Margaret “Peggy” Smith was born in Calvert County, Maryland, on September 21, 1788 to Ann Mackall and Walter Smith, a major in the Revolutionary War and wealthy tobacco plantation owner. In 1809, visiting a sister in Kentucky, she met young Lieutenant Taylor. They were married the following June, and for a while the young wife stayed on the farm given them as a wedding present by Zachary’s father. She gave birth to her first baby there, but cheerfully followed her husband from one remote garrison to another along the western frontier of civilization.
Peggy gave birth to 6 children. Two small girls died in 1820 of what Taylor called “a violent bilious fever,” which left their mother’s health impaired; three girls and a boy grew up. Knowing the hardships of a military wife, Taylor opposed his daughters’ marrying career soldiers—but each eventually married into the army.
The second daughter, Sarah Knox, married Lt. Jefferson Davis, future president of the Confederate States of America, in gentle defiance of her parents. In a loving letter home, she imagined her mother skimming milk in the cellar or going out to feed the chickens. Within three months of her wedding, Knox died of malaria. Taylor was not reconciled to Davis until they fought together in Mexico; in Washington the second Mrs. Davis became a good friend of Mrs. Taylor’s, often calling on her at the White House.
Though Peggy welcomed friends and kinfolk in her upstairs sitting room, presided at the family table, met special groups at her husband’s side, oversaw White House staff including enslaved people brought to the White House by the Tylers, and worshiped regularly at St. John’s Episcopal Church, she took no part in formal social functions. She relegated all the duties of official hostess to her youngest daughter, Mary Elizabeth “Betty”, then 25 and recent bride of Lt. Col. William W. S. Bliss, adjutant and secretary to the president. Betty Bliss filled her role admirably. One observer thought that her manner blended “the artlessness of a rustic belle and the grace of a duchess.”
For Mrs. Taylor, her husband’s death—on July 9, 1850—was an appalling blow. Never again did she speak of the White House. She spent her last days with the Blisses, dying on August 14, 1852.
You Might Also Like
Podcast Conversations from History Happy Hour
In this first episode of 2021, White House Historical Association President Stewart D. McLaurin introduces the Association’s popular virtual program Hi...
Collection Women and the White House
While there has yet to be a female president, women have played an integral role in shaping the White House...
Collection The Presidents
Biographies & Portraits
Podcast Fearless Leadership: A Conversation with Jean Case
Fearless leaders have walked the halls of White House for centuries. In this episode, White House Historical Association President Stewart...
Collection Animal Ambassadors
Animals, whether pampered household pets, working livestock, birds, squirrels, or strays, have long been a major part of White House...
Collection Cherry Blossoms
Since the first cherry blossom planting in 1912 by First Lady Helen Herron Taft, Washingtonians have celebrated the scenic beauty and...
Podcast Entertaining at the White House
From diplomatic dinners to holiday gatherings, the White House has always played a central role in the nation’s official en...
Collection The First Ladies
Biographies & Portraits
The First Ladies Symposium Contributors
Mary C. BrennanBorn and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, Mary C. Brennan earned a Ph.D. from Miami University of Ohio...
The Decorative Arts in the White House Symposium Scholarly Contributors
James Archer AbbottJames Archer Abbott currently serves as the Executive Director of the Lewes Historical Society in Lewes, Delaware. A...
Articles & Publications
Since joining the White House Historical Association in 2014, Stewart McLaurin has had been published a number of times. Topics range...
The First Ladies Symposium Schedule
May 6, 2021This program will be virtual9:00-9:15amWelcome and Overview Anita McBride, Director of American University’s First Ladies Initiative an...