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Profiles from the Archives: Ben I. Taylor

Matthew M. Peek, Military Collection Archivist

Benjamin Ira Taylor Sr. (who went by “Ben I. Taylor”) was born on November 20, 1895, in Wayne County, N.C., to Lemuel Curtis and Charlotte Elizabeth Grady Taylor. By 1900, the Taylor family was living in Trent Township in Lenoir County, N.C., where Lemuel Taylor was working as a farmer. By 1910, the Taylor family had relocated to Goldsboro, N.C., where Ben worked as a cleaner in a cotton mill in Wayne County around the age of 14.

At the time of his draft registration for World War I in 1917, Ben Taylor was working as a machinist at the Durham Hosiery Mills in Goldsboro. On December 23, 1917, Taylor married Nancy Roberta Ezzell (who went by “Berta”) in Goldsboro, in a double-wedding with Nancy’s sister Trudy Ezzell marrying J. V. Mooring at the same service. After their marriage, Ben Taylor was drafted into active military service in WWI in the U.S. Army. On May 9, 1918, Ben Taylor was inducted into federal military service by the Wayne County, N.C., Local Draft Board, and scheduled to be sent to Fort Screven, Georgia. Fort Screven was a large coastal artillery station on Tybee Island east of Savannah, Georgia.

By May 18, 1918, Taylor was transferred to Camp Wadsworth near Spartanburg, S.C., where he served in Company M, 54th Infantry. He remained at Camp Wadsworth until about July 1, 1918, by which time Taylor was stationed at Camp Albert L. Mills on Long Island, New York. Camp Mills was used by the U.S. military as a port of embarkation for soldiers being sent to Europe for overseas service. By July 20, 1918, Ben Taylor had arrived in Europe, and was serving as a Private in Company M, 54th Infantry Regiment, 6th Division, U.S. Army. Little is known about his station locations or operations in France during the summer and early fall of 1918.

According to his family, Ben Taylor contracted Spanish influenza in October 1918, and died the same month. On October 21, 1918, Ben and Nancy Taylor’s son Ben I. Taylor Jr. was born in Wayne County, N.C. It is unknown whether Ben I. Taylor Sr. knew of his son’s birth before his death. The couple never seems to have discussed the pregnancy in surviving correspondence while he was stationed away from home.

Ben I. Taylor Sr. was initially buried in France, as it is likely that his illness demanded immediate burial. His remains were returned the United States around 1923, and reburied in Willow Dale Cemetery in Goldsboro, N.C., by his widow. According to family stories, Nancy Taylor asked the undertaker to verify that the remains were indeed those of her husband, by looking to see if his curly dark red hair was still existing amid the remains. Apparently, Ben Taylor’s remains then did still have a full head of red hair. Nancy Taylor remarried in the early 1920s to James Bland, and the couple had one daughter together.

To learn more about Ben I. Taylor Sr.’s WWI service, check out the Ben I. Taylor Papers (WWI 84) in the WWI Papers of the Military Collection at the State Archives of North Carolina in Raleigh, N.C.

This blog post is part of the State Archives of North Carolina’s World War I Social Media Project, an effort to bring original WWI archival materials to the public through the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources’ (NCDNCR) various social media platforms, in order to increase access to the items during the WWI centennial celebration by the state of North Carolina.

Between February 2017 and June 2019, the State Archives of North Carolina will be posting blog articles, Facebook posts, and Twitter posts, featuring WWI archival materials which are posted on the exact 100th anniversary of their creation during the war. Blog posts will feature interpretations of the content of WWI documents, photographs, diary entries, posters, and other records, including scans of the original archival materials, held by the State Archives of North Carolina, and will be featured in NCDNCR’s WWI centennial blog.