John Taylor was born into slavery in Kentucky and was liberated by Union Troops during the Civil War. In August 1864, he enlisted in the 1st Michigan Colored Infantry. After the war, Taylor worked for farmer John Buck in Delhi Township. When Taylor left to seek employment elsewhere, Buck refused to pay him for his work. On the night of August 23, 1866, Taylor returned to the farm to collect his wages. Buck was not there, but Taylor came upon Buck's wife, daughter and mother-in-law in the dark. He struck them with an axe and fled. No one was seriously injured, but newspapers reported that Taylor had murdered Buck's daughter and attempted to kill all three women. Some accounts said Taylor confessed to acting "in his fright and confusion," with no intent to kill anyone. Taylor was caught and placed in the Ingham County Jail in Mason to await trial.