Isham Talbot, Senator

Isham Talbot, Junior
Lawyer, Politician, United States Senator from Kentucky

Born: 1773, Bedford County, Virginia - Died: 1837, Franklin County, Kentucky


Ann Talbot Brandon Womack

Farris Wade Womack
April 2007

TALBOT, Isham, a Senator from Kentucky; born near Talbot, Bedford County, VA., in 1773; moved with his father to Harrodsburg, KY.; completed preparatory studies; studied law; admitted to the bar and commenced practice in Versailles, KY.; moved to Frankfort, KY., and continued the practice of law; member, State senate 1812-1815; elected as a Democratic Republican to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Bledsoe and served from February 2, 1815, to March 3, 1819; again elected to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of William Logan and served from October 19, 1820, to March 3, 1825; resumed the practice of law; died near Frankfort, KY., September 25, 1837; interment in the State Cemetery, Frankfort, KY
(Biographical Directory of the United States Congress)

Our story begins, not in Kentucky, but rather in the western reaches of Virginia in the region known as the Wilderness.  The Blue Ridge Mountains are only a few miles toward the west.  The Talbot family origins in America begin with Matthew Talbot, Gentleman, an Englishman who came to the Colony of Maryland about 1720 and there married Mary Anne Williston in 1721.  He and Mary became the parents of a son, Charles, born in 1723 in Baltimore.  Matthew was engaged in the shipping business but losses at sea caused him to abandon that enterprise and moved south into Virginia.  In 1729, the second son, Matthew, was born in Prince George County, Virginia, Bristol Parish.  James Talbot was born in 1732 in Prince George County, Virginia but by 1735 when John Williston Talbot was born , the family had migrated further south and west to Amelia County.  Later they would migrate to Lunenburg and the family found its niche in the western regions of the Colony of Virginia.  Matthew was instrumental in the founding of Bedford County in 1754 and, indeed, the first court for Bedford County was held in his house.  Mary Williston died in 1736 and Matthew was remarried in 1737 to Jane Clayton. 

Matthew and Jane Clayton Talbot had two children, Isham Talbot, Sr., born 1738 and Martha Talbot, born in 1740.  Matthew died in 1758 and was buried on the home grounds in Bedford County.  Jane Clayton Talbot continued to live in Bedford County but place of her death and burial has not been determined.  There is some evidence to suggest that she may have accompanied her daughter in the latter's relocation to Georgia but we have found no proof of that.

Isham Talbot, Senior, was 20 years of age when his father died.  It appears that he and his half-brothers, James and John remained at home although James married the next year.  Isham married Elizabeth Davis in 1765 and during the course of their long life together, they became the parents of 12 children, all of whom were born in Virginia except the youngest, Priscilla, and perhaps Martha who was two years older than Priscilla.  Isham was an active land trader, farmer, and frontier businessman.  There are numerous records of his buying and selling land in Bedford and surrounding counties.  Isham Talbot, Senior, was active in the American Revolution as was all of his brothers.  He rose to the rank of Lieutenant in the Virginia Militia and was a combatant in a number of battles in Virginia and elsewhere.     

Although we have not been able to establish with absolute certainty the exact date that Isham Talbot, Senior, moved his family to Kentucky, we do know that he was one of the early settlers and that he first located near Harrodsburg in central Kentucky.  Harrodsburg is the oldest city in Kentucky and the first English settlement beyond the Allegheny Mountains.  It was established in 1774 by James Harrod and is now the county seat of  Mercer County.  Some researchers have asserted that Isham Talbot, Senior, was at the Battle of Blue Licks near present day Mt. Olivet, Kentucky.  That Battle, fought August 19, 1782, some ten months after Cornwallis had surrendered at Yorktown,  was the last official battle of the American Revolution.  Whether Isham Talbot, Senior, was at that Battle or came a short time later is speculative but we do know that he was in Kentucky by 1784 and it is entirely likely that he came earlier.

