Sunday, January 16, 2011

This Day in Illinois History - Jan. 16

On this day in Illinois history, Jan. 16, 1862, Col. Edmund D. Taylor supposedly met with Abraham Lincoln in the White House and suggested the use of treasury notes printed on banking paper to be used as legal tender. These notes, as they became known, were the nation's first greenbacks.

I write supposedly because the letter from Abraham Lincoln written in December 1864, confirming this incident has been declared "spurious" by some historians. That it once hung on display in Lincoln's tomb and its whereabouts today unknown doesn't help the matter.

There's a second letter on the 16th that served as a letter of introduction for "Mr. Taylor" to Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase. However, it's not clear if this was a reference to Col. Taylor, as Lincoln would have known him, or to another person named Taylor.

The earliest reference I've found comes from a Feb. 24, 1876 issue of the Decatur Local Review. In a series of news briefs on the front page the following references Col. Taylor and the greenback, though the identity of the "professor" is unknown to me at this point.

"The professor is becoming jealous of the greenback popularity of Col. Taylor, and it is said that is the reason why the professor refuses to put up the ticket."

It's very oblique but it does mention Taylor and the currency in the same breath.

Taylor and Lincoln's acquaintance dated back three decades when Lincoln first ran for the legislature following the Black Hawk War. Lincoln lost that election. Taylor won.

Though on opposite sides most of their lives, for one point in the mid 1850s, or at least in 1854, the two became political allies in the fight against Stephan Douglas, then the state's senator. Lincoln was a new Republican and Taylor, an anti-Nebraska Democrat.

I first came across E. D. Taylor in the pages of Springhouse magazine. Gary DeNeal, my fellow "Crenshaw Rascal" in the search for the real story of the Old Slave House came across Col. Taylor who was John Hart Crenshaw's brother-in-law. Taylor also held the mortgage on the Old Slave House for many years.

I didn't realize it at the time, but Taylor was one of my fourth-great uncles (my great-great-great-great uncle). His father, Giles Taylor, was Crenshaw's father-in-law and my fifth-great grandfather.

Taylor played an important role in the development of Chicago as the receiver of public monies at the federal land office. He later got into banking in Indiana, coal mining in La Salle County and real estate development in Chicago.

Although his role in the greenbacks is questioned, his financial acumen is not. Nor was his son-in-law's who served as comptroller of the City of Chicago.

On Nov. 8, 1855, the Alton Weekly Courier reprinted news from Chicago about Taylor's business skills.

Several sales of real estate have been effected within the week of importance. Col. E. D. Taylor sold $68,000 worth of property on cash and short time. Less than seven years since the same property cost the Col. but $8,000. A nice little transaction. But such is not an uncommon occurrence in Chicago.

Taylor, who was born Oct. 18, 1804, at Fairfax Courthouse, Va., died Dec 4, 1891, in Chicago.


Jean said...

Hi Jon,

I'm trying to dig into researching the Crenshaw house, and was wondering if you knew who to contact about the property itself.

Any help you could provide would be extremely appreciated. Please email me at, or call me at 312 351-0382.


Jean Perry

Anonymous said...

Hi Jon,

Do you have any new updates on the Crenshaw house and if it will ever again be open to the public or a petition to reopen to the public can be addressed to?

Brian Mitchell

Anonymous said...