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President TaylorAlthough yesterday (Feb. 18) was President’s Day, this post is still going to honor one of those men who have led our country for the past 225 years, albeit with a Louisiana twist.

While it’s true that no United States president has ever hailed from Louisiana, one did spend a considerable amount of time  in the state. Zachary Taylor (November 24, 1784 – July 9, 1850) the 12th President of the United States (1849–1850), was the first (and only) US President to permanently reside in Louisiana.

Unfortunately for Louisiana, Taylor was a Virginian by birth. The future president was born on November 24, 1784, on a plantation in Barboursville, Virginia, to a prominent family of planters of English ancestry. His family eventually left exhausted lands and joined the westward migration out of Virginia, settling near what developed as Louisville, Kentucky, on the Ohio River.

President Taylor’s military career was what ultimately propelled him to the White House. It also was the reason that brought him to Louisiana, coincidentally. He came to New Orleans in 1808, at the age of 24, as first lieutenant in the 7th Infantry, under General James Wilkinson. Taylor spent much of 1809 in the dilapidated camps of New Orleans and nearby Terre aux Boeufs.  Between 1808 and 1822 he established Forts Selden and Fort Jesup, and purchased a cotton plantation near Bayou Sara. (Over time, Taylor acquired the nickname of “Old Rough and Ready” from his men due to his penchant for sharing the hardships of the field with them.) That November he was transferred to Fort Robertson at Baton Rouge, where he remained until February 1824.

In late 1826 he acquired his first Louisiana plantation, and decided to move with his family to Baton Rouge. Their home was very close to the site of the modern Louisiana State Capitol that Huey Long built (who has been Louisiana’s only real, homegrown hope for president). On the Capitol grounds is a marker commemorating the site of the home of Zachary Taylor (727 Lafayette St. is the actual site).

(On a side note, Taylor’s son, the famed Civil War General Richard Taylor, spent most of his life in Louisiana, marrying into the Bringier family, a notably influential Creole clan. Richard also purchased and ran Fashion Plantation.)

Taylor had long been a Louisiana citizen when he left his plantation for the White House.  After participating in several Indian wars, Taylor retired to civilian life in 1840 on a plantation near Baton Rouge.  Retirement was fleeting, however: Taylor was recalled to service. He providentially emerged from the Mexican War a national hero, which catapulted him to the White House.  After the Mexican War, Taylor returned to his Baton Rouge plantation, which was where he received news of his nomination and election to the Presidency in 1848.

Sadly, Taylor died July 9, 1850, 16 months after his inauguration. It was the third-shortest tenure of any President. He is thought to have died of gastroenteritis. President Taylor was succeeded by his Vice President, Millard Fillmore. Although Taylor did not serve long in Washington, his long and distinguished military career was a great service to his nation, one that we should all be thankful for.

And that concludes the tribute to President Zachary Taylor, a long-time Louisiana resident and the state’s best claim to the White House.

Food for thought: Who is your favorite president, and why?