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PAPER BY REV. THOMAS P. TYLER, D.D., OF BRATTLEBORO.
READ AT THE ANNUAL MEETING, 1879.
Royall Tyler was born in Boston, July 18th, 1757. His father, Royall Tyler, Sen., was a man of marked ability, a graduate of Harvard, and member of the King's Council during the eventful years from 1765 till his death in 1771. At commencement, July 15th, of the ensuing year, his son Royall entered the freshman class of Harvard College. During the four years of his college life the events which led to the Declaration of Independence were hastening to their culmination, and Boston and its vicinity was the theatre of the most momentous political and military action. His class was a strong one, numbering among those who distinguished themselves in after life Christopher Gore, governor of Massachusetts and United States senator, and chief justices Sewall and Thacher. No record remains of his comparative standing with his classmates, but evidently his reputation for wit, genius, and elegant scholarship extended beyond the walls of Harvard. The rival university of Yale paid him a compliment, unusual if not unprecedented, by bestowing on him the degree of A. B. simultaneously with his alma mater. He graduated in July, 1776, completing his collegiate course and his nineteenth year while the country was in the delirium of mingled hope and fear of its first month of independent existence. He commenced at once the study of law, first in the office of Hon. Francis Dana, of Cambridge, and afterterwards in that of Hon. Benjamin Hichburne, of Boston.
For the next three years (1776-1779,) he pursued his professional studies, not unmixed with still more congenial literary pursuits, and the pleasures of social intercourse. A brilliant set of young men, cotemporaries and intimates in college, formed a club, which met statedly at the room of Col. John Trumbull, the distinguished artist and soldier. In his "Reminiscences,” page 50, Col. T. mentions, as members of this society who afterwards filled places of honor, Royall Tyler, Christopher Gore, Rufus King, United States senator and minister to England, William Eustis, governor of Massachusetts, member of congress, and secretary of war, Aaron Dexter, professor of chemistry at Harvard, and Thomas Dawes, justice of the supreme court of Massachusetts. Such a youthful coterie must have been an efficient mutual stimulus to intellectual exertion ; nor do we wonder that the colonel recalls with pleasure the evenings when, in his studio,
they regaled themselves with a cup of tea instead of wine, and discussed subjects of literature, politics, and war." He also mentions (page 62) having painted a two-thirds length portrait of Royall Tyler. This picture, which would now be so valuable for the sake both of artist and subject, was unfortunately lost by a fire thirty years afterwards.
In the summer of 1778 Judge Tyler's law studies were in-. terrupted by a campaign of active service in the war. He, with Trumbull, King, and others, volunteered, and were accepted as aides to Gen. Sullivan in the unsuccessful attempt to drive the British army from Newport, R. I. Our forces crossed to the island, and invested the town; but the French fleet, from the blunders or misfortunes of Count D'Estaing, its commander, failing to co-operate, a perilous retreat to the main land, closely pressed by the enemy, became necessary. In order to recross in safety, Gen. Sullivan was obliged to give battle, and repulse the pursuers at Windmill Hill, at the north end of the island. The judge was wont to relate an incident of this, his only active revolutionary service. On
the night before the battle Major Daggett, another aide, and he bad thrown themselves on some hay for a few hours sleep. Here they fell into a debate on a question which, considering the risks of the morrow, had for them it peculiar personal interest, namely : in case one was to be wounded where would it be most desirable, or rather the least undesirable, to be hit? Hand and foot, arm and leg, were respectively canvassed, and some badinage interchanged as to the figure one or the other would make should the nose, eye, or ear be the unlucky member. In the early morning, returning from some tour of duty, he met his comrade bearing orders to a distant part of the line, which obliged him to cross a stretch of open country swept by the enemy's fire. A few moments later the same orders were given to him, and he was shocked to learn that Major Daggett had fallen, shot through the lungs, and, it was feared, mortally wounded. He accomplished the perilous duty safely, and then hastened to see his friend, who, though apparently near his end, received him with a smile, saying, "Ah, Rial, you see they hit me in the wrong place !"
