By Candice Buchanan, Greene Connections Archivist
Originally published April 3, 2016.
Zacharias Taylor was hanged 9 April 1890 at the Greene County Courthouse in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, for the murder of William McCausland. Zach was the second man hanged for murder in the county’s history. The first was his brother-in-law and accomplice, George W. Clark, who was hanged for the same murder, earlier in the year, on 26 February 1890. As the first man to face this fate, George often is the focus of reflections on this terrible event in our local history. Accordingly, this ongoing research is taking a closer look at Zach.
Right now, court records and extensive newspaper coverage, including interviews with Zach and letters he wrote from jail, are being transcribed and posted to the Greene Connections Archives. It is vital that anyone who chooses to embark upon family history research, remembers that genealogy requires an open mind. Ancestors were only human. We never know what we will discover. These articles reveal some of the upsides to finding controversy in the ancestral branches. Among the specifics of the crime and its repercussions, are also biographical details of Zach’s family members, including his parents, stepmother, siblings, wife, and children. Additionally, the drilled-in focus on Zach’s own life allows us to learn much more about him than we would ever find for most of our ancestors from the same era. Due to the fact that Zach’s wife was George W. Clark’s sister, research opportunities between the families doubles due to the intense media regarding each man.
Zach’s photo itself is a result of his crime and sentence to hang. Both he and George Clark sat for these studio photos during their jail time in Waynesburg. Their names were actually printed on the cabinet card photographs identifying them clearly – very unlike most of the nineteenth century images handed down to us. This original, professional photograph was taken by Rogers, Photo, Waynesburg, Pa. The picture of Zach was donated to the Greene County Courthouse by Larkin and Mary Jane Grimes Dellinger, 22 April 2005. It has been displayed and maintained by Thomas Headlee, retired Register and Recorder, who provided the opportunity to scan the photograph for the Greene Connections: Greene County, Pennsylvania Archives Project.
Whether or not your ancestor was directly involved as victim or defendant in such an event, you may still discover that your family members played other roles. In the news articles transcribed so far for Zach’s profile in the Greene Connections Archives, numerous people are identified as lawyers, jurors, witnesses, sheriff, deputies, executioners, and so on. Some of these individuals are even included with pictures and biographical sketches throughout the news coverage.
Below is one example of the articles being transcribed. The text demonstrates how valuable this information is for both understanding our community history and gleaning genealogical facts. As in all research, no one source should ever stand alone. As this article is compared and contrasted with the other sources being collected, a comprehensive tree is coming together for Zacharias Taylor that benefits his extended family. Simultaneously, of course, we gain an understanding of the events surrounding the murder of William McCausland and the impact on our community.
Newspaper microfilm available at the Cornerstone Genealogical Society, Waynesburg, Pa.
“To The Scaffold.
Taylor Meets His Fate Calmly and With Perfect Resignation.
He Firmly Asserts His Innocence, And Forgives Those Whom He Declares Have Rendered Him Injustice. The McCausland Crime Expiated.
At 11:11 the drop fell and Zach. Taylor was launched into eternity.
Precisely at 11:01 a.m. Taylor accompanied by Rev. Maxwell, Sheriff Goodwin, Dr. Ullom, Deputy Randolph Goodwin and Ed. Goodwin and watchman James Allison came from the jail and slowly took their places upon the scaffold. Taylor’s arms were pinioned. A short prayer was offered by Rev. Maxwell, after which Taylor repeated the Lord’s prayer. Sheriff Goodwin then asked Taylor if he had anything to say and he spoke 1 minute as follows:
‘I am an innocent man of the murder of which I am charged. I never saw the man in my life, never knew there was such a man until after he was murdered. God knows this. I want all of you men to take note of this.’ After the prayer he pinioned himself. Before the noose was adjusted he said ‘Farewell. I want you all to meet me in heaven.’ He then kissed and bade all on the scaffold good bye. ‘I don’t hold ill will against anyone. If I was guilty I couldn’t stand here as I am.’ He did not make a perceptible struggle after he fell. Dr. Ullom held his pulse and noted his heart beats and pronounced him dead at 11:22.
Taylor’s Last Night.
