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Central Texas Stories and Legends

Zachary Clay Taylor and Kate Crawford Taylor
Pioneer Missionaries to Brazil

Kate Stevens Crawford married Zachary Clay Taylor on Christmas Day, 1881. The marriage ceremony was held at Kate's hometown church, the Salado Baptist Church of Christ, now First Baptist Church, and was conducted by Rev. A. T. Hawthorne, an agent for the Foreign Mission Board.1

After the ceremony, the church commissioned the newly wed Rev. and Mrs. Taylor as missionaries to Brazil. The pastor of the church, Rev. George Washington Baines, read touching and appropriate Resolutions regarding Kate's commitment to serve as a missionary in a foreign land. These Resolutions were hand written in the Church School Records of Salado Baptist Church of Christ, Nov. 1879 - Sept. 1883.

The couple left Salado the next morning along with Kate's parents, her sisters, and some friends who accompanied them as far as Belton where she told them all goodbye, perhaps never to see them again.

Kate Crawford was born on February 17, 1862 in Bell County, Texas. She was the second child of M. L. and Emma C. Crawford. She grew up in Chalk Bluff, a small farming community near Belton. In her diary Kate described Chalk Bluff as, "one of the loveliest spots to be found in the beautiful lone star state," and she described herself as, "a wild romantic child roving at will over her mountains fervently loving nature, but yielding her youthful homage to nature's God."2 (Kate wrote her diary in the third person.)

Although reared in the country, Kate's early education was not neglected. Kate's mother was a lady of culture and education and it was her earnest endeavor to give her children the best moral and mental training possible. Therefore, in 1877, the Crawford family moved to Salado so the children could attend Salado College. Kate made rapid progress in her studies, completing the entire course of study in two years and continuing the next year as a post-graduate student.

In 1880, during a revival conducted in Salado by noted evangelist Maj. William Penn, Kate made a public confession of the salvation experience she had had while visiting her uncle Dr. Crawford in Atlanta. Kate along with her brother and sister were baptized by Rev. M.V. Smith into the Salado Baptist Church. Kate soon became one the children's beloved Sunday school teachers.

Baptismal service in Salado Creek, 1880
Baptismal service in Salado Creek, 1880.

As a young adult, Kate felt impressed to become a missionary. Kate's uncle, Dr. Crawford, was serving as a missionary to China. Kate's continuous correspondence with her uncle created and nurtured a strong interest in missions. When Kate learned that her aunt, Mrs. Crawford, was coming to the United States for a visit, Kate gave serious thought of returning to China with her. But that was before she met Zachary Taylor.

Zachary Clay Taylor was born on a plantation near Jackson, Mississippi in January 1851.3 Zachary's father taught him the value of education and hard work at an early age. When Zachary was not in school, he was working alongside the slaves on his father's plantation. When he was not working, he was in school.

When the Civil War broke out, Zachary's father, B.W. Taylor, went to war as the head of the brass band of the Sixth Mississippi Regiment. When the war was over, he returned home to find that his slaves had been freed and that he had lost his plantation. With this traumatic loss, the Taylors decided to seek a more stable environment than the South had to offer and start life anew. They had heard of the many fine opportunities available in Texas so the Taylors sold their remaining possessions and moved to Texas.

At the age of 22, Taylor entered Waco University where he felt impressed to prepare for the ministry. Through his studies and contacts with fellow students and visiting missionaries, Taylor developed a passion for mission work. When he learned that the Baptists had no missionaries in Brazil, he felt God's call on his life to not only go to Brazil as a missionary, but to be the first to go. Taylor continued his studies at Waco and Baylor universities and was ordained at Independence, Texas in 1879, later graduating from the Southern Baptist Seminary.

In the summer of 1880, Taylor met Kate Crawford, the beautiful, young school teacher from Salado whom he married on December 25, 1881. On January 3, 1882, both were appointed as missionaries to the country of Brazil and thus began their long, treacherous journey to Brazil.4

The Taylors arrived in Brazil on February 13, 1882.5 Even though Taylor had hoped to be the first missionary to Brazil, he had to settle for second place. His dear friend and colleague in the ministry, W.B. Bagby and wife Anne Luther Bagby, had arrived a few months earlier.

