Robert E. Lee, Zachary Taylor and Isaac Allerton

By Robert Jennings Heinsohn, PhD

What do these two well-known individuals have in common with Pilgrim Isaac Allerton (1585-1659)? Answer: General Zachary Taylor is a direct descendant of Isaac Allerton(1), and Robert E. Lee is collaterally related to Hancock Lee, husband of Sarah Allerton (1670-1731), granddaughter of Isaac(1). Zachary Taylor was the 12th President of the United States, and Robert E. Lee was the famous general of the Confederate Army in the Civil War.

Isaac Allerton's signature


Isaac Allerton(1) had a son, Isaac(2), by Fear Brewster in 1627/30. Fear died in the Plymouth epidemic of 1634. Following his falling out with William Brewster, Isaac(1) joined his son-in-law, Moses Maverick, in a fishing enterprise in Marblehead, MA. In 1635 Isaac(1) was banished from Marblehead because of his association with Roger Williams, whose religious beliefs were heretical to Governor John Winsthrop in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. As a result of these upheavals, young Isaac(2) became a member of the extended family of his grandfather William Brewster and eventually joined the family of William's son, Love, in Marblehead. In 1650 Isaac(2) was one of nine graduates in the seventh class of Harvard, and the first student from Plymouth. Following Harvard, Isaac(2) moved to New Haven to live with Isaac's(1) third wife, the former Joanna Swinnerton, and to join his father in his trading enterprises in New Amsterdam, Virginia, Barbados, and the Swedish and English colonies along the Delaware River. Isaac Allerton(1) died in New Haven in 1659.

Isaac Allerton(1) was a unique trader-merchant in the Atlantic coast colonies since both the English and Dutch authorities accorded him the privilege to trade in English and Dutch colonies. He bought tobacco in Virginia and transported it to New Amsterdam for shipment to Europe. It is suspected that, after leaving Harvard, Isaac(2) joined his father as trader-merchant and learned about brisk land speculation in the Northern Neck of Virginia, land between the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers. After the Indians of Virginia were subdued in the 1650s, land speculators acquired enormous tracts of land which they divided and sold to others.

Isaac Allerton(2) married Elizabeth (...) in New Haven in 1652/3. They had two children, Elizabeth (1653-1740) and Isaac(3) (1655-?). When Issac's(2) wife Elizabeth died circa 1660, he moved his family to Northumberland County, in Virginia's Northern Neck. Initially he settled in Wicomico at the far eastern end of the county on land adjacent to the Chesapeake Bay and in the vicinity of the plantation of Richard Lee II.

Robert E. Lee

Circa 1663, Issac(2) married the twice-widowed Elizabeth (Overzee) Colclough. They had three children: Willoughby (b. ca 1664), Frances (b. ca 1668), and Sarah (1670-1731). As a tobacco planter-merchant Isaac(2)probably constructed a wharf and warehouse (as his father had done in New Amsterdam) since financial success required both growing and transporting tobacco. Whether Isaac bought land from Richard Lee II or acquired it over time is not known. Alternatively, he may have acquired land from his marriage to Elizabeth, who would have acquired it from her previous marriages or from her wealthy parents.

In any event, Issac's(2) family became wealthy, with indentured servants, owned a 2150-acre plantation on the south side of the Rappahannock River and entered the influential class of planter-merchants that included the Washington and Lee families.

In 1663 Isaac(2) was a justice of Northumberland County. In 1667 he was a member of the "Committee of the Association of Northumberland, Westmoreland and Stafford Counties." He became a member of the Virginia militia and ultimately rose to the rank of colonel. As a major in 1667, he served under Colonel John Washington, great-grandfather of our first president George, in order to subdue Susquehannock and Doeg Indians, who were raiding settlements. Isaac(2) served as justice of the peace and member of the House of Burgesses in 1676-77. During Bacon's rebellion Isaac was a member of the House of Burgesses but remained loyal to the governor. Isaac's family developed a close relationship with the family of Richard Lee II (1634-1713/14). Both Isaac(2) and Richard Lee II were senior officers in the Virginia militia and both served as members of the General Court of Virginia. Records of the region indicate that Isaac Allerton(2) and Richard Lee II participated in commerce, governmental affairs and social activities. Richard Lee II had a younger brother, Hancock (1652-1709), who married Isaac's daughter, Sarah Allerton (1670-1731), following the death of Hancock's wife. In 1691 Isaac Allerton, Richard Lee II and John Armistead refused to take the oath recognizing William and Mary as England's rightful rulers.

Zachary Taylor

Zachary Taylor Zachary Taylor

Zachary Taylor was born in Orange County, Virginia, in 1784. His father Richard (1744-1829) had been a colonel in the Continental Army during the War of Independence. Within a year, his father moved the family to Kentucky, where he was appointed a collector at the port of Louisville on the Ohio River. A tutor was hired to educate Zachary. In 1806 Zachary volunteered for the brief campaign ending Aaron Burrs attempt to create an independent nation in the southwest. In 1808, with the influence of family friends, including James Madison, President Thomas Jefferson granted Zachary a commission as first lieutenant in the Seventh Infantry. Zachary married Margaret Smith in 1810. They had six children, three of whom survived him. A daughter, Sarah Knox Taylor, married Jefferson Davis in 1835 and shared his disgraced condition during and after the Civil War.

Zachary Taylor served in the War of 1812 and the campaign against Black Hawk in 1832. he served in President William Harrison's campaign to remove Indians from the southern states and the campaign against the Seminole Indians in the Everglades. He achieved the rank of brigadier general after the Battle of Lake Okeechobee. In 1841 he purchased a plantation in Mississippi. In 1845, when Texas gained its independence, Taylor and 3,000 men were ordered to Fort Brown at the mouth of the Rio Grande River to engage the Mexicans in border skirmished. In September he and his troops entered Mexico and captured the city of Monterrey. In 1847 they crossed the mountains and, though outnumbered, defeated Santa Annas army to gain control over northern Mexico. As a result of his accomplishments, Zachary Taylor acquired the nickname "Old Rough and Ready."

Taylor learned that the Secretary of War was trying to discredit him for political purposes. When a letter Taylor wrote critical of President Polk and the Secretary of War became public, he was rebuked by authorities in Washington. He attracted the attention of Washington politicians, newspaper editors and shrewd Whig politicians who were interested in promoting him as a political candidate. While he sympathized with the Whigs, he was not partisan, and in fact never voted. The Whig politicians knew that, as a plantation owner and slave holder in Mississippi, he would appeal to southerners. Zachary Taylor was nominated at the Whig convention in 1848 and, due to a split in the Democratic Party, won the election and was inaugurated in 1849.

Few presidents have entered office with less knowledge of what was expected of them. Through clever patronage the Whigs in Washington enlarged their influence. In 1849 Taylor reluctantly agreed to efforts to admit California to the Union as a free state. Mortified by scandals involving trusted cabinet members, he was determined to reorganize the cabinet. Unfortunately, while attending the opening ceremony for the construction of the Washington Monument on the forth of July 1850, he consumed food spoiled by the noonday heat. He suffered acute gastroenteritis and died five days later.

When in the 1990s the body of Zachary Taylor was exhumed for legal reasons, to determine, once and for all, whether spoiled food or arsenic (intentional poisoning) caused his death, the judgment was conclusive: spoiled food.