Mr. Tyler was admitted to the bar in 1779, at the most gloomy period of the war of independence. The business of Boston had been nearly ruined by the British occupation, and the presence of hostile fleets on the coast prevented its revival. Such commerce as there was had been driven to the seaports of Maine, where the building of vessels for the privateer service also contributed to the activities of trade. This induced him, at first, to open an office at Falmouth, now Portland, a town which, having been burned by the enemy three years before, was now rapidly rising from its ashes. Willis, in his "History of the Law, the Courts, and the Lawyers of Maine,” says: "Royall Tyler came to Falmouth, 1779. He was a fine scholar, and an accomplished man. He continued but about two years in our state.” The author gives a brief sketch of his life, and adds this anecdote :
"An incident occurred during his practice in Cumberland, which was not a little annoying to him. He commenced an action against an officer of a privateer then lying in the harbor, and went aboard with the sheriff to have the writ served. But the privateer's man, not liking the process, took up his anchor, and sailed out of the precinct, carrying the attorney and his officer with him, whom he landed at Booth’s Bay, and kept on his cruise, acting upon the classical maxim, 'Inter arma silent leges.'” .
The revival of business on the prospect of peace made it expedient for him to return to the vicinity of Boston. For two years he resided in the neighboring village of Quincy, then called Braintree, but in 1784 his increasing business induced him to remove his office to the city, During the summer and autumn of 1786 the Shay’s rebellion prevented the session of the courts in most of the counties of Massachusetts. As yet the armed bodies of insurgents did not remain together. Wherever a court was appointed to sit, from two to three hundred would assemble, take possession of the premises, compel an adjournment sine die, and then quietly disperse. It however became constantly more difficult for the leaders to enforce this policy upon men armed against the law, emboldened by continued impunity, rendered desperate hy want, and persuaded that they were the victims of a grinding tyranny. Acts of violence, depredations upon the wealthy, and forced contributions upon all classes, became more and more frequent, and, as a consequence, these "defenders of the people” began to be more feared than favored. The government adopted a sterner policy. Leading rebels were arrested, and held for trial for high treason, and an army of forty-four hundred men was enlisted.
On the 19th of January, 1787, Gen. Lincoln took commạnd of the state forces, and appointed Royall Tyler aide-decamp, with the rank of major. The result is matter of history. The rebels broke, and fled at the first fire. The fortnight following was spent in the pursuit of the insurgents, who sought to escape thro’ the blustering storms of winter over the hills of Berkshire, covered with two feet of snow, into New York and "the territory called Vermont.”
This matter is of interest to us in this connection, chiefly as it led to Judge Tyler's first visit to our state, and incidentally no doubt to his settlement here. The legislature was at this time in session at Bennington, and Gen. Lincoln sent Maj. Tyler there to obtain the aid of the government in arresting the fugitives. It was a peculiarly delicate mission, for not only was Vermont not yet admitted to the Union, but both New York and New Hampshire claimed it as a portion of its territory, and their claims, as well as its own to be independent of either, were pending before congress. Moreover Gov. Chittenden and the people generally sympathized rather with the insurgents than with the government of Massachusetts. This state of things prevented the full success of his mission, but he was treated with great courtesy, invited to address the legislature, and made the acquaintance of many of the most influential of the public men of the state, including Ethan Allen, Tichenor, and Galusha. The papers of Mr. Tyler relating to the Shay's rebellion, his appeals to the governor and legislature, and their action thereupon, are of much historical interest, and have been deposited with the Vermont Historical Society.
Notwithstanding the comparatively meager results of his negotiations with Vermont, the administration of Massachusetts were so well satisfied with his conduct of it that they sent him, without a day's delay, to New York, to treat with that government on the same subject, a mission which was entirely successful.
After this stirring episode in his life, Mr. Tyler returned to bis office in Boston. At this time the wonderful acting of Garrick and Siddons, and the distinguished success of Dr. Goldsmith and others in the writing of comedy, had revived the taste for the drama. In our larger cities the stage was