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Royall Tyler

Royall Tyler

Born in Boston, Massachusetts to Royall Tyler and Mary (Steele) Tyler, Tyler attended the Boston Latin School, Yale and then Harvard, where he earned a reputation as a quick-witted joker. He was also considered rather profligate, spending half his inheritance while in college. After graduation, he briefly served in the Massachusetts militia under John Hancock during the abortive Rhode Island expedition. In late 1778, he returned to Harvard to study law, and was admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1780. He opened a practice in Braintree, Massachusetts, eight miles outside of Boston, and lodged with Mary and Richard Cranch. Mary was Abigail Adams's sister, and Tyler soon met the younger Abigail ("Nabby") Adams, for whom he began to nurse a deep affection. In a letter to her husband, Abigail Adams Sr. noted that despite having "a sprightly fancy, a warm imagination and an agreeable person," he was nonetheless "rather negligent in pursueing (sic) his business ... and dissipated two or 3 more years of his Life and too much of his fortune to reflect upon with pleasure; all of which he now laments but cannot recall." The relationship was broken off and Tyler fell into a depression. After a brief stint in suppressing the 1787 Shays's Rebellion, Tyler moved to Boston and boarded in the house of Elizabeth Palmer. Eventually, in 1794, he wed her daughter Mary Palmer, took her to his new home in Vermont, and with her had eleven children. In 1801, Tyler was appointed to the Supreme Court of Vermont as an assistant judge, and was later elected chief justice. In 1812 he ran unsuccessfully for the US Senate, losing due to a recent shift from being a Federalist to a Republican at a time when Vermont was controlled by the Federalists. He died in Vermont, of facial cancer that he had suffered from for ten years. Tyler has been identified as the model for Jaffrey Pyncheon in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables. Hawthorne's wife was a descendant of Elizabeth Palmer, and her branch of the family preserved stories of Tyler's sexual misbehavior as a young man. Royall Tyler admitted to his youthfully arrogant and dissolute life, but only regretted the limitations which his seedy past placed upon his career and later ambitions. His illegitimate son Royal Morse (later a leader in the anti-Roman Catholic riots in Cambridge of 1834) was born in 1779 to Katharine Morse, a well-known "character", the sweeper and cleaning woman in the Harvard College buildings, the fact recorded by John Langdon Sibley, the long-time Harvard librarian and historian. According to descendants of his wife's sisters, Tyler fathered at least one daughter on Elizabeth Palmer while her husband, Joseph Pearse Palmer, was away from Boston. The girls in question were Sophia, born in 1786, and possibly Catherine, born in 1791. Tyler was also said to have had sexual relations with Mary Palmer before she was old enough to marry. Mary Palmer Tyler's own account says that for many months her neighbors believed that she had been impregnated out of wedlock, but that she and Tyler had actually married in secret. The main theater at the University of Vermont is named after Tyler.