Robert Jenks Taylor was born in Hawkinsville, Pulaski County, Georgia, June 15, 1854. He is eighty-one years old and never looked better yr felt younger in his life, though in recent years he distributed and put in trust more than a million dollars for his loved ones and drew in his sails so his last years would not be harassed by business matters.
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But he was like the old-time gin horse, turned out to graze: He couldn’t stop. He organized the Taylor Investment Company and kept right on making money. He goes to his office regularly at the Macon Savings Bank Building, and enthuses over a good investment just as he did in his youth.
Mr. Taylor is at this time president of the Alexander School board, director of Bibb Manufacturing Company, director of Citizens and Southern National Bank, chairman of board of directors Lamar and Rankin Drug Company, and trustee for Wesleyan College.
In looks, Mr. Taylor could pass for sixty years old, and he is capable of as much work as ever. No man lives more elegantly, but more simply, than Mr. Taylor.
Mr. Taylor’s grandfather, Robert Newsome Taylor, was born in Virginia, April 30, 1796. In early manhood he located in Hartford, Georgia, and practiced medicine there. He became very active in the affairs of his adopted State, being added to the commissioners of Pulaski County Academy by an act of the legislature in 1830. He represented Pulaski in a convention of the people of Georgia held as far back as 1839, and otherwise was prominent in business and political circles of early Hawkinsville.
He married Miss Louisa Taylor, a distant relative, January 1825. Upon her death, she left three children, all boys. Their home was a spacious Colonial affair, standing in Old Hartford, just across the river from the present Hawkinsville. After the Indians were pushed further west, R. N. Taylor considered the western side of the river more promising, so he had his home disassembled and taken across the Ocmulgee River in a flat and reconstructed on the Hawkinsville side.
Ezekiel Taylor, son of R. N. Taylor and father of Robert Jenks Taylor, was born October 7, 1826. He attended Oglethorpe, which was then in Milledgeville, and also the University of Georgia in Athens, and was first honor graduate of his class. He received his medical degree at Bellevue in New York.
In 1853 he married Miss Sarah Stone of Hawkinsville. Their children were: Robert Jenks Taylor, born June 15, 1854; Mattie, who died in infancy; Henry Edward, born July 2, 1857; Ezekiel Stone, born May 6, 1860; Sarah Eugenia, born February 1, 1865; Augustus Lawson, born June 27, 1866; and Augusta and Joseph, who died in infancy.
When Mr. R. J. Taylor was two years old, the family moved from Hawkinsville to Mitchell County, later moving to Clyattville, in Lowndes County. There he learned privation. He plowed and helped his father for eight or ten years. “You must learn to work and like it, son,” said Father Taylor; “I want you to make cotton on this twenty acres around the house.” He was not to get a college education. He thought he did well to get a few months in a country schoolhouse each year until he was eighteen. While attending school as a small boy, Mr. Taylor (as most small boys are) was the victim of an older boy’s “pranks” that proved a profitable experience to him. When Bob Taylor recovered from the effects of the so-called practical joke, he had a new resolution and a new philosophy of life. Perhaps that was the best lesson he learned in that country school. It was the lesson that enabled him to make fortunes for himself and others as he branched out into the business world. It stood by him when he was conducting “Macon’s first million-dollar bank,” the American National. It enabled him to build big business and to make a success in everything he tackled in later years.
In an old issue of the Valdosta Times is the following item of interest from Clyattville: “Besides being one of the finest farming sections of Georgia, it enjoys the unique distinction of turning out some of the most successful bankers in the South. President Mills B. Lane of the Citizens and Southern Bank of Savannah, President Edward W. Lane of the Atlantic National Bank of Jacksonville, and President Taylor of Macon’s ‘million-dollar bank,’ all got their ‘toe-hold’ in life while following mules along the furrows of this old place.”
When he was eighteen years of age, Dr. Gus Taylor, an uncle living in Hawkinsville and owner of a drug business, offered Bob food and raiment and $125 a year to come and clerk for him. Of the $125 Bob sent his father $80 worth of medicine for his practice around Valdosta. The next year he was given $175, and most of that was spent for medicine for his father. The third year he got $’100, and after dividing that with his father, he saved $225. Bob Taylor was now ‘a capitalist. He was determined to go into business for himself. He said nothing about his plans, not even to his Uncle Gus. He went to Macon and found George T. Rogers and Sons and told them he wanted to go into the grocery business, and that he didn’t have any money. He wanted credit. “If you’ll sell me the goods I need, you can always find the goods on my shelves or the money that I get for them will be in the bank. I’m not going to sell on credit. I’m going to get the cash.”
Mr. Taylor was extended the credit. He stocked his store in a building across from the Odd Fellows Hall in Hawkinsville, now used as an armory for the Machine Gun Company and Dortch Produce Company. Business boomed. Hawkinsville was then one of the liveliest and most prosperous towns in Georgia. People came in covered wagons and in ox carts and with mule teams from almost as far away as the Florida line. Every store in Hawkinsville was occupied, and many big businesses grew.
This was somewhat unfortunate for Mr. Taylor, for one day Mr. John Henry came in and announced that he had bought the storehouse of Mr. Taylor and would give him sixty days to get out. The property had been owned by a man in Savannah, and not another building could be had. So a forced sale of the goods on hand was necessary. But probably Mr. Taylor had seemed unappreciative to his Uncle Gus, and he is not sure yet whether his bad luck was due to this mistreatment of his uncle. He had walked out of the drug business without confiding anything of his plans, and his uncle was shocked. He said: “Bob, you haven’t got any money; how are you going to do business for yourself without capital? Why didn’t you let me know what you were thinking about? I’ve got some cotton down at the warehouse; go tell the warehouseman to sell it and give you the proceeds.” “No, I don’t want to borrow any money,” was the reply. “I should have talked to you beforehand; but I just made a mistake. If you want to go in with me I’ll take you in as a partner, and let you put up the money from the cotton, but I don’t want to go in debt any deeper.”
