James Patton Taylor, Inventor and Poet

Eldest son of Nathaniel Greene Taylor and Emma Haynes.
Born Dec. 22, 1844; died August 20, 1924

He invented, I was always told, the machine gun, but had his design for it stolen from his workshop by a neighbor named Gatling. I took the above picture of the gun in 1983. It was then in the library of Washington College in Tennessee, resting upon a coffin-shaped box, no doubt its case. Later it was given to the Smithsonian Institution.
      Who knows what the real story was? Great-grandfather James P. Taylor served in the US Patent Office during the Andrew Johnson administration, while his father negotiated treaties with the plains Indian tribes. It was a time when the idea of a machine gun held great currency. Surely many would-be inventors submitted designs to the patent office. Richard Gatling took out his patent in 1862 and was manufacturing the gun by 1870. Is it unfair to suggest that young Jim Taylor, adept at design, with an interest in things mechanical, no doubt already with a design or two up his sleeve, might have glanced at one or two of the designs that crossed his desk and seen a thing now and then that might have improved his own plan?
       At any rate, he formed a company, called it The Taylor Repeating Ordance Association, and entered into contract negotiations with Remington, but broke off talks. According to research done by Leon Wier for the Remington Society of America Journal, six patents were issued to him from 1871 to 1878. In the first patent, Nathaniel Taylor was assigned half the rights; the others assigned half to John Baxter, the man whom my grandfather must have been named for, a noted lawyer and judge from Knoxville. The US Army tested the gun in 1878, found it to jam a little too often. One historian, Selden Nelson, writing in 1908, writes that James P. Taylor and Richard J. Gatling were friends, and that Jim's version was sold to the Gardner Gun Company, of Hartford, CT.
       I'm struck by the contradictions! Jim's father Nathaniel, a minister, serving as Johnson's Indian Commissioner, struggling to negotiate a peaceful settlement to the growing tensions in the West, with a stake in the design of a machine gun! And then there is the existence of a long anti-war poem that Jim wrote, which one day I'll transcribe. It's in the voice of "the demon of war," and is eight pages long. Among its more memorable lines are these: (war speaking) "Where e'er I am is hell, nay, I am hell!/ Darkness my light, my order chaos wild./ My justice wrong, my mercy but to slay."

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