Presidential Mothers: Strong women helped guide their sons

Published 1:59 pm Friday, January 27, 2023

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By  Betty Etchison West

Enterprise Record

There is little known about the mother of President Zachary Taylor – as is true about the mothers of other early presidents, but there are some facts available.

Zachary’s mother’s name was Sarah Dabney Strother. She was born in Virginia on Dec. 14, 1760. Sarah married Lt. Col. Richard Taylor, who was born in 1744 and died in 1829. Sarah died on the Dec. 13, 1822, when she was 61.  Sarah Dabney Strother Taylor is buried in the Zachary Taylor National Cemetery in Louisville, Jefferson County, Ky., where her son, President Zachary Taylor, was buried after being moved from a temporary burial site in Washington.

It seems that Sarah was a rather strong pioneer woman because the family was moving from their home in Virginia to the rather wild and woolly area of Kentucky where Indian attacks were still occurring when Zachary was born.  As the story goes, the family was on the move and had stopped at a plantation in Virginia when Zachary decided that it was time for him to be born. That Mrs. Taylor was willing to travel while she was expecting a baby makes it seem that she was a strong woman. Also the family was moving to Kentucky where Indian attacks were still being suffered by settlers.  Also, the fact that Mrs. Taylor agreed to move to that area seems to indicate that she was not weak-hearted.  On the other hand, her husband may have said, “We’re moving” and she had no choice.

Once in Kentucky, the Taylors lived in a log cabin.  Zachary said that he helped bar the door of that cabin to ward off an Indian attack.  Evidently, the move to Kentucky paid off for the Taylor family because Mr. Taylor was later able to build a large four over four house, which meant there were four rooms on the first floor and four on the second floor.  Having a larger house probably made life easier for Sarah Taylor.  That house, which has had some additions, is still standing and is occupied by a doctor, who does allow tours by appointment.

The story of the mother of Millard Fillmore, the vice president who became president when Zachary Taylor died after serving as president for just 16 months, is a sad one.

President Fillmore’s mother was Phoebe Millard Fillmore, who was born on Aug. 12, 1781, married Nathaniel Fillmore in 1796, and died on the 2nd of April in 1831 when she was 49. During the rather short number of years that she lived, her family suffered from extreme poverty. The family had to move in with a relative just to survive.

The Fillmores had 10 children which was more than they could feed at times so the Phoebe Fillmore’s story is certainly one of hardship.

In an effort to do what they thought was best for their son, Millard, the Fillmores apprenticed him to a cloth maker. Millard must have had good genes because he had the determination necessary to change his lot.  He was able to get himself freed from the apprenticeship because he wanted so desperately to get an education.  He managed to get an education and was able to be successful without the help of his parents, who no doubt would have helped him if they had been able.   

Millard Fillmore’s mother, Phoebe, died about 20 years before her son became President. She is buried in the East Aurora Cemetery in Erie County, N.Y. This is not the cemetery where her famous son is buried.  President Fillmore is buried in Buffalo, N.Y. where he spent his last years.

There is a replica of the cabin where Millard Fillmore was born at the Fillmore Glen State Park in Moravia, N.Y. The cabin is open to visitors part of the year.  It is closed in the winter.  Call 315-491-0130.

Anna Kendrick, the mother of the 14th President, Franklin Piece, was born on Oct. 30, 1768.  On Feb. 1, 1790, she married Benjamin Pierce. Anna and Benjamin Pierce were the parents of 10 children.  Franklin was actually born in a log cabin, but a short time later, the family moved to a 10-room house in Hillsboro, N.H. Franklin’s father was a Revolutionary War soldier, who then became a politician.  He served as governor of New Hampshire.

Franklin grew up at the large house in Hillsboro, but the whole house was not used by the family.  Franklin’s father opened a tavern in the front part.  The family lived in the part behind the tavern. Franklin’s mother helped her husband with operation of the tavern.

Franklin’s mother, whose family had been in America since the Puritans arrived in the new world 1620, was determined as was her husband that their children would get a better education than they. Franklin went to local schools and then his parents sent him to Phillips Exeter Academy before he entered Bowdoin College, where he graduated fifth in his class. Franklin’s mother must have been proud of the fact that her son was a college graduate.

Franklin’s mother, Anna, died on Dec. 7, 1838, when she was 70.  She did not live to see her son inaugurated as President in 1853. She had been dead about 15 years by the time that her son became president. Anna Kendrick Pierce is buried in the Pine Hill Cemetery in Hillsboro, N.H. Her son, Franklin, who died on Oct. 8, 1869, when he was 64, is buried in the Old North Cemetery in Concord, N.H., about 30 miles from Hillsboro where his mother is buried.

The Pierce home, which was once also a tavern, is open to the public during part of the year.  It is closed in the winter, but will reopen on Memorial Day 2023.  Call 603-478-3165.

The Pierce Homestead house has an interesting attached barn. The barn was attached to the house so the family could get to the barn to feed the animals when the snows were deep. Today, the Pierce Barn is a museum that contains items that belonged to the family.