CYPRESS GROVE PLANTATION
General Taylor's Plantation
Date: 1846, 1847, 1848
Creator: Lewis, Henry
Image Source: Lewis, Henry. The Valley of the Mississippi, Illustrated.
St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1967.
Permission: Minnesota Historical Society
Webmaster's note: looking up river,
you can see Cypress Grove, Spithead and Pecan Grove
General Zachary Taylor (1784-1850), on a visit to Rodney, Mississippi, was
so taken by the area and the potential profits to be made from growing
cotton here that he determined to purchase land. On December 15 and 17,
1841, in a series of transactions, he sold his three contiguous Louisiana
and Mississippi properties. Taylor then authorized his agent Maunsel White
in New Orleans in early 1842 to purchase the 1,923-acre Cypress Grove
Plantation on the Mississippi River south of Rodney, from John Hagan, Sr.
From January 12 to February 13 he took a leave of absence from the army to
finalize the details of his purchase. For this plantation, along with its
81 slaves, Taylor paid $60,000 in cash, the bulk of which represented the
proceeds from the sale of his cotton crops, and $35,000 in notes. The
boundaries of Cypress Grove were not settled until March 1848, and Taylor
complained of the long process as ruining him. Although the property lay
in one of the richest cotton producing regions in the South, the
plantation took several years to become profitable, do to its large
James Thornton served as overseer at Cypress Grove until he resigned in
1845. Taylor took leave from the army from May 16 until late May to return
to his plantation to straighten out problems caused by the resignation.
Thomas W. Ringgold was hired as the new overseer. The initial actions of
Ringgold irritated Taylor since the overseer, contrary to his orders,
planted a full crop of cotton. But when the price of cotton in 1845 rose
higher that it had been in five years, Taylor concluded that the decision
had been wise. The two men developed a strong relationship and Ringgold
remained in charge so long as Taylor owned the plantation. At intervals
while her husband was in Texas and Mexico, Margaret Taylor lived at
Cypress Grove. One English visitor described the plantation house as an
unpretentious wooden building with a large library and a colonnaded
Even though he was seldom in residence due to his military duties, Taylor
kept a close watch on the activities of his plantations. He worried about
he conditions of his slaves, or "servants" as he referred to them in the
more common antebellum euphemism. If the relatively few comments on his
slaves which have survived are correct, Taylor's may well have been as
well treated and their welfare as carefully considered as any in the
South. The reports of visitors to the Taylor plantation described happy,
healthy, and well-cared-for slaves who lived in clean, well-furnished
cabins. They also benefited from his unheard-of policy of distributing
cash Christmas gifts to his slaves in amounts of as much as $5.00.
Taylor enjoyed the life of a planter. In 1848 he wrote, "The subject of
farming is one to which I have devoted much of my life, and in which I yet
continue to take the deepest interest." He was an advocate of both crop
rotation and of soil conservation, and he experimented with different
crops and various strains of cotton. At various times the plantation
raised sheep, cattle, hogs, poultry, potatoes, tobacco, corn, wheat, peas,
and hay alongside its normal crop of cotton. Taylor in directing the
planting might, as he did in 1845, order one to two hundred acres be kept
in pasturage and then next year instructed his overseer to plant 600 acres
in cotton, 200 in corn, and 30 to 40 in oats, as well as maintaining a
10-acre vegetable garden. At Cypress Grove he also put his slaves to work
logging. This was started as an experiment in 1845 in the hope that it
would produce enough income to pay for the rope and bagging needed to bale
his cotton. The effort coincided with a shortage of locally grown cypress
timber and was so successful that three years later the plantation
invested in its own sawmill. Taylor also instructed Ringgold to join with
neighboring planters in building a levee along Black Creek and the
Mississippi River to control the springtime flooding, which devastated the
area in 1844, 1847, and 1849.
The cotton output of Taylor's plantation rose after 1845. Nevertheless, he
continued to complain about disaster which assailed his fields. His
letters constantly note floods, droughts, cutworms, low prices, and
mistaken choice of crops. Cyprus Grove proved to be less successful, at
least in his mind, as he had expected. Yet the disasters were no worse
than those faced by neighboring planters.
In 1846 Mexico went to war with the United States over the annexation of
Texas. General Zachary Taylor was ordered to the Rio Grande with 4,000
troops, and in May he invaded Mexico. On February 22-23, 1847 he was
attacked by General Santa Anna's army of close to 20,000 men. Despite odds
of 4 to 1 he met the enemy in a small pass at Buena Vista. Here he coolly
directed his men, not flinching even when a bullet cut his coat sleeve.
And when he saw a small cannonball coming directly at him, instead of
jumping from his horse, he raised himself on his extremely short stirrups
and let the cannon ball amazing fly safely under him and above his saddle.
When the Mexicans charged he called out to his artillery officer, "Give'm
a little more grape, Captain Bragg!" He won the battle but President Poke
disliked him and refused to let him participate in any other battles.
Still Taylor became a hero of the war. When he returned by way of New
Orleans he was given a banquet and gold sword. On December 5, 1847 he left
for Cyprus Grove in retirement, never expecting to leave there.
But the Whig Party nominated him for President and, partly to spite
President Polk, he accepted. In between campaigning he returned to Cyprus
Grove. Taylor only received 47% of the popular vote but was elected with
163 to 127 electoral votes. The president-elect left Cypress Grove for the
last time on the packet steamer Saladin in January 1849 for Vicksburg and
then on to Washington. Margaret did not favor her husband's presidency and
took little part in Washington social life, spending much of the time
knitting in her bedroom.
Prior to his moving to Washington, D. C. to assume the presidency, Taylor
had an inventory made of his property. It showed he owned slaves probably
worth $50,000; Cypress Grove Plantation worth $8,000, and farm machinery,
horses, cattle, and mules assessed at over $7,000.
President Taylor became ill and died on July 9, 1850, after only being in
office for 16 months. He was buried, and his wife two years later, in the
family cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky. Following his death Cypress Grove
was sold and appraised at $20,000 and its 131 slaves at $56,650. The
plantation continued in operation and the entire low land area around it
became know as Buena Vista Island after his victory in Mexico. In the
Great Flood of 1927 the Mississippi River spread out for 100 miles south
of Memphis and over 1,000 people in Mississippi lost there lives. The
Cypress Grove plantation house caved in and fell into the Mississippi
Contributed by: Ken Berry