The subject of this paper, Isham Talbot, Junior, was born in 1773 in Bedford County, Virginia and moved with his father to Kentucky when he was not yet a teenager.  He attended whatever schools were available and apparently taught himself the modern and ancient languages.  While quite young, he began to "read" law with Colonel George Nicholas, consider then and now to have been among the greatest of the Jurist-consultants.  Young Talbot excelled and at the tender age of 21, he was admitted to the bar and set up his practice in Versailles, Kentucky.  Soon afterward, he moved his practice to Frankfort and continued his rise as a barrister.

A more complete understanding of and appreciation for the life and times of Isham Talbot, Junior, can be obtained from a brief recapitulation of the things that were happening in the fledging young democracy now widely recognized as The United States.  Isham Talbot, Junior, was 16 years old when George Washington took the oath of office as the first President of the United States, Talbot was 20 and about to become a lawyer when Washington took the oath a second time.  William Thornton, the architect of the Capitol, and the personal choice of Washington was appointed Commissioner of Washington, DC in 1794 and moved there with his wife, Anna Maria Brodeau Thornton.  The Thornton's will play a role in the life of Isham Talbot, Junior, soon after he arrives in Washington, DC.  The City of Washington was non-existent but there were small communities nearby; among them, Georgetown and Alexandria.  John Adams moved into the White House as its first occupant in 1801 and the Congress relocated to DC in late 1800.  In May of 1804, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark launched the Corps of Discovery from St. Louis for the purpose of exploring the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase.  There were nine Kentuckians in the Corps. 

Kentucky was admitted to the Union in 1792 and elected Isaac Shelby as its first Governor.  He served only one term and was succeed by James Garrard, an accomplished gentleman in his own right and the recipient of much recognition for his contributions.  Governor Garrard was the father of several children, among the last of whom was Margaret "Peggy: Garrard born 31 July 1788.  Margaret Garrard spent her childhood in the Governor's Mansion in Frankfort, in fact it was likely the only home she remembered from her childhood.  In 1804, a few months after leaving the Governor's mansion in Frankfort and returning to his home "Mt. Lebanon" in Paris, James Garrard had the honor of giving his daughter, Margaret, away in marriage to Isham Talbot, Junior.  She was not quite 16 and Talbot was 31.  A marriage with that much age differential might cause some conversation in 21st century America but it was not unusual in the 19th century.

Cordelia Talbot was the first child born of this union and the date of her birth vis a vis the marriage date is speculative.  The most common date for her birth is 08 August 1803 but that is almost five months before the date the record shows for the marriage of Margaret and Isham.  We are confident that Cordelia's birth date is more likely one year later and perhaps two but the date we show is that shown on her gravestone in the Frankfort Cemetery.  Elizabeth Garrard Talbot was born 27 August 1806 and Juliet Mountjoy Talbot was born 18 April 1810.  The fourth child, William Garrard Talbot, was born 1 January 1813.  Isham and Margaret became the parents of four children in the span of their first 8 plus years together.  He was a successful attorney in Frankfort and by 1812, he had entered politics by virtue of his election to the Kentucky State Senate.  Although the United States had gone to war with Great Britain yet again by its declaration adopted 18 June 1812, there seems to have been relativity few effects on life in the far reaches of Kentucky. 

Isham was a popular member of the bar and with the political establishment in Kentucky and it was not surprising that he was selected to fill the unexpired term of United States Senator Jesse Bledsoe who had resigned in December 1814.  Bledsoe had sent a letter of resignation to the state government of Kentucky in December 1814.  On January 20, 1815 after Talbot had been named but before that he had appeared before the Senate, Bledsoe submitted a letter to the Senate requesting to know whether he still retained the seat or if the seat had been declared vacant. The Senate then declared the seat vacant.  We have not discovered why this "misunderstanding" occurred.

