In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Royall Tyler

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Biographies
  • Transatlantic Engagements
  • Tyler and Other American Writers

American Literature Royall Tyler
Jacob Crane
  • LAST MODIFIED: 12 January 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0019


Royall Tyler (b. 1757–d. 1826) was born to a prominent merchant family in Boston and came of age in the decades leading up to the American Revolution. He entered Harvard College in 1771 and earned his bachelor of arts degree three months after the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. Tyler then enlisted in the Revolutionary Army, although he remained in Boston and Cambridge studying law. His active military service seems to have been limited to serving as a brigade major during the unsuccessful 1778 attempt to capture Newport, Rhode Island. As the war continued, Tyler earned his master of arts degree from Harvard in 1779 and engaged in a failed courtship of Abigail Adams, the daughter of future president John Adams. After the war, Tyler became involved in the suppression of Shays’ Rebellion in 1786. When Daniel Shays fled to Vermont, Tyler was assigned to negotiate with authorities in New York, which still laid claim to the territory, to ensure that the rebel did not find safe harbor. In New York City Tyler launched his literary career; in April 1787, The Contrast began its run in New York as the first professionally produced American comic drama and one of the first successful American plays. Months later Tyler produced a second play, May Day in Town, that is no longer extant. In 1790, Tyler returned to Boston and married Mary Palmer, who would later publish the first American manual for infant care. They relocated to Vermont, where the couple remained for the rest of their lives. In the years to follow, Tyler published numerous poems and essays, including a popular series of essays in collaboration with Joseph Dennie under the title of “Colon & Spondee.” In 1797, Tyler published the novel The Algerine Captive, which achieved moderate success and was one of the first American books to be republished in Great Britain. In the 1800s and 1810s Tyler served for six years as the chief justice of the Vermont Supreme Court and launched a failed bid for the U.S. Senate. He completed several new plays, including his biblical dramas and the epistolary satire The Yankey in London (1809). At the time of his death in 1826 he was rewriting the first half of The Algerine Captive as a New England picaresque titled The Bay Boy, which would remain unpublished until 1968.

General Overviews

Although Tyler’s works are a fixture of the major early American literary anthologies, few general studies of the writer’s career are available. Several works note that some of this critical neglect may be due to that fact that his papers, housed in the Vermont Historical Society, were made available only in 1964. Published just three years after the archive opened, Tanselle 1967 remained the only available book-length study of Tyler until Carson and Carson 1979, with both sources providing bibliographies of Tyler’s works compiled from the Vermont collection. Otherwise, short overviews of Tyler’s career appear frequently alongside readings of The Contrast and The Algerine Captive, such as in Crain 2002 and Davidson 2004. MacBride 2018 provides a helpful starting point for students who are interested in studying Tyler. Bond 2008 takes a unique approach by surveying together the careers of Royall Tyler and his wife Mary Palmer Tyler.

  • Bond, Elizabeth Anne. “The Revolutionary Writings of Mary and Royall Tyler: Marital, Medical, and Political Discourse in the Early-Nineteenth-Century Family.” PhD diss., College of William & Mary, 2008.

    Reads Royall Tyler’s The Contrast and The Algerine Captive alongside Mary Palmer Tyler’s childrearing guide with an emphasis on social commentary, abolition, and the medical humanities.

  • Carson, Ada Lou, and Herbert L. Carson. Royall Tyler. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1979.

    Book in the Twayne United States Author series that provides one of few overviews of Tyler’s entire career, connecting The Contrast and The Algerine Captive through the author’s focus on New England local color and his interest in the “Yankee” archetype. In addition to biographical information, offers readings of both prose and verse works as well as a bibliography of Tyler criticism up to 1979.

  • Crain, Caleb. “Introduction.” In The Algerine Captive. By Royall Tyler, xvii–xxxiv. New York: Modern Library, 2002.

    Offers one of the most recent general overviews of the author’s career with a survey of his social criticism and shifting political allegiances—from early Federalist to moderate Republican.

  • Davidson, Cathy. Revolution and the Word: The Rise of the Novel in America. Expanded ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

    In addition to readings of The Contrast and The Algerine Captive, outlines Tyler’s career with a focus on his role as a mediator during Shays’ Rebellion and the influence of that conflict on his writings and evolving Federalist views (pp. 121–134, 282–310). Originally published in 1986.

  • MacBride, Michael D. Gale Researcher’s Guide for: Royall Tyler’s The Contrast and the Birth of American Drama. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 2018.

    Brief guide for students that provides a basic survey of Tyler’s career and significance, with a few sections devoted to topics such as “The Stage Yankee” and a bibliography of Tyler scholarship.

  • Tanselle, G. Thomas. Royall Tyler. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967.

    DOI: 10.4159/harvard.9780674335721

    The first, and arguably still the most comprehensive, book-length study of Royall Tyler and his major works. Overview emphasizes Tyler’s work as a dramatist and, to a lesser extent, as a novelist, with his other ventures in prose and verse receiving comparatively less attention.

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