Royal Governor William Tryon (1729 – 1788)

Written By Jonathan Martin

Born in Surrey, England, in 1729, William Tryon did not receive a substantial education during his early years. However, the Tryon family was well-connected and he became a prominent soldier in the English army. In addition, William Tryon married Margaret Wake on December 26, 1757, opening liasons with English royalty. Consequently, Lord Hillsborough, a family friend of Margaret Wake, was the main reason William Tryon was appointed lieutenant governor of North Carolina in 1764.

Royal Governor Arthur Dobbs retired from his position in 1764 allowing William Tryon to gain governorship of the North Carolina colony. At the outset of his ascent to power, Governor Tryon encountered heavy colonial resentment to Parliament instituted taxation and increased British regulations. From his appointment in 1764 to his relocation to New York in 1771, Governor Tryon continually conflicted with his North Carolina subjects. One of the first points of contention was with the Stamp Act.

The Stamp Act, passed in 1765, led to the rise of the Sons of Liberty of North Carolina, particularly in towns along the colony’s coast, such as Wilmington and New Bern. Governor Tryon, a proponent of the pro-British taxation act, refused to allow the formation of the Stamp Act Congress in October 1765, and he sought to influence the Sons of Liberty to accept his position on the act. However, the Sons of Liberty and other North Carolina colonists refused to comply and by March 1766 the act was rescinded by the English Parliament.

After the Stamp Act issue dissolved, Governor Tryon quickly sought to build the famed “Tryon’s Palace” in New Bern in the late 1760s. Although the governor received a new house and though the colony gained its first permanent capital site, historian William Powell noted that “the construction of this building burdened the people with a large debt that they could hardly afford” (N.C. Through Four Centuries, p. 148).

North Carolina colonists, especially western residents, felt left out because the Tryon Palace resulted in higher taxes, the lack of colonial representation, and the proposed corruption of the royal government in charge of the colony. Soon a group formed in the Piedmont region and they were known as the Regulators. The group resisted British taxation and they rioted throughout the North Carolina countryside until the movement culminated in the Battle of Alamance.

In March of 1771, Governor Tryon and nearly 1,500 soldiers moved to quell the growing rebellion in the western part of North Carolina’s Piedmont. After marching through New Bern and Hillsborough, Tryon and his force set up camp at Alamance Creek on May 11, 1771. 2,000 Regulators met on Michael Holt’s plantation in present-day Alamance County awaiting Tryon and his troops. On May 16, 1771, the Battle of Alamance occurred and the British royal governor succeeded in defeating the poorly armed Regulators.

After the Regulator Movement ended at the Battle of Alamance, Josiah Martin was appointed the new governor of North Carolina. William Tryon was relocated to New York where he became that colony’s governor. Tryon served in the English army during the American Revolution and he returned to England in 1780. He passed away on January 27, 1788, and he was interred at Saint Mary’s Church in Middlesex, England.