William Tryon

Royal Governor of North Carolina Province 1765 to 1771



William Tryon (January 27, 1729 to 1788) was Royal Governor of North Carolina (1765-1771) and the Province of New York (1771-1780, though he did not retain much power in the colony beyond 1777).

William Tryon's Seal and Signature

William Tryon was born at Norbury Park, Surrey, England. In 1757, when he was a captain of the First Foot Guards, he married Margaret Wake, a London heiress with a dower of £30,000. In 1764, he was appointed Lieutenant Governor of North Carolina, and upon Arthur Dobbs's death in 1765, he became governor Pro Tem, and in December of the same year he received his commission as Governor of North Carolina.

Like many other pre-Revolutionary officials in America, he has generally been pictured by American writers as a tyrant. In reality, however, he seems to have been tactful and considerate, an efficient administrator, who in particular greatly improved the colonial postal service, and to have become unpopular chiefly because, through his rigid adherence to duty, he obeyed the instructions of his superiors and rigorously enforced the measures of the British government back in London.

By refusing to allow meetings of the House of Burgesses from May 18, 1765 to November 3, 1766, he prevented North Carolina from sending representatives to the Stamp Act Congress in 1765. To lighten the stamp tax he offered to pay the duty on all stamped paper on which he was entitled to fees. With the support of the law-abiding element he suppressed the Regulator uprising in 1768-1771, caused partly by the taxation imposed to defray the cost of the governor's fine mansion, now called Tryon Palace, at New Bern (which Tryon had made the provincial capital), and executed seven or eight of the ringleaders, pardoning six others.

From 1771 nominally until March 22, 1780, he was Governor of New York. While he was on a visit to England the American Revolutionary War broke out, and on October 19, 1775, several months after his return, he was compelled to seek refuge on the sloop-of-war Halifax in New York Harbor, but was restored to power when the British took possession of New York City in September of 1776, though his actual authority did not extend beyond the British lines.

In 1777, with the rank of major-general, he became commander of a corps of Loyalists, and in 1779 invaded Connecticut and burned Danbury, Fairfield, and Norwalk. In 1780, he returned to England, and in 1782 was promoted to lieutenant-general. He died in London on January 27, 1788. 

In December of 1764, Bath—like the rest of North Carolina—eagerly awaited the arrival of young William Tryon and his wife, Margaret, on a winter tour of the province. Tryon had recently arrived from London as Lieutenant Governor to the ailing seventy-six-year-old Arthur Dobbs, who could retire in the spring. The Palmer household no doubt underwent a flurry of cleaning, polishing, and cooking in preparation for the Tryons' visit just after Christmas.
On the 27th of October in 1764, William Tryon arrived in North Carolina with a commission as Lieutenant Governor. In Wilmington on April 3, 1765, he was qualified as Commander-in-Chief and Captain-General of the Province of North Carolina.

Governor Tryon was a soldier by profession. Trained in arms, he looked upon the sword as the true sceptre of government. Yet with the character of the soldier he mingled that of the politician.

He knew when “discretion was the better part of valor,” and when to use such force and cruelty as attained for him from the Cherokee Indians the bloody title “Great Wolfe of North Carolina.” He could use courtesy towards the House of Burgesses when he desired large appropriations for his magnificent palace, and knew how to bring to bear the blandishments of his charming wife, Margaret, and her beautiful sister, Esther Wake, a noted belle.

They had all the social desires of admired and petted women, and with them to direct matters, the Governor’s receptions took on the semblance of court functions. While his character shows that on the banks of the Alamance, when “the blast of war blew in his ears,” he could, by his ferocious and bloody conduct, imitate the "action of the tiger.”

For six years he ruled North Carolina with the temper of a despot and the rod of a tyrant. He was transferred as Governor to the Colony of New York in 1771.

