Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Tryon, William

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TRYON, WILLIAM (1725–1788), governor of New York, a descendant of Abraham Tryon of Bulwick, Northamptonshire, of a family which had migrated to England in consequence of Alva's cruelties in the Low Countries, was born in 1725. He obtained a commission as captain of the first regiment of footguards in 1751, and in 1758 became lieutenant-colonel. Shortly afterwards he married a lady named Wake, who had a large fortune and was related to Wills Hill, second viscount Hillsborough [q. v.], who was in September 1763 appointed first commissioner of trade and plantations. Through Hillsborough's influence Tryon was appointed lieutenant-governor of North Carolina, where he arrived to take up his office on 27 June 1764, and, on the death of Governor Arthur Dobbs on 20 July 1765, he was appointed governor with an allowance of 1,000l. a year from the British treasury (Addit. MS. 33056, f. 202). A firm administrator, he led in person a force against some formidable rioters in the province, who called themselves ‘regulators,’ and summarily crushed the insurrection (1770). By a policy of blandishment in which he was aided by his wife, he extracted a large sum from the assembly towards the erection of a governor's house (Tryon's Carolina Letter-book, 1764–71, was bought for Harvard College in 1845). In July 1771 Tryon effected an exchange with the Earl of Dunmore, and became governor of New York, whither he arrived in the sloop Sukey on 8 July. He brought with him the reputation of a vigorous and able administrator, and was received with feasts and addresses. In his opening message to the provincial assembly he urged the claims of the New York hospital and the formation of an efficient force of militia. In December 1772 he was able to report to Dartmouth ‘the most brilliant militia review ever held within his majesty's American dominions.’

He identified himself with the colony by speculating largely in land, and during the August of 1772 paid a visit to the Indian country. A new district, named Tryon County, was settled west of the Schenectady. In April 1773 he wrote to Lord Hyde, requesting ‘some solid reward for his services’ in North Carolina and elsewhere. On 29 Dec. 1773 the New York government house in Fort George accidentally caught fire and was consumed in two hours. The governor and his lady escaped on to the ramparts, but Miss Tryon nearly perished in the flames. Five thousand pounds was voted to the governor for his losses. In the following April Tryon sailed on a visit to England in the Mercury packet, receiving upon his departure addresses of regret and esteem from all the corporate bodies in the city. He had made a large grant of land to King's College, which conferred upon him the honorary degree of LL.B. While in England he strongly recommended to Dartmouth a conciliatory attitude (Dartmouth Papers, ii. 292).

Tryon was ordered back to his post in May 1775; he sailed on board the Johana from Spithead on 9 May, and arrived at New York on 25 June 1775. The colonies were already in a state of rebellion, and Washington had passed through the city to take up his post as commander of the American forces on the very morning of the governor's return. Hostile shots were exchanged in New York Harbour in August 1775, and on 19 Oct. Tryon (who had already written to ask discretionary leave to return home) thought it wise to seek refuge on the sloop Halifax; he removed thence to the ‘Dutchess of Gordon, ship,’ in which he remained now in the North River, and now off Sandy Hook, for nearly a year, sending a number of important despatches to the government, but impotent to control the course of events. He re-entered New York in September 1776 upon Howe's making himself master of that city. He was warmly welcomed by the loyalists in the city, and in April 1777 took command of a corps of provincial loyalists. Early in 1778 he asked permission to resign his governorship for a military employment, and by a despatch from Lord George Germain (dated Whitehall, 5 June 1778) he was appointed to the command of the 70th (or Surrey) regiment, and at the same time promoted major-general ‘in America.’ James Robertson (1720?–1788) succeeded him as civil governor of New York, this being the last British appointment to that post. Tryon's lands were forfeited, and he was attainted by an act of congress dated 22 Oct. 1779. In the meantime he had been urging by every means in his power a more vigorous conduct of the war, and called upon the government to undertake a system of ‘depredatory excursions.’ He succeeded in obtaining power to issue letters of marque, and claimed that his privateers had greatly damaged the enemy; he further recommended that a reward should be offered for the capture of members of congress. In the summer of 1779 he made a successful expedition into Connecticut, and during the succeeding winter Sir Henry Clinton left him in command of the troop in the New York district. Early in 1780, however, a ‘very severe gout’ compelled his return to England, and his health precluded him from taking further service in America. He was promoted lieutenant-general on 20 Nov. 1782, and died at his house in Upper Grosvenor Street on 27 Dec. 1788. He was buried at Twickenham. No portrait of Tryon is believed to be extant. His autograph and coat of arms are facsimiled in Wilson's ‘Memorial History of the City of New York.’

[Tryon's correspondence with Lord George Germain occupies a large part of vol. viii. of the ‘Documents relating to the Colonial History of New York State,’ 1857, 4to, which forms the chief authority. Next in importance are the Dartmouth Papers, Hist. MSS. Comm., 14th Rep., App. x. freq.; other fragments of Tryon's official correspondence are in Add. MSS. 21673 and 21735 passim; see also Sabine's Loyalists of the American Revolution, 1864, ii. 364–6; Grant Wilson's Memorial Hist. of New York, 1892, vol. ii. chap. viii.; Roberts's Planting and Growth of Empire State, 1887; Lecky's Hist. of England, iii. 414, iv. 116; Winsor's Hist. of America, vol. vi.; Williamson's North Carolina, Philad. 1812, ii. 113–63; Records of North Carolina, 1890, vol. vii.; Northamptonshire Notes and Queries, 1894, p. 236; Gent. Mag. 788, i. 179.]

T. S.