Tuesday evening Taylor was visited by his attorneys who remained until 8:30. After that he spent the time conversing with Rev. Maxwell and his watchmen. Taylor’s little boy arrived yesterday and spent the night with his father. The boy became tired and was placed on the cot in the cell. When the boy fell asleep Zach. went into his cell and throwing himself over the boy prayed that the Lord might protect his family. He did not retire until 3 a.m. and slept soundly until 6. He then arose and ate a hearty breakfast consisting of a slice of bread, two eggs, piece of cake, piece of pie and a cup of coffee. He felt well and said: ‘I am ready to meet my God.’
James Allison and Ed. Goodwin were the [paper is folded or torn here and cannot be read] Lewis Anderson and Ed. Adamson assumed the watch till morning.
Monday evening Taylor spent talking, laughing and reading. He retired at midnight saying to the guards that ‘he had two letters to write tomorrow.’ To Allison he said: Good night, Jim.’ He soon fell asleep and slept soundly, merely moving his arm, a half hour later. Slight noises did not waken him. At 4 o’clock he wakened and ate some crackers and drank some water. He then fell asleep and slept soundly until 7, when he arose, washed, and ate a hearty breakfast. He wanted the guards Messrs. James Allison and Lewis Anderson, to stay near him. A cot was brought inside of the inclosure and placed near the door of Taylor’s cell which was left open. On this, one of the guards slept while the other kept watch, alternately. Taylor was in good spirits Tuesday and would converse readily with visitors who stood at the door. He was still proud of the nerve he was exhibiting and would hold up his arm and say: ‘Does that tremble?’
Taylor stood at the window and watched the workmen making ready for his execution, on Tuesday, remarking later, that, ‘It did not affect him a particle, no more than to see workmen building a house.’ Tuesday night he showed his suit which he was to wear when executed to his attorney, Capt. Donley, and spoke about the adjusting of the rope, with perfect coolness and indifference.
Undisturbed To The Last.
Taylor’s Impending Doom Is Passed Lightly By, As A Trivial Thing.
Heedless of his fate was Zach. Taylor to the end. He spent his last days and hours chatting and eating and sleeping just as he would have done in ordinary, everyday life. To those who visited the jail during the past week he talked freely of little incidents that had transpired while he was a free man. It had been generally said that, after George Clark’s execution, Taylor would weaken. This came to the ears of the prisoner and he seemed to take a cool pride in living down the prediction. To those who were familiar with him he would sometimes ask the question: ‘How do the people think I am bearing up?’ When told that it was the general opinion that he was bearing up well, his countenance wore an expression of grim satisfaction. He would then say: ‘I think I am bearing up better than George Clark did.’
On Friday morning the writer visited the jail and as Warden Anderson opened the door Taylor and his wife were making a circuit of the room together. They approached with a steady gait, Taylor in advance of his wife and as he shook hands he was asked how he was enjoying himself: ‘Oh, very well,’ said he, ‘some people are afraid to die, but I am not. Everybody has to die and I think there is no need of worrying one’s self about it. Some people think it takes nerve to die, but it doesn’t. There will be another innocent man murdered here, as they did murder one innocent man, George Clark. I know that.’
The Final Parting.
On Monday morning Taylor’s wife who had remained with her husband nearly three weeks, bade him a final farewell and took her sorrowful departure home, there to make ready for the reception of her husband who was to return again – not living but dead. She was deeply affected at the parting. John Taylor, Zach’s brother had arrived with a team from Masontown on Sabbath and he took Mrs. Taylor away. The condemned man seemed much less affected than his wife when her final leave was taken, and instead of this leaving him very much broken spirited, as some predicted, his manner throughout Monday was the same as it had been before.
Rev. Jas. A. Maxwell, arrived from Chester, Pa., on Saturday evening. He came by the prisoner’s request. He spent much time with Taylor after his arrival and talked with him upon spiritual matters. Monday he prayed and talked with the prisoner most of the day. He presented the way toward spiritual grace in a very plain, yet tender manner, showing to the condemned man that if he were guilty, redemption could only be had by a confession of his sin to God and man; while if innocent, he had simply to ask the grace of God and put his trust in the Savior.
Expressed Readiness To Die.
The prisoner manifested a willingness to meet his God, and stated that he was prepared to go. A bible and a volume of Moody’s Talks and Sermons lay upon a table near his cell. Taylor had five years ago become a member of the old Dunkard church, at Masontown. We visited Taylor Monday evening and he completed [paper is folded or torn here and cannot be read] this issue, an interruption having been made, by visitors, while it was being taken down, first. We found him sitting with Rev. Maxwell at the table, the latter being engaged in writing some farewell words which the prisoner desired to be read at his funeral. During the evening, Taylor talked pleasantly and with apparent unconcern, occasionally puffing at a cigar which he held in his hand. He spoke freely of his execution and gave directions as to certain details in conducting his funeral. His wife has moved from the house which they formerly occupied and he regretted that he could not tell Rev. Maxwell the location of her present home, from which his funeral is to take place. He desired certain ones to attend his execution and said they could leave if they desired before the drop fell.
