Rachael, Annie, Helen, Sydney: Medoras All

Mar 4, 2012 | 6 comments

Captain Richard and Rachael Medora Taylor, c. 1860

      My middle name is Medora, as was my grandmother Helen’s, her mother Annie’s, and her mother Rachel’s.  The name has been passed down without interruption in our family for six generations.  My aunt was Medora (of my book, Dear Medora), my cousin is Freddy Medora and her daughter is a Medora.
      According to my uncle Willard, the genealogist of our family, the first known Medora in our family sequence was Rachael Medora (Pryor) Taylor, my great-great grandmother.  She grew up in Clinton, Kentucky (or thereabouts) as did the man she would eventually marry, Richard Taylor.
      Richard was a Confederate captain and, when the war was over, he exiled himself and his family in Mexico.  One of our family stories is that he had been a prisoner of the Union forces and that he had killed his guard with a shovel and then escaped across the border.  In the small portrait we have of him, he looks much too mild mannered for such an action, and in all of his searching Willard could find no reference to that incident – or, indeed, to anything beyond the fact that he enlisted as a Private in September 1861 with the Company of Alamo Rifles, 30th Brig., Texas State Troops.
      I know very little about Captain Dick’s wife, Rachael, except that, judging from her portrait, I inherited her sticky-outy ears in addition to the black jet beads she wears around her neck.  I have it in mind to leave those beads to my first-cousin-once-removed, Medora Plimpton Harris.  I believe they should stay with the Medoras of the family.
      As for the name, itself, Willard had this to say in Oysterville, Roads to Grandpa’s Village:  I suspect she [Rachael Medora Pryor] was named for the heroine of Byron’s 1814 poetic tragedy, “The Corsair,” in which a Medora, the beloved of a captured pirate (supposedly modeled after the French-American buccaneer Lafitte) expired on hearing a false rumor that her lover had been slain.
      Willard went on to say:  Such a gooey romance must have been irresistible to gravid antebellum matrons deciding on a name for a daughter.  They would not have heard that during the gestation period of “The Corsair” Byron appears to have impregnated his own half sister, who called her child Medora.  I don’t know whether Byron’s baby – if his she was – was named after the fictional heroine or the heroine after the baby.
      The name has a great provenance in both fact and fiction.  I do hope that it continues down our family line!


  1. Stephanie Frieze

    I had never heard of Medora as a name until your book was published and so think we ought to get it more press. Names have a way of cycling around, but I think this one is on a big elipse! I hope her necklace stays in the family and that there are more Medora’s to come.

  2. Jo

    The name must have been popular in New England around the same period, as there are several Medora’s in my father’s family. The Byron association sounds a bit strange, but otherwise, it is a lovely name.

  3. Linda Schell

    I believe on one of Mr. Willard Espy’s historical websites I read that he believed he is connected to Alexander Hamilton.

    A Col David Espy’s son married the daughter of Alexander Hamilton. I believe they had a son named William.

    I feel you are related to that Espy family. If I am correct, you are related to the famous James Pollard Espy, known as the Storm King. Somewhere it is written that “England has it’s Newton and America has its Espy.”

    If you are part of this family you had a cousin who starved to death at Andersonville. You have an Uncle who had the last standing station during the Civil War. His name is Tom.

    Col. David Espy had a brother Josiah who knew Clark of Lewis and Clark.

    You have another Uncle who was a barefoot boy at Valley Forge. His name is George.

    Col David Espy turned his home over to George Washington when Washington needed an office and housing during the Whiskey Rebellion. Your grandmother prepared a meal for George Washington, only to have the wild turkey stolen, so the story goes.

    Has anyone Googled Col David Espy or Josiah Espy? They lived in Northumberland, PA.

    If you ever have time. I would be interested in your thoughts.

    Linda Schell
    114 Wading Bird Dr.
    Venice, FL 34292

    • sydney

      Yes, I am the niece of Willard Espy and, while I am interested in the family forebears, I am not the genealogist he was. My cousin Ralph Jeffords is the one in the current generation who keeps such matters straight. I do know that we are connected to James Pollard Espy. and, as it happens, it was Ralph who gave us a first edition copy of James Pollard Espy’s “Espy’s Report on Meteorology” published in 1851. It is said to be the first comprehensive American report on weather patterns. Ralph could undoubtedly tell you what our connection is to James Pollard Espy and to the others you mention, as well. Are you also an Espy descendant?.

      • Linda Schell


        My grandfather was George. James Pollard Espy, his brother, was the youngest and most prominent. There is a mountain of information about James Pollard Espy. His mother was fifty years old when he was conceived. Col David Espy was James Pollard Espy’s uncle. Thank you for confirming that we are related.

        Two years ago I fulfilled a lifelong dream: I wrote two children’s books for the middle grades. Both are approximately 22,000 words. In a quest to improve my writing skills I found Willard Espy’s name. If Mr. Espy is related to me I thought, how validated I would feel that there is something in my genes that beakons me to write.

        I envisioned an answer from your family in my dreams, but I never expected an answer. Thank you very much. I am looking forward to reading two recently ordered books: Mr. Espy’s Oysterville and your book about Medora.


  4. Linda Schell

    Beckons, not beakons!


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