The Private Writings of Maria Baker Taylor, 1813-1895

Baptist Faith in Action: The Private Writings of Maria Baker Taylor, 1813-1895

Lydia Huffman Hoyle

Baptist Faith in Action: The Private Writings of Maria Baker Taylor, 1813-1895. By Kathryn Carlisle Schwartz. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2003. 384 pp.

Some folks say they hate history. Often, however, even those with such an aversion are drawn to the stories of everyday people and how they lived in a previous age. This account of the life of Maria Baker Taylor is such a story. It describes the long life of Taylor as she sought to live out her Baptist faith in the American South. Told by her great granddaughter, this book weaves together some of the extensive writings of Taylor into a contextualized narrative that is rich and inviting.

Beyond her familial connection to Richard Furman (she was a grandchild of the noted Baptist minister), Taylor did not lead a life that would place her into the annals of history. She spent her days as many nineteenth-century Southern women did, raising her children and serving her church. Taylor, however, unlike most of her contemporaries, enjoyed a life marked by education and opportunity. She had both the ability and leisure to read and write extensively. Her letters, diaries, and poems were a product of both the ordinary and extraordinary elements of her life. These writings, edited and introduced by Schwartz, form the substance of this book.

Schwartz divides Taylor’s story into four parts that describe the major phases of Taylor’s life. The first section traces Taylor’s childhood. Although sketchy, this section outlines the strong commitment to education and the Baptist faith that marked Taylor’s birth family. The second section focuses on Taylor’s young adulthood. Aider her marriage to John Morgandollar Taylor, the couple moved further east to the coastal region of South Carolina. There, the family prospered as plantation owners. Taylor’s life soon became consumed with raising and educating eleven children. This, along with her involvement in the local Baptist church, is the focus of this section of the book. Taylor wrote most prolifically in her “midlife” years from age forty to sixty-two. Half of the book rests in the third section. The Taylors spent these years establishing a new plantation in Marion County, Florida. Here, we discover much about her theoretical and practical engagement with slavery, her interpretation of Lincoln and the Civil War, and her involvement in the education of her children. The final part of the book traces the twenty-two years of Taylor’s life after the death of her husband. During these years, she extended her writing to include poetry and prose published in Baptist newspapers. She also educated sixteen of her grandchildren. Taylor was always an industrious woman.

Schwartz hopes that the reader will hear the voice of Maria Taylor and thus provides the context and editing to make this possible. Although she provides little interpretation, Schwartz produces an engaging story that at once confirms and challenges existing stereotypes of the Southern planter culture. This book will draw those interested in Women’s Studies, Southern History, and Baptist Heritage. It may even find some fans among those who do not think they like history.–Reviewed by Lydia Huffman Hoyle, associate professor of church history and Baptist heritage, Campbell University Divinity School, Buies Creek, North Carolina.

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