James Franklin Taylor, planter, state representative, and state senator, son of Robert Taylor and Letitia (Pipes) Taylor, was born in Adams County, Mississippi, on February 25, 1812. He was raised in Mississippi and married Mary Burbank Holman of Massachusetts in 1839. Census records suggest that they relocated to Arkansas shortly afterward. In 1844 Taylor immigrated to Texas and settled in Harrison County. He established a large plantation about six miles west of Marshall and quickly became one of the leading citizens of the community. An active member of the Whig party, Taylor was elected as a representative for Harrison, Smith, and Upshur counties for the Second Texas Legislature from 1847 to 1849 and as a senator for the Third Texas Legislature from 1849 to 1850. He resigned from office in October 1850 amid disputes over his support of the Pearce Bill (see COMPROMISE OF 1850), but was promptly reelected in November to serve in a special session that ultimately ratified the bill.
Taylor did not seek another term but remained a prominent fixture in state and local affairs. In 1856 he was appointed to the board of trustees of Luther Rice Baptist Female Institute in Marshall, and in 1859 he was named grand master of the Masonic Lodge of Texas. Like many other Texas Whigs, Taylor supported slavery but opposed secession over the issue. As the Whig party disintegrated in Texas amid increased political tensions, Taylor became a key organizer in the growing Opposition party, which materialized as the Constitutional Union Party in 1860.
During the Civil War, Taylor remained loyal to Texas and the Confederacy despite his opposition to the Democratic party. In 1861 he was named chairman of the Harrison County Committee of Public Safety (see COMMITTEES OF PUBLIC SAFETY).
Following the Civil War, Taylor continued his active role in Harrison County business and politics. He became a steward of the local Methodist Episcopal Church and served as a delegate to a number of general church conferences. He also aided in the construction of a Masonic lodge and school in Hallsville, Harrison County, which was named the James F. Taylor Lodge, No. 168 in his honor. In 1871 he was a founding partner of East Texas Cotton, Woolen, and Cotton Seed Oil Manufacturing Company. In 1878 Taylor was a founder and leader of the Citizens’ Party of Harrison County, a group formed in 1878 to overcome the dominance of the Republican party after the end of Reconstruction. The Citizens’ Party was also the first party to institute the white primary, a tactic designed to disenfranchise black voters in a county where African Americans constituted a majority of the population. Taylor died of pneumonia on March 6, 1889, in Marshall, Harrison County, Texas. He was given a Masonic funeral and buried at Marshall Cemetery.