Born in 1634 in Bibury near Cirencester, Gloucestershire, England, he had to work spinning wool as a child and received no education. As a teenager, he worked as a shepherd till the age of eighteen and managed to learn reading and writing in his spare time. In 1652 he moved to London without telling his parents and apprenticed with a hatter. He became an Anabaptist in 1654 under the influence of his master. He liked the ascetic lifestyle of that congregation, but soon he found his own independent spiritual way after reading the writings of Jakob Böhme. In 1657 he heard an inner voice, which he named the "Voice of Wisdom", encouraging him to become a vegetarian and to live on a frugal diet. He married in 1661 but failed to convert his wife to his lifestyle.
He traveled to Barbados hoping to succeed in his hat trade and to profit from greater religious tolerance there, but was shocked by the cruelty of slavery in the plantations. In 1669 he returned to London and settled in Hackney. In 1682 his inner voice told him to engage in writing and to publish books in order to propagate temperance and nonviolence. So in the last two decades of his life he published twenty-seven works on a wide range of subjects, including education, nutrition, abstinence from alcohol and tobacco and other health issues, and treatment of slaves. At the same time he continued his hat trade and grew wealthy. Some of his self-help books sold very well. His most widely read book was The Way to Health, published in 1691 as a second edition of Health's Grand Preservative; or, The Women's Best Doctor (1682). It inspired Benjamin Franklin to adopt vegetarianism. Tryon’s writings also impressed playwright Aphra Behn and vegetarian poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Tryon died in 1703 and his Memoirs were published posthumously in 1705.
Tryon’s ideas on historical and philosophical matters were heavily influenced by ancient Pythagoreanism, Hinduism, and the teachings of German occultist Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa. He considered himself a Christian and tried to reconcile Biblical, Pythagorean and Hindu teachings. His conviction was that there was one true original religion of mankind, followed by Moses, Pythagoras and the Indian Brahmins, but perverted by the majority of Christians. According to him, the main tenets of that faith were pacifism and non-violence to animals; benevolence to all species and vegetarianism were prerequisites for spiritual progress and a possible restoration of Paradise. He explicitly advocated animal rights.
Tryon was of the opinion that humans are a miniature image of the universe (microcosm). He voiced ecological and conservationist concerns about the pollution of rivers and the destruction of forests. He did not believe in reincarnation, but assumed that the souls of sinners take on the forms of vicious beasts in a nightmarish afterlife.
- Stuart, Tristram: The Bloodless Revolution, New York 2007, p. 60; Spencer, Colin: The Heretic’s Feast. A History of Vegetarianism, London 1993, p. 206.
- Stuart p. 60-61; Spencer p. 206.
- Stuart p. 61.
- Spencer p. 206.
- Stuart p. 60-62.
- Aithen, George Atherton (1889). "Marriage with Mary Scurlock". The Life of Richard Steele. Edinburgh and London: Ballantyne Press. pp. 204–05. Retrieved 2007-07-14.
- Stuart p. 62.
- Stuart p. 62-63, 509-511 (with list of Tryon's publications).
- Stuart p. 62-64.
- Spencer p. 207, 232.
- Franklin, Benjamin. His Autobiography.
- Stuart p. 63-64.
- Stuart p. 64-77.
- Stuart p. 65-66, 77.
- Stuart p. 65-67.
- Stuart p. 71-72.
- Stuart p. 75.
- Stuart p. 72-73.
- Stuart p. 76-77.
- O'Connell, Anne: Early Vegetarian Recipes, Prospect Books 2008. ISBN 978-1-903018-58-3 Includes recipes taken from Tryon's 'Wisdom's Dictates' 1691