The President Who Died From Fruit and Milk

Zachary Taylor just wanted to enjoy an Independence Day barbecue

Grant Piper
5 min readMay 11, 2020


Portrait of President Taylor, 1850 (Library of Congress)

JJuly 4th, 1850 was a hot and humid day but not one that was dissimilar to any other summer day that had come before it. Many people from Washington had gathered on the green grass in the shadow of the White House to celebrate Independence Day. It was the 74th anniversary of the original date and spirits were high. They were on the grounds of what was to be the Washington Monument, which had recently been commissioned.

Recently elected, President Zachary Taylor was in attendance to socialize, eat, drink and celebrate with the other people of the city. A hero of the Mexican-American war, General Taylor won a handy victory in the election of 1848. He had been inaugurated just 16 months prior to the fateful party in 1850.

To combat the heat and humidity, the food items available were favorite summer treats. Juicy chilled fruits such as cherries, apples and more were served in abundance to the crowd. Iced water and chilled milk flowed like wine.

President Taylor partook heavily in the festivities. Many sources from the time described him as eating and drinking “copious amounts” of the provided refreshments. He then took a walk along the river to cool off towards the end of the party before taking ill.

He died five days later on July 9th, 1850.

March Towards Death

A fruit piece as might have been served at the time (1859, LoC)

President Taylor was told to lie down, drink cold water and suck on ice chips. Many at the time could only assume that the president had over exerted himself in the summer heat and only needed to rest. The president was old at the time but had been in good health preceding the unfortunate event and no one expected him to decline so rapidly.

It quickly became apparent that Zachary Taylor was suffering from something more serious than heat exhaustion after he developed severe stomach cramps. Soon after the cramps set on, his body began rejecting the water that he had been drinking.



Grant Piper

Professional writer. Amateur historian. Husband, father, Christian.