Journal of the Senate of the United States of America, 1789-1873

The Honorable William T. Barry, appointed a Senator by the legislature of the state of Kentucky, in the place of the Honorable George M. Bibb, resigned; and the Honorable Isham Talbot, appointed a Senator by the legislature of the same state, in the place of the Honorable Jesse Bledsoe, resigned, respectively produced their credential, which were read; and the oath prescribed by law was administered to them, and they took their seats in the Senate

A few days after Isham Talbot, Junior, began his Senate term on 2 February 1815, President James Madison signed the Treaty of Ghent at the Octagon House in Washington, thus ending the War of 1812.    Madison was living at the Octagon House because the British had burned the White House early in the War of 1812.  The Octagon House was designed by William Thornton and still stands today a few blocks from the White House.  But the headiness of Isham's political success turned quickly when tragedy struck within a month.  His beloved Margaret died on 22 March 1815 in Frankfort.  We have not been able to locate her grave but we suspect that it was either on their place at Frankfort or on her father's place in Paris at "Mt. Lebanon".  Isham was left with four young children, ages ranging from Cordelia, the oldest at 12, Elizabeth was 9, Juliet was 5, and William was only two.  How he managed to care for his children and attend to the matters that confront a United States Senator must have been overwhelming and to our regret we have found not a single reference that might shed light on that.  We do know that he had two younger sisters, one married but without children and one who was unmarried and, in fact, never married.  We have speculated that they might have kept his children but it is possible that he took them to Washington, DC and found someone there to care for them. 

The Senate session in 1815 ended 3 March 1815 and we know that Isham Talbot, Junior, went to Washington, DC after his election and came home within a month and was at his wife's bedside when she died.  Although a round trip of that distance today would not seem unduly difficult, in 1815 it would have been almost prohibitive.  The almost 600 mile distance would have required a minimum of ten days EACH WAY because the fastest means of transport was walking or horseback.  By December 1815, Isham was again in Washington for the beginning of the session of the Congress on 4 December 1815.  But it appears that he did not arrive in Washington until the 29th

Journal of the Senate of the United States of America, 1789-1873
FRIDAY, December 29th, 1815.

The honourable Isham Talbot, from the State of Kentucky, arrived on the 27th, and attended this day.

(The timing suggests that Isham Talbot, Junior, must have been traveling during the Christmas holidays.)

We do not know how he had arranged for his children's care but we do know that he was regular in attendance at the Senate sessions and participated actively in the affairs of the Senate.  The 14th Senate, First Session,  ran from December 4, 1815 until 30 April 1816, a total of 148 days and we have found no instances when Isham was absent.



Senate Sessions during terms of Isham Talbot, Junior
Congress Session

Begin Date

Adjourn Date


13 3 Sep 19, 1814 Mar 3, 1815 Talbot served about one month
14 1 Dec 4, 1815 Apr 30, 1816  
14 2 Dec 2, 1816 Mar 3, 1817  
S Mar 4, 1817 Mar 6, 1817  
15 1 Dec 1, 1817 Apr 20, 1818  
15 2 Nov 16, 1818 Mar 3, 1819 Talbot's first term ended
16 1 Dec 6, 1819 May 15, 1820 Talbot was out of Congress
16 2 Nov 13, 1820 Mar 3, 1821 Talbot filled Logan's unexpired term
17 1 Dec 3, 1821 May 8, 1822  
17 2 Dec 2, 1822 Mar 3, 1823  
18 1 Dec 1, 1823 May 27, 1824  
18 2 Dec 6, 1824 Mar 3, 1825 Talbot's second term ended

(Note that the sessions were relatively short and that they began in December and usually ended not later than early May.)

On 20 March 1817, James Monroe was sworn in as the fifth President of the United States.  Isham Talbot was quite likely in attendance although the Senate had completed its session on 3 March 1817 and a Special Session had been called that lasted two days..  On 27 March 1817, Isham Talbot and Adelaide Thomason were married in Washington, DC.  She was 17 and he was 44.  Adelaide Thomason was born 1 January 1800 on the Island of Santa Cruz, the daughter of James Thomason, a step brother to William Thornton, the Architect of the Capitol of the United States.  Despite a diligent search, we have been unable to find any record that might shed light on her early years including how she might have come to be in the United States in 1817.  William Thornton's wife, Anna Maria Brodeau Thornton, kept a detailed diary that includes many references to the Thomason family but nothing that showed when Adelaide came to the United States and why she might have been living in Washington, DC.  Mrs Thornton's diary is in the Library of Congress and the Columbia Historical Society has transcribed her entries for the year 1800.  That publication is online.

