In 1751, he entered the military as a lieutenant in the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards and was promoted to Captain in the same year. He had a daughter by Mary Stanton, whom he never married. In 1757 he married Margaret Wake, a London heiress with a dowry of 30,000 pounds. Her father had been the Honourable East India Company's Governor in Bombay from 1742 to 1750, and had died in Cape Town on the voyage home.
In 1758 he was promoted lieutenant colonel.
During the Seven Years War he and his regiment was involved in the Cherbourg-St. Malo operation. They landed at Cherbourg and destroyed all war marking facilities. In September, they reembarked for St. Malo where the operation went smoothly until the withdrawal when they came under intense fire from the French. Tryon was twice wounded in the thigh and in the head.
In North Carolina there was strong opposition to the Stamp Act of 1765. When the Stamp Act Congress was held the state assembly was not in session and hence delegates could not be selected to this congress. Tryon refused to allow meetings of the Assembly from May 18, 1765 to November 3, 1766 to prevent the Assembly passing a resolution in opposition to the Stamp Act. Tryon said that he was personally opposed to the Stamp Act and that he offered to pay the taxes on all stamped paper on which he was entitled to fees. Tryon requested troops to enforce the act, but instead he was informed on June 25, 1766 that the act was repealed.
In 1769 he created a postal service for the colony.
He is most noted for putting down the Regulator movement in western North Carolina during 1768 to 1771. Tryon suppressed the North Carolina Regulator uprising, caused partly by the taxation imposed to pay for a new governor's mansion (now called Tryon Palace) at New Bern (which Tryon made the provincial capital), and executed seven alleged Regulators. He had most of the men tried for violating the Riot Act, a crime temporarily made a capital offence by the General Assembly. The executed men included James Few, Benjamin Merrell, James Pugh, Robert Matear, "Captain" Robert Messer, and two others. Six other Regulators – Forrester Mercer, James Stewart, James Emmerson, Herman Cox, William Brown, and James Copeland – were pardoned by King George III and released by Tryon.
In 1772, opposition in New York was strong against the Tea Act. In December, the Sons of Liberty "persuaded" the tea agents to resign. Tryon proposed to land the tea and store it at Fort George. The Sons of Liberty were opposed and Alexander McDougall said, "prevent the landing, and kill [the]governor and all the council". When news of the Boston Tea Party arrived on December 22, Tryon gave up trying to land the tea. He told London the tea could only be brought ashore "only under the protection of the point of the bayonet, and muzzle of cannon, and even then I do not see how consumption could be effected". In 1774, the New Yorkers dumped their own consignment of tea into the harbour.
On April 7, 1774 Tryon departed for a trip to England. Cadwallader Colden was the acting governor of New York in Tryon's absence. He arrived back in New York on June 25, 1775 after the American Revolutionary War had begun. Isaac Sears in July returned from the Continental Congress with orders to put Tryon under arrest, but George Washington had ordered Philip Schuyler, the commander in New York, to leave Tryon alone. On October 19, 1775, Tryon was compelled to seek refuge on the British sloop-of-war Halifax in New York Harbor. In 1776, he dissolved the assembly and called for new elections in February. The new assembly was for independence and Tryon dissolved it.
During the spring and summer of 1776, Tryon and New York City's mayor, David Mathews, were conspirators in a miserably bungled plot to kidnap General George Washington and to assassinate his chief officers. One of Washington's bodyguards, Thomas Hickey, was involved in the plot. Hickey, while in prison for passing counterfeit money, bragged to his cellmate Isaac Ketcham about the kidnapping plot. Ketcham revealed it to authorities in an effort to gain his own freedom. Hickey was court-martialled, and was hanged for mutiny on June 28, 1776. In June, Admiral Howe arrived in New York City with the British army. Howe placed New York under martial law with James Robertson as the military commander. Tryon retained his position as governor, but with little power.
In early 1777, Tryon was given the rank of major-general of the provincials. In April, he was ordered to invade Connecticut and march on the city of Danbury to destroy an arsenal there. Tryon engaged and defeated Patriot forces under the command of General David Wooster and Benedict Arnold at the Battle of Ridgefield when attempting to return to an invasion fleet anchored in Westport. In May, 1778 he was given the rank of major-general in the British army, but in America only, and also the colonelcy of the 70th Regiment of Foot. He became the British commander of the British forces on Long Island.
Tryon had long advocated engaging in attacks on civilian targets, but Clinton turned down Tryon's proposals. In July 1779, Tryon commanded a series of raids on the Connecticut coast, attacking New Haven, Fairfield, and Norwalk, burning and plundering most of Fairfield and Norwalk. Tryon's raids were intended to draw American forces away from the defence of the Hudson valley. In spite of pressure from Governor Trumbull, George Washington did not move his troops. Americans condemned him for making war on "women and children", and the British commander Clinton was also indignant for Tryon disobeying his orders. Tryon found approval in his conduct from Lord Germain, but Clinton refused to give Tryon any further significant commands.
In September 1780, Tryon returned to his home in London, England. He directed the affairs of his 70th Regiment of Foot still in the colonies and he gave directions in 1783 for the regiment to be brought back to England for disbandment. In 1782 was promoted to lieutenant-general. In 1784 he was made colonel of the 29th Regiment of Foot which was stationed in Canada.
Many descendents of William Tryon reside in Connecticut, and upstate New York.
|Governor of the Royal Colony of North Carolina|
|Governor of the Province of New York|