Tryon, William

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Tryon, William

TRYON, WILLIAM. (1729–1788). Royal governor of North Carolina and New York, British general. Well born, Tryon used his family connections to secure a lieutenancy in the prestigious First Regiment of Foot Guards in 1751. He was promoted to the rank of captain the same year. In 1757, he married Margaret Wake, heiress of a fortune and a relative of Lord Hillsborough (Wills Hill). Tryon saw military service during the Seven Years' War, during which he was in the Cherbourg-St. Malo operation (1758) and was almost killed. Also in 1758, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel. Through the influence of Hillsborough, he was appointed lieutenant governor of North Carolina in 1764. A year later, when Governor Arthur Dobbs died, he was appointed governor.

Proving himself a successful administrator, Tryon reorganized the province's taxes; established the Anglican Church and a postal system; improved defenses; erected "Tryon Palace," a new governor's mansion at New Bern; drew a boundary between North and South Carolina; and attempted, unsuccessfully, to get London's approval for a provincial currency. He sympathized with the Carolinians in their opposition to the Stamp Act in 1765 and the Townshend Duties in 1769, but nevertheless attempted to enforce the measures. His final act as governor of North Carolina was to defeat the frontiersmen known as Regulators in the battle of the Alamance on 16 May 1771.

Replacing Lord Dunmore (John Murray) as governor of New York in late 1771, Tryon had difficulties with frontiersmen there as well. He became embroiled in a border controversy between New York and New Hampshire over the region that became Vermont. He got into difficulties with London when he granted enormous tracts of land to colonial aristocrats, and to himself. His avowed aim, as he explained to the British ministry, was to counteract "the general leveling spirit" that prevailed in many of England's American colonies, by imposing aristocratic landlords on tenants. In 1772 he also fostered hierarchy by establishing a militia system that granted all officers' commissions to "Gentlemen of first families" and created several independent companies for the provinces' richest citizens,

When Tryon was confronted in the mid-1770s with radical New Yorkers' resistance to the Tea Act, he attempted to isolate the protesters from the rest of the population. At the same time, he implored the ministry in London to end attempts to tax Americans. Failing in both these matters, he fled on 19 October 1775 to a British ship in New York harbor. Although he retained the governorship for the remainder of his tenure in the colonies, he concentrated on service in the British army. Having been promoted colonel in 1772, he used his military authority to organize Loyalist militias in New York. He welcomed General William Howe's army in July 1776, and acted as Howe's adviser during the fighting for the remainder of the year. On 1 January 1777 he was commissioned a major general in America and given command of Loyalist regiments in Howe's army. In April he led a successful raid against Danbury, Connecticut, and in October he joined Sir Henry Clinton in attacking the Highland Forts on the Hudson River. In 1778, he was appointed colonel of the Seventieth Regiment.

A year later, Tryon conducted savage attacks against Horseneck, New Haven, and Norwalk, all in Connecticut. Practicing what he called "desolation warfare," he unleashed merciless operations against both civilians and soldiers in an attempt to break their will to resist. In 1780, convinced that the war was unwinnable, he abandoned this policy. After serving in operations against Connecticut Farms and Springfield, New Jersey, in June 1780, he resigned his civil and military offices and returned to England. There he lived quietly and comfortably with his family until his death on 17 January 1788.

Before the War for America commenced in 1775, Tryon had sided with the colonists in opposing parliamentary taxes, even though he favored social hierarchy and believed the Americans were too democratic. Hence, he was generally popular. But his advocacy of sanguinary warfare after that time destroyed his popularity and convinced the rebels that he was a brutal despot. By his own lights a friend of America, he found himself in an impossible situation, for Britain refused to make timely and necessary concessions in the early 1770s. Through no fault of his own, he was a victim of forces over which he exerted no control.

SEE ALSO Dunmore's (or Cresap's) War; Regulators.


Nelson, Paul David. William Tryon and the Course of Empire: A Life in British Imperial Service. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990.

Powell, William S., ed. The Correspondence of William Tryon and Other Selected Papers, 2 vols. Raleigh, N.C.: Division of Archives and History, 1980–1981.

                             revised by Paul David Nelson

William Tryon

views updated May 11 2018

William Tryon

William Tryon (1729-1788), English colonial official, was governor of both North Carolina and New York colonies. He led a loyalist force during the Revolution.

Born at Norbury Park, Surrey, William Tryon entered the army in 1751 with a commission as lieutenant in the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards. In 1758 he became a regimental captain with an army rank of lieutenant colonel. In 1757 he had married Margaret Wake, whose connection with Lord Hillsborough probably was responsible for Tryon's appointment as lieutenant governor of North Carolina in 1764. After the death of the governor in 1765, Tryon was appointed to the position. When he insisted on supporting the British government during the prerevolutionary Stamp Act controversy, local inhabitants so intimidated him that he suggested the use of British regulars. He successfully negotiated a boundary dispute with the Cherokee Indians, and he was finally able to locate a permanent capital for the colony at New Bern, where "Tryon's Palace" was constructed.

Tryon was popular in the tidewater area, but in the west the Regulator movement arose over such issues as inadequate currency, unequal taxation, and unhappiness with local officials. Tryon was sympathetic to some Regulator demands and was a personal friend of some of the leaders, but in 1768 he marched the militia to Hills-borough to put down Regulator demonstrations. In 1770 the Regulators arose again and broke up the superior court at Hillsborough, intimidating court officials and lawyers. After the ringleaders were convicted and outlawed, Tryon, in March 1771, led 1, 100 militia into Regulator country and on May 16 inflicted a crushing defeat on 2, 000 Regulators.

In July Tryon left for New York as he had succeeded Lord Dunmore as governor of that province. There he was faced with the land grant dispute with New Hampshire and difficulties arising out of land purchases from the Mohawk Indians, in which he was personally interested to the extent of 40, 000 acres. He was recalled to England for an explanation and sailed in April 1774.

Tryon returned to New York 14 months later, after the Revolution had begun. He was forced to remain aboard a ship in New York harbor from October 1775 until the arrival of William Howe's fleet in August 1776. In 1777 he was given permission to command a loyalist force and a year later was promoted to major general in North America and colonel of the 70th Foot. His primary military activity was a series of diversionary raids in Connecticut. In 1780 chronic illness compelled his return to England, where he was promoted to lieutenant general in 1782 and colonel of the 29th Foot in 1783. He died in London on Jan. 27, 1788.

Further Reading

Marshall D. Haywood, Governor William Tryon and His Administration in the Province of North Carolina, 1765-1771 (1903), was updated by Alonzo T. Dill, Governor Tryon and His Palace (1955).

Additional Sources

Nelson, Paul David, William Tryon and the course of empire: a life in British imperial service, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990. □

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