Many of you are familiar with the name Tryon. You probably have seen it when reading about the formerly state-owned Tryon Boys and Girls Center, now under county ownership. Or perhaps you know that the area that is present-day Fulton County was once enveloped in a much larger county called Tryon. Where did the name come from? And how did we get from Tryon to Fulton?
Prior to 1772, the area making up Albany County was quite expansive. As colonies tried to annex lands, ignoring unofficial border claims, counties appeared, disappeared, reappeared, expanded and shrunk. Albany County was no exception; it sometimes grew to swallow parts of present-day Vermont, and other times receded as new counties were created or expanded. Its northern border was pretty much set at Canada, with the western edge cutting through central New York. In 1772, Sir William Johnson, who had already established John's Town and built his baronial home there, convinced the governor of New York, William Tryon, to divide up Albany into three smaller counties: Albany, Charlotte (named for Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III) and Tryon. I'm sure you can guess who the last one was named for.
William Tryon was born to Charles Tryon and Lady Mary Shirley on June 8, 1729, at their estate at Norbury Park, Surrey, England. Tryon entered the military as a lieutenant in the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards (now known as the Grenadier Guards) in 1751, and was promoted to captain that year. He married heiress Margaret Wake, whose dowry was 30,000 pounds.
Tryon Palace in North Carolina is shown.
Photo courtesy of Samantha Hall-Saladino, from tryonpalace.org
During the Seven Years' War, Tryon was part of the St. Malo and Cherbourg raids (1758). British troops destroyed French fortifications and the port at Cherbourg. At the Battle of St. Cast that same year, in which the French troops were successful, Tryon was injured in the thigh and the head. He was also promoted to lieutenant-colonel that year. In the United States, the war was known as the French and Indian War and its financing is one of the reasons why Parliament levied new taxes on the colonists.
On April 26, 1764, Tryon managed to secure the role of acting lieutenant governor of North Carolina. That October, he arrived in North Carolina with his family and architect John Hawks to discover that the previous governor, Arthur Dobbs, had not left and would remain there until May. Despite his title of acting governor, Tryon had no source of income until Dobbs left. Fortunately for Tryon, Dobbs died in March 1765, and by July 10, King George had promoted Tryon to official governor.
During his first year as governor, Tryon received a visitor from the Tuscarora nation, one of the Six Nations of Iroquois, sent by Sir William Johnson. In a letter dated June 15, 1766, Tryon writes to Johnson about the visit. The man arrived very ill with the mumps and was attended to at Tryon's temporary home in Brunswick. The delegate was apparently meant to sell the Tuscarora land in North Carolina and bring those living there to New York to join the Six Nations. Unfortunately, he would have to wait until the next meeting of the assembly in October to do so. He was at first unwilling, but "upon [Tryon's] assurance to acquaint his Nation thro' [Johnson] of the necessity of his waiting till the meeting of [the] General Assembly, he consented to go to his People settled in [the] province till the above period." The man gave Tryon strings of wampum and an "Indian name" at his request. "He honored me with his own name," Tryon wrote, "Diagawekee, in testimony of his regard for the care I had taken of him in his illness. This name is to remain to all future governors of North Carolina."
That spring, British Parliament had passed the Stamp Act, requiring a tax be paid on every piece of printed paper: legal documents, playing cards, newspapers and other printed items all fell under this tax. Parliament claimed the taxes were being used for the colonists' protection - the money would finance the placement of troops along the Appalachian Mountains. The issue with the tax was not that it was imposed; it was the reason why it was imposed. In the past, taxes were used to regulate commerce. However, this tax was a direct attempt to raise money by the English government. Governor Tryon did his part by forbidding the North Carolina colonial assembly from meeting between May 1765 and November 1766. This not only prevented them from passing a resolution opposing the Stamp Act, but it also kept them from sending delegates to the Stamp Act Congress in New York City. He also requested troops to enforce the act, but it was repealed in March 1776.
During his tenure as governor of North Carolina, Tryon built an elegant Georgian-style mansion at New Bern. The home was designed by his architect, John Hawks. The state legislature appropriated 5,000 pounds for the project, but Tryon was unhappy with this amount, claiming that it couldn't be done for less than 10,000 pounds. He convinced them to raise taxes to fund his opulent mansion. Angry at this new tax burden, the colonists derisively began referring to it as "Tryon Palace."
It was completed in 1770 and it was the first permanent capital in the state. The home was destroyed by fire in 1798, but it was rebuilt using original architectural designs and reopened to the public in 1959. (Coincidentally, I visited this mansion on a trip as a kid.)
Although Tryon did some good work as governor of North Carolina - he established the state postal service in 1769 - he is most remembered for suppressing the North Carolina Regulator Uprising, which took place from 1768-71.
The uprising was a result of Tryon's raised taxes for his mansion and tax abuse and fraud by officials in the western part of the state. In May 1771, the militia defeated 2,000 Regulators at the Battle of Alamance. Seven of the uprising's leaders were executed for violating the Riot Act.
Passed in 1714, the act defined groups of 12 of more people as unlawfully assembled. Six of the other Regulator leaders were pardoned by the king. Tryon again raised taxes to pay for the militia's actions at Alamance. Some historians see this uprising as a precursor to the American Revolution.
William Tryon's stint as North Carolina governor ended in 1771. That year, he and his family traveled north. On July 8, 1771, he was named governor of the Province of New York. His role as governor of New York and subsequent actions during the Revolution will be explored in part two of this column, appearing Aug. 18.
Samantha Hall-Saladino is the Fulton County historian.