1765 - Royal Governor William Tryon took the oath of office in Wilmington which had nearly a populace of 800. The General Assembly met in Wilmington the same year. George Whitfield, the eminent English divine, visited Wilmington for the second time. Demonstrations against the Stamp Act were held in Wilmington. Effigy of Lord Bute burned in protest. William Houston, stamp officer, was forced to resign.
Orange County, North Carolina was an early center of Regulator activity. Colonel Edmund Fanning, holder of numerous offices in the county including the prominent Clerk of the Recorder's Court at Hillsborough, became a prime target along with Royal Governor William Tryon, who took office in 1765.

Tryon was hated because he aimed to use taxes to build Tryon Palace in New Bern, a very costly residence for himself, as well as the seat for the colony's government. The Regulators, "who named themselves after a group of country reformists in South Carolina," shortly after Tryon's announcement to build the palace, had no sympathy with the governor's desire for a fancy residence.

The War of Regulation was not limited to Orange County. Outbreaks of violence during the collection of taxes in Anson County and several riots throughout the Granville District were sure signs of what was to come.

Life was not easy for those early settlers. They lived under the constant threat of Indian attacks; and they were also dealing with the increasingly heavy burden of excessive taxation by the British. It was not just the taxes, but there were vestry taxes — they were paying the salaries of the Anglican clergy within the province.

In his epic volumes on the History of North Carolina Baptists, George Washington Paschal wrote that North Carolina’s Colonial Governor, William Tryon, made the primary objective of his administration, the establishment of the Church of England as the official state church.

The Baptists in North Carolina found themselves in the same boat as the Baptists of Massachusetts who were forced to pay taxes to support a state church. Because Baptists dared to differ, because they defied the mandate to have their infants baptized in the Anglican Church, it is no wonder that the Colonial Governor referred to the Baptists as the avowed enemies of the mother church and called them “enemies to society and a scandal to common sense.”

Baptist ministers, whom he referred to as “rascally fellows” were forbidden under heavy penalties of law to officiate at marriages.

When Governor William Tyron announced plans to build an opulent palace for himself in New Bern, to be financed by even more taxation, the good Baptists of the Jersey Settlement said, enough!

On February 19, 1766, 1,000 armed "Sons of Liberty" in Brunswick Town confronted Royal Governor William Tryon and resisted the Stamp Act. (His home was in Brunswick County, North Carolina)
The North Carolina General Assembly in 1767 advised Governor William Tryon to meet Cherokee chiefs in the hope of setting a boundary line between the frontier of the province of North Carolina and the Cherokee hunting grounds thus preventing disputes. The survey, resulting from the meeting, was undertaken on June 4, 1767. The treaty line extended from Reedy River to Tryon Mountain.

Tryon Palace was originally built between 1767 and 1770, as the first permanent capitol of the colony of North Carolina and a home for the Royal Governor and his family. Governor William Tryon had brought John Hawks, an English architect, with him when he came to North Carolina in 1764. Hawks designed the palace in the manner of a number of fashionable houses in the vicinity of London-- Georgian in style, with symmetry maintained throughout. It was soon regarded to be the finest public building in the American colonies.

Governor Tryon, his wife Margaret Wake Tryon, and their daughter Margaret, lived in the Palace for just over a year. They left New Bern in June of 1771, when Governor William Tryon was appointed to the governorship of New York.

In 1768, the backcountry farmers, justifiably enraged by the excessive taxes imposed by a legislature dominated by the eastern aristocracy, organized the Regulator movement in an attempt to effect reforms. The insurgents were suppressed at Alamance in 1771 by the provincial militia led by Governor William Tryon, who had seven of the Regulators executed.
1770 - Governor William Tryon brought Claude Joseph Sauthier, a Swiss military surveyor, to North Carolina and by the spring of this year Sauthier prepared handsome detailed maps of several towns including Wilmington.
Click Here for information on the Executive Council under Governor William Tryon.
Click Here to view/download an Adobe PDF file of the book, entitled "Governor William Tryon and his Administration in the Province of North Carolina, 1765-1771" by Marshall DeLancey Haywood, published in 1903.
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