The son of a non-conformist yeoman farmer, Taylor is thought to have been born in 1642 at Sketchley, Leicestershire, England. There is conflicting evidence in regard to the dates and locations of events in his early life, but he grew up during the Commonwealth of England and under the influence of his father became a convinced Protestant dissenter. His childhood was spent on the family farm where he enjoyed the stability of a middle-class upbringing. His later writings are full of influences from his farmhouse childhood, both as regards imagery, and in the occasional use of the Leicestershire dialect.
Taylor's mother and father died in 1657 and 1658, respectively. He continued to develop alone and the extent of his formal education is unknown. For some time he worked as schoolmaster at Bagworth but following the restoration of the monarchy, Taylor refused to sign the Act of Uniformity, which cost him his teaching position. It was at this point that he began to write poetry in which he continued to lament the loss of religious freedoms after he emigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in America in 1668.
Taylor's Atlantic crossing and subsequent years (from April 26, 1668, to July 5, 1671) are chronicled in his now-published Diary. Just two weeks after landing in Boston, he was admitted to Harvard College as a second year student to prepare himself for ordination, studying a variety of topics and languages. Upon graduation in 1671 his first choice was to stay at university and become a resident scholar. But just a week later he accepted the call to serve as pastor and physician at Westfield, on the remote western frontier of Massachusetts, where he remained until his death 58 years later.
He was twice married: first to Elizabeth Fitch, by whom he had eight children, five of whom died in childhood; and at her death to Ruth Wyllys, who bore him six more children. Taylor himself died in Westfield on June 29, 1729.