This was arranged, and both partners were highly pleased with the venture.
Back to the retail drug business Mr. Taylor went, starting the firm of Taylor and Jelks. For seven years he slaved as only a retail druggist knows how. Drug stores had been closed at dark. He kept open until midnight, and had his clerks connected with the front door by a bell that rang in the room overhead, so people could get medicine
at any hour day or night.
Seven years of this netted good money, and losses in bad accounts totaled only $800. He had bought cotton and dealt in fertilizers, and turned a dollar every possible way. He had started one brother in the shoe business and another in the grocery business. At this time he took a European trip with Mark T. Hodge. In 1890, when he returned from Europe, he was offered the general management and treasureship of the Southern Phosphate Works at Macon, which was organized by Pope Brown, Captain Tom Henley, Jelks Brothers and Bob Lewis and other Hawkinsville men of means.
“The success with the retail drug business is probably responsible for my coming to Macon in 1890,” says Mr. Taylor in a reminiscent way. It was a great thing for Macon, if one can take, the statements of many who know how to appraise men.
March 16, 1905, The Evening News carried this news item: “Than Mr. Taylor, few citizens in Macon are better known, and he is one of the foremost bankers in the State.”
In the Macon Telegraph, 1918, Bridges Smith, in his column called Just ‘Twixt Us, asks: “What is R. J. Taylor doing? One who knew him about as well as anybody could said: `One reason why the people did not know much of what R. J. Taylor has done for Macon is that he would never talk about it; but if I were asked who is it in Macon’s wide walks who has done more for the city in all sorts of ways than any other man, I would name Mr. Taylor.” In the same column Bridges Smith speaks of him in these words: “If there is such a thing as a `financial hero,’ he proved himself one a few years ago when he saved the city at a great financial sacrifice to himself and his institutions.”
In an editorial in the Macon Telegraph of October, 1916: “Mr. Taylor is in a good many respects just about the first citizen of Macon, although he has never advertised that fact nor allowed his friends or associates to do it for him. He is quiet, reserved, powerful, and immersed in his work. Men who have been down into the white hot fires of great occasions that no bugler has ever heralded found in this man the strength, the confidence, the poise, the resources and capacity for sacrifice, personally to aid the larger thing.
“If over night Robert J. Taylor had not taken over the Commercial National, as well as the Commercial Savings Bank, though facing certain loss, and no one could tell how much, into the American National, and those institutions had presented locked doors Monday morning, there would have been a crash in this city that would have wiped out fortunes.”
He saved the banking situation by getting the comptroller of the currency in Washington to let the American National, of which he was president, borrow large sums of money.
He was chairman of the board that liquidated the Exchange Bank and paid out 94 per cent to its depositors, and it is his boast that he never broke any debtor who had any chance of paying out. Even his store customers were shown ways to liquidate their accounts when they became too deeply involved.
Nothing has ever hurt his pride more than to have it said of him that he “cracked down” on a customer in order to gain undue advantage. He longed for a reputation as a constructive banker, and among his customers are thousands who will attest that he never broke a promise and never pushed a man to the wall.
He considers honor, kindness and dependability, plus perseverance, the best capital on which men can work. He once said: “There are plenty of men with more sense than I claim to have; but not one of them will work harder and stick to his job more faithfully than I.” He has been known to cut his salary and do without comforts in order to make a business pay dividends to its stockholders.
He has never been able to keep away from the drug business. He owned practically all of the wholesale drug business of Macon at one time, and is today the principal stockholder of the Lamar and Rankin wholesale business in Atlanta, his son, Robert Jenks, Jr., being president.
If you ask him what he considers the most important lesson for a young man to learn, he will answer in the language of his father, “Learn to work and to like it.” He says he has found that credit is based on honor and perseverance.
Mrs. Elmyr Taylor Park, wife of Orville A. Park of Macon, is the elder daughter of Mr. Taylor and his first wife, who was Miss Fannie Dillard of Pulaski County, an orphan reared in the cultured home of Mr. and Mrs. James Lewis Lamkin, relatives, and one of the early and outstanding families of Pulaski County. His second wife, Miss Mary Pate, who was the daughter of Major John H. Pate, one of the most useful and influential citizens of Hawkinsville, left no children. His third wife, Miss Kathleen DeWitt, also of Hawkinsville, came from a long line of distinguished ancestry. She is a capable leader in church, patriotic and civic life in Macon. She is a Daughter of the American Revolution, a member of the U. D. C., and also belongs to the Garden Club. Their children are: Robert J., Jr., Eugene H., Mildred Taylor Stevens, wife of W. P. Stevens; Mary Taylor Peeples, wife of Frank Peeples of Valdosta, Ga.; and Marshall J. Taylor.
Mr. Taylor is a “man among men,” a financial genius, and possesses unusual insight that has enabled him to forge ahead along many lines of worthwhile achievements in his long, useful and preeminently successful life. In deed and in truth, Robert J. Taylor is a builder wherever he lives. In the past history of Hawkinsville, Pulaski County, Macon, and Middle Georgia, his constructive influence is felt. Hawkinsville is justly proud to claim him as one of her former citizens.