether Taylor had a direct interest in the defeat of this resolution, or was merely protecting his friends, is unclear. At the dissolution of Parliament in November 1701 he applied to Sandwich corporation, offering his services to the borough in the forthcoming elections. In doing so, he referred to the proceedings of the Commons on 12 June, when the House had offered support should the King form alliances with the Emperor and the States General against France. He wrote: ‘I am heartily disposed to make good what we promised his Majesty in our late Address.’ But whether this stance contributed in any way to Taylor’s failure to secure re-election is not clear, but he did not press his candidature to a poll.8

Taylor did not stand again, being content to continue his trading activities and use his profits to extend his estates by purchasing nearby Bridges in c.1704. In the 1706–7 session he procured a private Act to make the Supply a free ship, on the grounds that it was nearly impossible to obtain English-built ships to transport the largest masts. Evidence suggests that he continued to trade in naval stores until after the Hanoverian succession. Taylor died on 4 Apr. 1729, his monumental tablet in Patrixbourne church praising him as ‘a strict economist, a just dealer, and a friend to the poor’. Having already settled most of his estate on his eldest son, Brooke, Taylor’s will concentrated on making provision for his other seven surviving children. Absence of any reference to the Bank of England suggests that the John Taylor holding stock worth £20,000 in 1724 (and over £4,000 in 1710) was his namesake at the Treasury (d. 1735). Two of Taylor’s great-grandsons, Edward† and Sir Herbert†, were the next members of his family to sit in Parliament, in the early 19th century.9

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Stuart Handley

Notes

  • 1. P. Parsons, Monuments and Painted Glass Chiefly in E. Kent, 357; Arch. Cant. xiv. 174–5; PCC 155 Hare; IGI, London.
  • 2. CSP Dom. 1685, p. 150; K. G. Davies, R. African Co. 373.