Royall Tyler & Mary Tyler

Royall Tyler (1757-1826) was a resident of Boston, Guilford, and finally Brattleboro. He is considered the most important Vermont writer of the Federalist era.

Royall Tyler

Tyler served briefly in the militia during the American Revolution and then played a role in Shays’ Rebellion while serving as an aide de camp. In his early law career, Tyler courted future President John Adams’ daughter, Nabby. His comedic play, The Contrast, is a milestone in the history of American theater, and was staged in New York City in 1787 as part of inauguration festivities for George Washington, who also attended the performance. Washington’s copy of The Contrast is in the University of Vermont, Special Collections Library. The university’s performing arts center is named the Royal Tyler Theatre.

Tyler moved to Vermont in 1791, living here for the rest of his life. A Harvard graduate, he became a lawyer, and State’s Attorney for Windham County, then served on the Vermont Supreme Court, including several terms as Chief Justice. He wrote Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of Judicature of the State of Vermont, which became the only written record of Vermont cases between 1797 and 1814. In Jacob vs. Town of Windsor, August 1802, Tyler argued that a slave bill of sale is null and void once the slave is brought to the State of Vermont where slavery was illegal.

After five years, Tyler brought his wife, Mary (1775-1866) to a home in Guilford Center. Mary Palmer Tyler, was eighteen years his junior, and they had eleven children. Mary outlived him by forty years. She was author of The Maternal Physician, America’s first child rearing manual, published in 1811. Her memoirs were published by her descendants as Grandmother Tyler’s Book in 1925.

In 1801, the Tylers moved to Brattleboro, living, first, on a farm in the West Village, and finally in a house on the Town Common. Royall & Mary Palmer Tyler are buried in Prospect Hill Cemetery. Tombstone photos and links to other family members may be found at FindAGrave, findagrave.com

In addition to court opinions, Royall Tyler wrote prolifically. His verse and prose pieces, often witty, satirical and topical, were published in many newspapers. He also penned one of America’s first novels, The Algerine Captive: or the Life and Adventures of Doctor Updike Underhill: Six Years a Prisoner among the Algerines, published in 1797. The work makes the argument against slavery, years before the abolitionist movement emerged.

Mary Palmer Tyler (1775 – 1866)

Mary Palmer Tyler. Photo Credit: Vermont Historical Society

In 1811 Mary Tyler published “The Maternal Physician” anonymously through her husband’s publishing contacts. The manual is significant because Tyler outlined an expanded role in child rearing for mothers beyond the customary practice of colonial women. She included advice about the best methods to encourage a child’s moral character and intellectual development beyond infancy. Her philosophy was rooted in Lockean beliefs about the ability of parents to mold their children and in the Republican Mother ideal, which shifted the responsibility for this important role to mothers. Tyler encouraged her upper-class readers to breast feed their babies and to insist upon the supremacy of their maternal instincts over the authority of male physicians for routine care. Her manual supplied advice about the treatment of disease and a collection of herbal remedies.

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Brattleboro students worked with teacher Joe Rivers to create a podcast on Royall Tyler and his time as a VT Supreme Court Justice, defying the notion that Vermont never allowed slavery. 

“The most “respectable” and well-to-do Vermont residents brazenly engaged in the support of slavery in our state. In this week’s show we hear the story of Brattleboro’s Royall Tyler, a judge whose outrageous ruling, in the case of an enslaved Windsor woman, betrayed the tenor of a society perfectly willing to accept double-standards along the dividing lines of class, sex and race”. Listen to it here:

Student work, such as the BHS podcasts, will be incorporated into professionally produced audio for the ‘Brattleboro Words Trail’.

On The Map

Tyler Street, Brattleboro, VT

Tyler Street, Brattleboro

About the Research sites

The Brattleboro Words Project is working with the community to identify specific sites and themes significant to the study of words in Brattleboro and surrounding towns. Research Teams – classrooms/teachers, amateur historians, veterans, writers, artists and other community members — will produce audio segments and other work to be incorporated into audio walking, biking and driving tours tours.

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