The courtship of Adelaide Thomason by Isham Talbot introduces other questions about which we can only speculate.  The Thornton's were next door neighbors to the James Madison's for 8 years, from 1801 until Madison was elected President in 1808 and moved into the White House in 1809.  Even while living in the White House, the two families were very close and the White House was only two blocks from the Thornton house.  The Thornton's were childless and it is entirely possible that Adelaide spent a good bit of time with them.  Step nieces are not usually close to the older couple but in this case, there seems to be an unusually close connection.  For example, at the death of Anna Maria Brodeau Thornton in 1865, her will bequeathed the portraits of herself and Dr. Thornton painted by Gilbert Stuart in 1804 to Adelaide.  Perhaps only coincidentally, Isham purchased an extensive property on F Street within a few doors of the Thornton's.   While being a member of the Senate is a significant honor itself, the social and political exchanges with the most powerful men in the new country were equally important.

Whatever the details, Isham Talbot, Junior, and Adelaide were married in Washington, DC in March 1817.  The Senate Session had ended and Isham surely would have returned to Kentucky to do the work expected of a US Senator and it seems reasonable to expect that he would be accompanied by his new bride.  Although we have been unable to confirm that, we suspect that she did move with him to Kentucky.  Isham's children from his marriage to Margaret "Peggy" Garrard were still quite young; Cordelia was 14, Elizabeth was 11, Juliet was 7, and William Garrard Talbot was 4.  One wonders what Adelaide Thomason Talbot thought about moving to the frontier and becoming the "mother" of children who were only a few years younger than she.

Isham Talbot, Junior completed the term to which he had been elected on March 19, 1819 and he returned to his very active law practice in Frankfort.  In addition to his case load, he was active in other investments including quite sizable purchases and sales of lands not only in Kentucky but in various other States that were opening lands for settlement.  He was successful at law and at business and his fortunes were growing.  In the fall of 1820, William Logan, the duly elected Senator from Kentucky, resigned and Isham was once again elected to fill the unexpired term.  Accordingly, on October 19, 1820, he again found himself representing the Commonwealth of Kentucky in the United States Senate.  We have been unable to show that Adelaide lived with him in Frankfort during the 17 month period that he was out of the Senate.  We do know that their first child was born either late in 1820 or early in 1821.  The gravestone in Mt Olivet Cemetery near the United States Capitol gives her death date and the inscription reads '61 Years".  That would mean that she was born early in 1821, a fact that establishes Adelaide's likely presence in Frankfort during the time that Isham was out of the Senate.

We have been unable to locate the Talbot residence in Washington, DC during either of the two terms that Talbot served but we do know that he made a significant purchase in late 1825.  Although his term had ended in March 1825, Talbot purchased the Notley Young mansion and some lots surrounding it before the end of the year in 1825.  The Young Mansion is one of the most famous of all the early Washington residences and there are numerous papers describing it, its location, and history of its owners and occupants.  Most importantly, on Christmas Day, 1825, James Theodore Talbot was born in Washington, DC.  We have presumed that Isham and Adelaide were living together but there is some evidence to suggest that they either had or would soon separate and she would continue to live in Washington and he returned to Frankfort.  The exact time of the split is uncertain but we think it occurred soon after the purchase of the Young Mansion.  The fact of purchase can be established from Isham Talbot's will dated some 12 years afterward to wit:

2nd    I have heretofore conveyed to Col Peter Dudley and Thomas L. Crittenden a house, five contiguous lots in the City of Washington known as the mansion house, in trust for the use and benefit of my wife, Adelaide, during her life and at her death for our daughter, Mary Louisa Talbot, which deed of trust was accepted by her in lieu and in full satisfaction and discharge of all and every claim of dower in any of my estate and of any distributive surplus  of my personal estate and Negros which by law she might have been entitled to and on the condition that she renounces all claim to dower or a distributable portion of the aforesaid.  I do confirm said deed and do hereby direct my said trustees to pay her the sum of five hundred dollars per annum for and during the period of her natural life.

