The son of a non-conformist yeoman farmer, Taylor was born in 1642 at Sketchley, Leicestershire, England. Following restoration of the monarchy and the Act of Uniformity under Charles II, which cost Taylor his teaching position, he emigrated in 1668 to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in America.
Taylor's Atlantic crossing and early years (from April 26, 1668, to July 5, 1671) are chronicled in his now-published Diary. He was admitted to Harvard College as a second year student soon after arriving in America and upon graduation in 1671 became pastor and physician at Westfield, on the remote western frontier of Massachusetts, where he remained until his death.
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.