On October 15, 1882, eight months after their arrival, the Taylors helped organize the first Portuguese-speaking Baptist church of Brazil. Located in Salvador, State of Bahia, it began with five charter members: Zachary Taylor, Kate Taylor, W.B. Bagby, Anne Luther Bagby, and Antonio Teixeira a converted Catholic priest. This marked the formal beginning of Baptist mission work in Brazil.6

Since the reading of the Bible was forbidden, Kate's primary role was to translate evangelistic tracts from English into the native Portuguese language. These tracts proved to be effective tools for placing the gospel into the hands of the Brazilian people.

Dr. Taylor's primary role was to preach the gospel. While doing so he was publicly whipped, beaten with poles, dragged through the mud, stoned, and threated with being boiled alive. Through it all, Taylor stayed faithful to his calling and continued to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In 1891, after being on the mission field nine years, Kate Taylor became dangerously ill with smallpox. Soon after her recovery, it was discovered that she had a tumor behind her knee. She sought treatment immediately, but to no avail. She grew steadily worse with test results showing the tumor to be malignant. Relief could come only through amputation of the affected leg.

After gaining permission from the mission board, the Taylors sailed for New York, reaching there January 25, 1892. Upon their arrival, they went directly to Philadelphia's Jefferson Hospital where Kate began preparations for surgery. Kate was in the care of the best medical team the country had to offer. Dr. W.W. Keen, one of the most distinguished surgeons in America, performed the amputation of the leg at the hip-joint on February 13, 1892.7 Kate was 30 years old. For days her life hung in the balance, but finally she rallied and began to recover.

After a two-months stay in the hospital, the Taylors went to the home of Kate's parents in Belton, Texas. On May 8, 1892, three months after her surgery, Kate gave birth to the couple's fourth child; an eight-pound baby boy. In writing about his new son, Marquis, Zachary wrote: "Mrs. Taylor passed, we hope, the last great danger in the birth of a boy, who, unborn, traveled 7,000 miles on land and sea and was her partner in the severest operation on record." 8

The Taylors returned to Brazil a short seven months later. Kate resumed her mission work of visiting the women and children, and translating the scriptures and evangelistic materials from English to Portuguese while caring for herself, her husband, and four children.

Kate Taylor lived another two years before the cancer returned and drained her life away.9 This young wife and mother left a grieving husband and four small, bewildered children. Kate had given thirteen yeas of her life as a missionary to the people of Brazil. They lovingly laid her body to rest in the British Cemetery in Bahia, Brazil.10

Upon his wife's death, Taylor wrote: "The companion of my joys and sorrows, of my labors thirteen years in Brazil, the mother of my four children, [Tarlton, Mable, Eschol, and Marquis], was called away from her pains and toils to her home in Heaven on 19th August 1894, Sunday, 3:30 P.M. She suffered much without complaining and God took her from the evil." 11

After the tragic loss of his wife, Taylor, along with his children, continued his work in Brazil. Eventually, Taylor met and married Miss Laura G. Barton. Miss Barton had been serving as a missionary to China so she was well aware of the demands made on missionaries and their families. Nevertheless, she graciously accepted Taylor's proposal of marriage and in doing so became Taylor's wife and the mother of his four young children.

In the years that followed, Taylor threw himself into the task of evangelizing Brazil. In September 1909, Taylor, after twenty-seven years of devoted service, was forced to retire and return to the States due to ill health. The Taylors returned to Texas, where they purchased a small house on the north beach of Corpus Christi and looked forward to a quiet, peaceful retirement.

Taylor had endured many storms during his tenure as a missionary, but none as violent and deadly as the tidal wave that swept over Corpus Christi on September 14, 1919. On that peaceful Sunday morning, the Taylors were enjoying the company of three visitors: Taylor's daughter, Eschol, a music teacher at Baylor University; Dr. Hoffman, the Director of the Music Department at Baylor; and Laura Taylor's 18-year old nephew, John S. Tanner, son of Professor Tanner of Baylor University.

