How Cherries Are Tied To President Zachary Taylor’s Death

Zachary Taylor, born in 1784, was a U.S. Army serviceman for almost 40 years before he was elected as the United States’ 12th president in 1849. Taylor fought and survived battles, such as the Indian Wars and Mexican War, but what would eventually take his life had something to do with cherries.

Taylor’s presidency lasted only 16 months — from March 4, 1849, to July 9, 1850 — because of his untimely death. After a day of Fourth of July celebrations in 1850, President Taylor took a walk in the area near the Potomac River before he went back to the White House. The temperature was hot and humidity was high, so Taylor decided to cool off by eating large quantities of cherries, as well as other fruits (via Miller Center). He then consumed iced milk and water afterward. That night, Taylor started experiencing abdominal pains and his temperature had increased. His condition worsened the following days, and he also suffered from diarrhea.

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Taylor’s physician gave him opium and mercury chloride to treat the symptoms. On July 8, his condition didn’t get any better, and it seemed that he knew he wouldn’t survive his mysterious illness. “I should not be surprised if this were to terminate in my death,” he said. On July 9, Taylor died at the age of 65.

The cause of President Zachary Taylor's death

Physicians diagnosed Zachary Taylor’s cause of death as cholera morbus — a medical term that is no longer used today. Now, the term is called acute gastroenteritis, which is a disease acquired when contaminated food or water is ingested, per Science Direct. In the 1800s, cholera morbus was a common illness, especially during the oppressive heat in the summertime. Taylor’s physician believed that bacteria were present in the milk that he consumed shortly before getting sick.

Historians, however, have different opinions on Taylor’s cause of death, as reported by Politico. Some believe that he died of heatstroke, while others say that the acute gastroenteritis was caused by ingesting too many cherries — an acidic fruit — combined with iced milk. The symptoms Taylor experienced, such as abdominal pains and diarrhea, are also the most common symptoms seen in patients with acute gastroenteritis.

After Zachary Taylor’s death, Vice President Millard Fillmore was sworn in as the new president the very next day.

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