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Royall Tyler: Author, Wit, and Judge of Early Brattleboro

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Thursday, September 13, 2018, 07:00pm - 08:30pm


Royall Tyler imageRoyall Tyler, the most important area author of the Federalist era, will be the subject of this year’s Brattleboro Words Project exhibit at this year’s Brattleboro Literary Festival, and will be the focus of the Project’s monthly Roundtable Discussion in September, as well as a play in October.  The Roundtable will take place on Thursday, September 13, at 7:00 pm at Brooks Memorial Library.

At the September Roundtable, the special guest will be the leading Tyler scholar, Marius B. Péladeau, who was born in Brattleboro and now lives in Maine.  Péladeau researched and published the definitive books of both the verse and the prose of Royall Tyler.  Don McLean, of Guilford, and Christina Gibbons, of Brattleboro — who will speak on Mary Palmer Tyler — will join the discussion, with panel moderator Tom Ragle of Guilford.

In 1991 to commemorate the Vermont statehood Bicentennial, Christina Gibbons and Don McLean co-wrote a play “True as Steel”,  using entirely the words of Royall and his wife, Mary Palmer Tyler, drawn from their writings. The play was performed at Brooks Memorial Library and at Guilford’s Broad Brook Grange.  As part of the Brattleboro Words Project, the Brattleboro Literary Festival will feature a reprise of the play on Thursday, October 11, 2018, at 118 Elliot, located at 118 Elliott St. at 7:30 pm.

Complementing the events will be an exhibit at Brooks Memorial Library of books and documents relating to the Tylers, including original, handwritten letters, early newspapers, limited-edition pamphlets and books, and other materials, from private and regional collections.  Both events welcome the public, and are admission-free.

Royall Tyler (1757-1826) was a resident of Boston, Guilford, and finally Brattleboro. He 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 after him.

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,

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.

The Roundtable Discussion Series is presented by the Brattleboro Words Project, a multi-year collaboration between the Brattleboro Historical Society, Brattleboro Literary Festival, Write Action, Brooks Memorial Library, and Marlboro College and backed by a National Endowment for the Humanities matching grant. The Project is creating the Brattleboro Words Trail, an audio mapping of our storied past that will lead listeners on walking, biking, and driving tours beginning in Brattleboro. For more information visit:

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