6th    For the purpose of enabling my daughter, Mary Louisa, as well as for her further advancement in life, I bequeath to her the sum of two thousand dollars to be paid as soon as convenience of my estate will permit.

7th    I bequeath to my son, Theodore James, for the purpose of completing his education, the sum of five hundred dollars which shall be increased to the sum of two thousand dollars on condition that his mother will permit the completion of his education under the superintendence and care of my said trustees.

Accordingly, while we may not know the details surrounding the marriage and the difficulties that Isham and Adelaide faced, we can surely conclude that the relationship deteriorated.  Although there was no divorce, note the reference in the will to the word "wife", it is clear that Isham and Adelaide were not on the best of terms.  The serious reader should read the complete will because it shows the disposition of his substantial estate.  Moreover,  the bequests that he left his second family pale when compared to the amounts he left the four children from his first marriage to Margaret Garrard.  Click will to read the complete will.  The provisions of Item 7 above seemed to have been complied with because Theodore did. indeed, attend military school in Kentucky and at the age of 18 accompanied John Charles Fremont on his Second Expedition to the West.  In a letter from Fremont to his commanding officer, Fremont assures him that Talbot has been added to the party and there is ample evidence to show that Colonel J. J. Abert, Fremont's superior, was a friend of the family. 

Isham Talbot, Jr. retired from public service in 1825 and we have found no record to show that he ever served in any other elected office although he was an important member of the Frankfort bar and political community until his death.  He died in 1837 at the age of 64, a full life and covered with honors.  He was a wealthy man and provided generously for his children and his estranged wife, Adelaide.  The actual burial site has proven difficult to determine but it was likely on his plantation overlooking the Kentucky State Capitol.  His grave marker is located in the Frankfort Cemetery on property that was once in the possession of Ambrose Dudley and his wife, Elizabeth Garrard Talbot, Isham's second daughter.  Many members of the family are buried nearby.

The Children of Isham Talbot

Isham Talbot and his first wife, Margaret Garrard, had four children that we have been able to identify.  All of these children were born in Frankfort, Kentucky and all of them grew to adulthood there.  Although they were all very young when their mother died, we have found no record to indicate where they were reared or by whom.  We have speculated that the joy of that might have been shared among two of Isham's sisters but that is more speculation than fact.

Cordelia M. Talbot was not yet a teenager when her mother died.  Although the records are scant and sometimes contradictory, we believe that she married Isham T. Peck, perhaps a cousin, and that they lived together for a short period of time.  Apparently, there were no children from this marriage and the marriage dissolved.  The few available records how that Cordelia suffered from mental illnesses and was institutionalized a good part of her life.  Isham Talbot provided for her care quite generously in his will and refers to her as "my unfortunate daughter, Cordelia M. Peck."  She died in 1860 and was buried at the Frankfort Cemetery.

Elizabeth Garrard Talbot married Ambrose William Dudley in 1824 when she was 18 years of age.  Although Isham Talbot provided very well for her in his will, Ambrose Dudley was a quite capable man in his own right and rose to occupy some prominent positions in the State.  Their children grew to adulthood in Frankfort, married there, and were well-known members of the community.  One child, Maria, married Frederick H. Winston, a Georgia native and Harvard Law graduate, who established a Chicago firm in 1853.  Later the name was changed to Winston and Strawn and it is one of the largest law firms in the United States.  Both Elizabeth and Ambrose are buried in the Frankfort Cemetery and many of their children and grandchildren are also buried there.

