A Kentucky Cotton Planter, Part One


Many of the research projects I am involved with deal with the same Antebellum Era of Rob Morris’s time. Recently I was invited to visit an Antebellum cotton plantation called Hollywood, once owned by Dr. John Martin Taylor (1819-1884) and his wife, Mary Elizabeth Robertson Rives Taylor (1824-1868) in Drew County, Arkansas. By the 1850s this cotton plantation encompassed almost 11,000 acres. For perspective an 11,000 acres equals 17.18 square miles.
Hollywood is located along the western bank of Bayou Bartholomew which runs adjacent to the Mississippi River. Bayou Bartholomew is the world’s longest bayou and became central to the operation for the Taylor’s cotton plantation. Dr. Taylor would transport the cotton as well as some timber from the plantation by flat bottom boats down the bayou to a steamboat landing. He would then take the cotton and timber to New Orleans by steamboat where it was sold and then purchase supplies for the return trip.
In 1846 Dr. and Mrs. Taylor built a large, two-story dogtrot style home beside the original dwelling of a one room log cabin built by Mrs. Taylor’s stepfather, a surveyor names Peter Rives. The Taylor’s home in Arkansas was built of the bald cypress cut from the adjacent bayou. The couple named the home Hollywood because of the abundance of holly trees from the area however from my recent visit, there appeared not a holly tree left on site.
Today Hollywood is the only extant example of a 19th century, two-story log dwelling with square notching in Arkansas. The house, family cemetery and some surrounding acreage was placed on the National Register in 1997 and in 2012 the property was donated to the University of Arkansas at Monticello to begin archaeological and historic research on the property.
The more interesting aspect of this story is that the Hollywood Plantation was one of two large homes owned by Dr. and Mrs. Taylor. Their other residence was “Mauvilla” which was an 18 room, Italianate mansion that sat on a rise overlooking the Ohio River outside of Westport, Ky. in Oldham County.
Unfortunately, Mauvilla was torn down in 1952 by its last owner who was seeking rumors of hidden treasures in the six tall Corinthian columns that upheld the massive two story porch. The structure supported a third floor cupola that had a viewing room on all four sides to view the Ohio River. There was a large, tree lined avenue from the mansion to the river landing and was said to be the most beautiful mansion from Pittsburgh to New Orleans on the Ohio River. The house was made of handmade bricks, had a spiral stair leading from the great entrance hall to the observatory and a large balcony with an iron balustrade opening from the 2nd floor.
The 1850s census records from Drew County for the Hollywood Plantation indicated that the Taylors had 83 enslaved laborers in the area which made the Taylor family one of the largest slaveholders in the area. Of those 83 enslaved persons, 31 were female and 52 were male. Most of the women were between ages of 20 and 25 and the majority of males were between birth and nine years of age. The 1850s census from Oldham County for the Mauvilla Plantation indicated the Taylors had 680 acres with a total of 23 slaves, only 8 over the age of 16.
About a ¼ mile from the Hollywood House there was a small group of cabins as well as a church and burying ground called Cypress Grove for the slaves. At Mauvilla there was mention of slave cabins behind the mansion but there has not been any archaeological or survey work to determine outbuildings.
The interesting aspect of John Martin and Mary Elizabeth’s life is they travelled regularly by steamboat throughout the year between their two homes in Kentucky and Arkansas, carting their children (of which they had 10) and some of their enslaved workers. The Taylor’s had 10 children, one stillborn, one drowned at 15 months, one died when 4 years old and the other 7 lived to maturity. The Taylor children were: Franklin Robertson Taylor (1847-1852), Henry Robertson Taylor (1849-1900), Samuel Mitchell Taylor (1851-1900), Jonathon Gibson Taylor (1853-1929), John Martin Taylor (1855-1904), Robert Edward Taylor (1857-1858), Eliza Mildred Taylor (1859-1931), stillborn girl, Benjamin Howes Taylor (1863-1915), Goodloe Rives Taylor (1868-1943).
Stories about the Taylor’s have been documented by family members with some of the most intriguing by Mrs. Dillard Saunders written in 1963. One includes the return of some of the slaves from Arkansas to Kentucky. Mrs. Taylor was in Arkansas when Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation and Dr. Taylor explained to the slaves in Arkansas, they were now free. He offered them work in Arkansas but if they wanted to go back to Kentucky, his wife, Miss Mary Bet (Mrs. Taylor), would take them “home” to Kentucky. On the course of the return of the “former” slaves with Mrs. Taylor to Kentucky, they had made a regular stop by steamboat at Cairo, Illinois on their journey. Mrs. Taylor was harassed by people at Cairo who seeing the entourage tried to free the slaves. A riot was deterred when a Union officer, Capt. Kiteby, from Kentucky, recognized Mrs. Taylor and provided an escort for the group to the steamboat which went on to arrive safely to Westport.
The next few columns will continue to explore the life at Mauvilla and Hollywood.
You can contact Nancy at: nancystheiss@gmail.com