The body will be conveyed to Masontown on Wednesday. Jasper Rice and John Taylor arrived Tuesday to take care of and convey the remains away. The construction of the board partitions and floor for additional standing room was commenced Tuesday, but the scaffold was not erected until Wednesday morning. Taylor’s health and appetite remained good up to the day of the execution, and he slept well.
An Interesting Sketch – His Complete Family History.
Zach. Taylor – he always put it on paper Zacharias Taylor, who with his accomplice George Clark paid the penalty of the law, for the murder of William McCausland, was 38 years of age last August. He was of spare build, thin face and rather small head. His eyes were restless, but when talking to anyone in a friendly way they would brighten up and he seemed to forget his surroundings. His father, James Taylor, was born in England, and served three years in the British army, and at the expiration of his term of enlistment he re-enlisted for another three years, but deserted afterward and shipped on a sailing vessel. He followed the ocean life for some time, but landed in America and lived in Western Maryland. He served in the late war. He was thrice married, being last wedded to a widow named Helmick, who survives him and resides with her son, Mr. Helmick, near Masontown. She is the stepmother of the man who died on the scaffold, and it is said she has been deeply grieved over his sad end, and wrote Zach a very affectionate and sympathetic letter. By the second marriage there were eleven children born. Zach was the third child. When he was nine years old his father removed to near Masontown, Fayette county, Pa., where he died about 20 years since. Zach’s mother died five years before.
Zach was married Jan. 10, 1875, to Elizabeth Clark, daughter of Zaddock Clark. ‘My wedding was to have taken place on Thursday, January ninth,’ said he a few evenings ago, ‘but it was put off until Friday, the tenth.’ That made us think of the superstitious saying, ‘That bad luck attends the performing of any important act on Friday’ – then it is said, that ‘to postpone one’s wedding day is unlucky.’ His wedding was put off because the minister couldn’t come on the day appointed. They were married at Jacob Harbaugh’s near Areford’s store, in Cumberland township, and Taylor said that Sylvanus Areford was present. The ceremony was performed by Rev. John McClintock. Mrs. Taylor is 38 years of age.
Six children have been born of that marriage. Two are dead. Of those living the eldest is a daughter, Annie Jane. She is fourteen years of age. Ah! how a father’s pride is shown for his daughter. ‘She is as nice a girl as walks, if I do say it myself,’ said her father on Monday eve. The second child is a boy, William aged ten. The third child is a boy, Minor Edgar, and is eight years old. Rosa Belle will be four in May. The children have all visited their father during his confinement in jail.
Taylor had never traveled much. He said he had ‘hardly been out of the smoke of Masontown.’ He had lived in and near Masontown since his marriage. Before his marriage he was a deck hand on a steamer that plied the Monongahela. He first worked on the Elisha Bennett, which went to wreck several years ago. He also followed river life, for some time after his marriage. He was employed on the Geneva, the John Snowdon, the Adam Jacobs and the Blaine. He came off the Geneva in ’85 and lay with fever nearly all summer. On recovering, he tried the river again, but was compelled to give up that kind of work. After that he engaged in ‘selling liquor on the sly’ as a source of livelihood. He remarked: ‘I didn’t sell it for nothing. I would get from fifty to seventy-five cents for a pint and paid $2 a gallon. With what water I added to it, I would have some profit.’
He has two brothers and one sister living, John Taylor resides at Masontown while Jesse, the youngest of the family lives near Smithfield, Somerset county, Pa. A sister lives in Maryland, while a half-brother George Taylor lives near Masontown.”
This article is followed in the same newspaper issue by an article titled, “Taylor Talks,” in which Zach provides his account of the day the awful crime occurred. Because they are too lengthy to list in full here, this and additional items found on further dates and in other newspapers are being posted to the Greene Connections Archives.
An excellent summation of the trials and executions is presented in Dr. G. Wayne Smith’s History of Greene County,Pennsylvania, volume 1, pages 57-65. These books are available at the Cornerstone Genealogical Society and area libraries.