Juliet Mountjoy Talbot married Churchill Price Samuel in 1828 when she was 18.  They had four children.  Churchill Samuel died in 1841 at the age of 42.  Juliet did not remarry and continued to live in Frankfort until her death in 1868.  She and Churchill and many of their children and grandchildren are buried in the Frankfort Cemetery.

William Garrard Talbot was only two years of age when his mother died.  After Isham returned to Frankfort when his second term in the Senate ended, William Garrard Talbot lived with him until Isham's death in 1837.  He married Cordelia Wood in 1839 and they had one child, Helen, in 1841.  Cordelia Wood died shortly after the birth of Helen and William Garrard Talbot married Ellen Sophia Hart in 1845.  He inherited the Garrard home place, Mt. Lebanon, just outside Paris, Kentucky.  James Garrard, Kentucky's second Governor, had built the place before 1800 and it stands today as the ancestral home of the Garrard family.  A descendant of William Garrard Talbot still lives on the place and it has been the home of some of Kentucky's most noted equine champions.  The children of William Garrard Talbot have been and continue to be prominent members of the Bourbon County community.  Many are buried in the Paris Cemetery in Paris, KY.

Isham Talbot married Adelaide Thomason in 1817 about two years after the death of Margaret Garrard.  Isham and Adelaide had two children but as we have reported already, the marriage had it share of difficulties and it appears that Isham had little contact with his children from this marriage.   Adelaide and Isham were separated in 1825 or 1826.  She remained in Washington, DC while he returned to Kentucky and resumed the legal and business career that he had followed before he came to Washington as the Senator from Kentucky.  Adelaide continued to live in the house on F street and may have actually lived there until her death in 1873.  Jessie Benton Fremont, the wife of John Charles Fremont often corresponded with Adelaide with news about the Fremont Expeditions in which Adelaide's son, Theodore, was a member and the letters were addressed simply, Mrs. Talbot, F Street, Washington City.  Adelaide was buried in Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Washington, DC, a short distance from the Capitol building.

Mary Louisa Talbot was born about 1820.  She never married and seems to have spent most of her life at home with her mother.  She was devoted to her mother and to her younger brother, Theodore, but whether she ever spent any time with her half brother and half sisters in Kentucky is speculative.  She died in 1882 in Washington, DC and was buried alongside her mother and brother in Mt Olivet Cemetery.  

James Theodore Talbot was born on Christmas Day in 1825.  His name is seen variously as James Theodore and Theodore James but he always referred to himself as Theodore or more often as Theo.  He grew up in Washington, DC in the home of his mother and without much contact with his father as nearly as we can determine.  He was only 12 when his father died and he was not quite 18 when he was chosen to accompany John C, Fremont on his Second Expedition.  He was, no doubt, selected for the Expedition because he had powerful friends who insisted that he be included.  Fremont's superior, Colonel Abert, interceded personally in the choice.  Theodore again joined Fremont for the Third Expedition and played some role in the brouhaha surrounding the formation of California as a State.  In 1848, he was sent to the Mexican War but too late for combat and then sent to the Vancouver Barracks in Oregon where he served for 3 years.  He returned to the east coast in 1852 and served at various military posts until 1860 when he was assigned to Fort Moultrie and then Fort Sumter in Charleston.  He played a role in those traumatic days leading up to the firing on Fort Sumter and the outbreak of Civil War.  In April 1862, he was assigned to the Adjutant General's office in Washington and there he died one year later at the age of 37.  He was buried in Mt. Olivet Cemetery.  We have written extensively about Theodore and published our story on the Talbot web page.  A more complete story of his life can be seen by clicking on this link.

And thus we bring to an end the story of the life and times of Isham Talbot, Junior.  He was an enormously talented man with great energy, drive, and determination.  He was successful in almost everything he did and it must have pained him deeply to have been estranged from his second family and to have missed the joys of rearing those children.  But all that is speculation.  A careful reading of his will suggests that he was much closer to the children of his first marriage because he was certainly more generous with them.  At any rate, he accomplished much and the Talbot family and indeed our country is better for his having been a part of each.