The family was holding a worship service in the Taylor's home when suddenly, without warning, the skies darkened, the wind blew, and the rain fell without mercy. Soon the house was filled with water. The Taylors and their guests fled to the second floor, then to the attic, and finally to the roof. With a strong gust of wind and a swell of water the house was knocked off its foundation and became a floating barge, floating down the raging river with the Taylors and their guests clinging to the roof. With a thundering roar, the house crashed into a railroad bridge that was spanning the river, splintering the house into hundreds of pieces. Everyone grabbed a timber and held on for dear life, but one-by-one each was swept away by the angry waves, never to be seen alive again. John, the lone survivor, watched as his loved ones were drawn under the water again and again only at last to be hurled into eternity.12

Hundreds of people drowned that September 14, 1919 day. The bodies of the Taylors were buried with many others on the bay at White Point, where they had washed up. Later, after being identified, they were removed to Waco, Texas. They now rest beneath an oak tree in the tranquil setting of the Oakwood Cemetery.

Kate Crawford Taylor and Zachary Clay Taylor were humble servants of their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. They sought not fame or glory. Their focus was on service to others. Even through personal suffering and sacrifice, they stayed true and faithful to their missionary calling. Through their tireless, unselfish efforts, they contributed significantly to the development of pioneer mission work in the country of Brazil. The impact of their contributions continues to this day.

Charlene Carson with the Taylor historical marker
Charlene Carson with the Taylor historical marker, 2008.

On October 8, 2008, the First Baptist Church of Salado placed a Texas Historical Commission marker to commemorate the Taylors and their missionary work with the people of Brazil. The local newspaper, the Salado Village Voice, printed an article regarding the Taylors. A couple of months later, Charlene received a letter from a pastor by the name of John Tanner IV. In his letter, Tanner wrote that his dad was the teenage boy in the Taylor household who had survived the 1919 Corpus Christi flood. Tanner wrote that his dad used to tell vivid accounts of his surviving the flood by floating on a railroad tie to a farm 20 miles away eventually landing in a mesquite tree near Odum, Texas.

By Charlene Ochsner Carson
Page last updated: October 29, 2018

Footnotes:

  1Kate S. Taylor, Diary of Kate S. Taylor, St. Louis, Mo., December 29, 1881. The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, Texas. p.4.
  2Taylor diarly, p. 1.
  3Stewart, Walter Sinclair, Later Baptist Missionaries and Pioneers, Volume II, The Judson Press, Philadelphia, 1928, p. 5.
  4Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board Minutes, January 3, 1882, Richmond, Virginia. Accession Number:1231.
  5Z. C. Taylor. The Rise & Progress of Baptist Missions in Brazil (An Autobiography). The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, Texas.
  6Bell, Lester C., Which Way in Brazil? Convention Press, Nashville, 1965, p. 31.
  7Forty-Seventh Annual Report of the Foreign Mission Board, Southern Baptist Convention, Atlanta, Georgia, May 6, 1892.
  8Letter from Z. C. Taylor to Rev. T. P. Bell, May 17, 1892. Southern Baptist International Mission Board, Nashville, Tennessee.
  9Letter from Z. C. Taylor to Dr. Willingham, August 23, 1894. Southern Baptist International Mission Board, Nashville, Tennessee.
  10Stewart, Walter Sinclair. Later Baptist Missionaries and Pioneers, Volume II, Philadelphia: The Judson Press, 1928, p. 24.
  11Taylor, W. C., "Glorious Second Fiddle", Baptist Standard, April 5, 1945, Vol. LVII, No. 14. p. 7. The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, Texas.
  12Brooks, S.P., "A Story of the Corpus Christi Storm," Baptist Standard, October 16, 1919. Brooks wrote the story of the storm as told by the lone survivor, John S. Tanner.
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