A Virginia Woman of Rare Resolve: Judith Anderson Taylor

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Wednesday, November 9, 1803 Paper: Virginia Argus (Richmond, VA) Volume: XI Issue: 1094 Page: 1. Source: GenealogyBank.com.

Women had few legal rights in Virginia during the life of my 4th great-grandmother, Judith Anderson Taylor (1760-1835). They couldn’t engage in a contract, own property or vote. It was legal for a man to beat his wife, slaves or children for purposes of discipline. Divorce was extremely rare; between 1786 and 1851 only 583 divorce petitions were submitted to the Virginia legislature. 1 This does not mean that Virginians endorsed spousal abuse or that women had no rights. Thomas E. Buckley writes, “If a wife expected domestic violence she could ask a local justice to require her husband to offer public assurances of peaceable behavior.”2

Judith Anderson married Blagrave Taylor (also spelled Blackgrove or Blagrove) in Goochland County on July 18, 1796. He was about 26 and Judith was at least 10 years older according to Anderson family records. Judith was the daughter of the highly regarded Colonel Richard Anderson of  Louisa County and most likely brought a comfortable dowery to the marriage as she had already inherited property from her grandparents Pouncy and Elizabeth Holland Anderson.

This was probably  a marriage of convenience as Judith’s prospects were limited by her age and Blagrave was perhaps looking to “feather his nest” with a comfortable dowery. The marriage produced only one child, my third great-grandfather, Richard A. Taylor, who was born in Powhatan County about 1801.

Judith Anderson took her private marital troubles public at the October Court of 1803. Powhatan justices found Blagrave Taylor guilty of a breach of peace towards his wife, prompting Blagrave to declare his wife insane in the Virginia Argus on November 3, 1803. Society would have found this public discussion shameful and distasteful. Much like today, their private troubles probably created family divisions and was the subject of gossip in the local taverns. This was a situation both parties would normally go to great lengths to avoid.

Blagrave’s behavior towards Judith must have been unbearable and extreme for her to go to court. She probably feared for her life. I applaud her courage and resolve as she faced friends, family, neighbors and the court with what most women of her time considered their private shame. This was a rare act by a woman.

Here is the judgement the Court passed. A bond of $500 was considerable in 1803, further reinforcing the extreme and socially unacceptable nature of Blagrave’s behavior.

On the complaint of Judith Taylor stating that Blackgrove Taylor, her Husband, has been guilty of a breach of the peace towards her, who being called did appear, and on hearing the parties it is the opinion of the Court that the said Taylor has been guilty of a breach of the peace towards his Wife, as aforesaid, and that he be bound to give security for his good behavior for the space of Twelve Months towards all the Citizens of this Commonwealth, and particularly to her the said Judith Taylor, his Wife, – Himself in the sum of Five hundred dollars in two securities in the sum of Two hundred and fifty dollars each; whereupon the said Blackgrove Taylor with his securities William Pollock and Noah Price, acknowledged themselves indebted to the Commonwealth in the sums aforesaid; to be levied of their goods and Chattels, Lands and Tenements respectively; But on condition that the said Taylor keep the peace, as aforesaid, towards all the Citizens of this Commonwealth and particularly to the said Judith Taylor his Wife, then the above recognize to be void or else to remain in full force and virtue.3

I haven’t found any other record of marital discord for Judith and Blagrave. Census records indicate they shared the same household in 1810 and 1820.  Blagrave’s reputation does not appear to have suffered. He serves on a Coroner’s Jury in 1815 and in 1817 appraises an estray (stray) hog for the Court. However, his father, Robert Taylor, passes over Blagrave and chooses his younger sons to administer his sizeable estate, perhaps a nod to Blagrave’s poor health, judgment or lifestyle.

Blagrave died without a will in February, 1828 and Judith was named as one of the executors of his estate, another strong indication she was respected and trusted by her family and the Court. She lived with her son and his growing family until her death in 1836 at about the age of 75.


Footnotes:

  1. Buckley, Thomas E. The Great Catastrophe of My Life Divorce in the Old Dominion. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina, 2002. 4. Print.
  2. Buckley, 154.
  3. Powhatan County, Virginia, Order Book 7 1803 -1803, page 347, Complaint of Judith Taylor stating that Blackgrove Taylor, her Husband, has been guilty of a breach of the peace towards her , October Court 1803; Court Clerk’s Office, Powhatan.