Lyon Gardiner Tyler

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Lyon Gardiner Tyler Sr.
Lyon Gardiner Tyler in academic dress.jpg
Tyler circa 1915
17th President of the
College of William & Mary
In office
Preceded byBenjamin Stoddert Ewell
Succeeded byJ. A. C. Chandler
Personal details
Born(1853-08-24)August 24, 1853
Charles City County, Virginia
DiedFebruary 12, 1935(1935-02-12) (aged 81)
Richmond, Virginia
Spouse(s)Anne Baker Tucker (died 1921)
Sue Ruffin (died 1953)
Children5, including Harrison Ruffin Tyler
ParentsJohn Tyler
Julia Gardiner Tyler
Alma materUniversity of Virginia

Lyon Gardiner Tyler Sr. (August 24, 1853 – February 12, 1935) was an American educator, genealogist, and historian. He was the son of John Tyler, the tenth president of the United States. Tyler was the 17th president of the College of William and Mary, an advocate of historical research and preservation, and a prominent critic of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. One of his own children is still alive, making John Tyler the earliest U.S. president to have living grandchildren[1].


Early life and career[edit]

Lyon Gardiner Tyler as a young man (c. 1880)

Tyler was the fourth son of President John Tyler and First Lady Julia Gardiner Tyler, born at Sherwood Forest Plantation. When he was eight years old, his father died shortly after the beginning of the American Civil War, which prompted the family to move north to Staten Island, where his mother's family was from. He returned to Virginia in 1869 to earn both a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in law from the University of Virginia, graduating in 1875. While at the University he was a member of Kappa Sigma and the Jefferson Literary Society, and was recognized for his contributions to the school's literary magazine.[2]

Upon graduation from the University of Virginia, Tyler spent a year teaching philosophy and literature at the College of William and Mary, but as the college was struggling financially it ceased being able to pay his salary, whereupon he resigned and moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where he spent several years as principal of a private school. In 1882 he returned to Virginia to practice law in Richmond. With the support of his mother, who lived there at the time, he began work on The Letters and Times of the Tylers, a three-volume study of the careers of his father and paternal grandfather, John Tyler Sr.. This would be published between 1884 and 1896.[2]

During his life in Richmond, Tyler became a prominent advocate for public education reform. He helped to revive the Virginia Mechanics Institute, where he served as a board member and instructor. In 1887 he was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, which gave him the opportunity to lobby for money for the College of William and Mary; he procured $10,000 to restore the school, which had lain dormant for seven years due to lack of funding and the ravages of war. His advocacy allowed the College to reopen in 1888; Tyler was named its president.[2]

At William and Mary[edit]

From 1888 to 1919, Tyler served as the 17th president of the College of William & Mary (W&M); he is widely credited for restoring the college's financial condition following the deterioration which took place in the wake of the American Civil War. During his tenure he held the chairmanship of the history department, and with six other professors formed the body known as the "Seven Wise Men". He also was responsible for the creation of the William and Mary Quarterly journal. An advocate of women's suffrage, he oversaw the College when it admitted women in 1918.[3]

It was while at the College that Tyler became interested in the history of Virginia; he would eventually conduct research throughout the state, and campaigned for the preservation of local records. In 1896 he managed to persuade the Virginia General Assembly to appropriate $5,000 for the copying of 17th-century court records, an action which set a precedent for the expenditure of public monies to preserve state records. Such preservation became his mission in later years, and he traveled extensively throughout the Commonwealth to find material. In 1915 he was elected to the State Library Board, serving until his death; he was a member of the Virginia Historical Society for fifty-two years, spending forty-seven of those on its executive committee and thirty-two as a vice president. He was a prolific author, and his work spurred recognition of the significance of both Jamestown and Williamsburg to American history.[2] He also spent much of his career attempting to rehabilitate his father's political reputation.[4]

Retirement and death[edit]

Tyler resigned from the presidency of William and Mary in June 1919;[2] during his tenure the College had increased its enrollment to over 200 pupils. The number of faculty had grown to fourteen, and twelve buildings were either renovated or constructed. The school also became a public institution, an effort which he spearheaded himself.[5] He retired to his farm, Lion's Den, in Charles City County. He remained active in his profession, as a writer, speaker, and researcher, until dying of pneumonia on February 12, 1935[2] in Richmond,[6] where he is buried in Hollywood Cemetery.

Criticism of Abraham Lincoln[edit]

Tyler received a deal of notoriety during his career for his criticism of President Abraham Lincoln, which he expressed on numerous occasions. The first of these came in 1917 when in response to an editorial in the New York Times suggesting that Southern slaveholders were akin to the German aristocrats then causing trouble in Europe, Tyler posited that it was Lincoln who more closely resembled the Prussian nobility with his flouting of the Constitution during the Civil War. Eleven years later the issue arose again when the Virginia House of Delegates chose to adjourn in honor of Lincoln's birthday; Tyler contended that Lincoln was no hero and did not merit the honor. When Time fired back that Tyler's father, compared to the later president, was a dwarf both in stature and in accomplishments, Tyler retorted with a pamphlet claiming that it was Lincoln who was the dwarf. He would go on in retirement to continue the crusade against Lincoln, publishing many articles in his own journal, Tyler's Quarterly and Genealogical Magazine, that were highly critical of the sixteenth president.[7]

In a 12-page pamphlet, A Confederate Catechism, he states: "Both from the standpoint of the Constitution and sound statesmanship, it was not slavery, but the vindictive, intemperate anti-slavery movement that was at the bottom of all the troubles." The text is reprinted by the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy recommends children recite it.[8][9]

Personal life[edit]

Tyler was married twice. His first wife was Anne Baker Tucker of Albemarle County, with whom he had three children: John Tyler; Elizabeth Gilmer Tyler; and Julia Gardiner Tyler Wilson, one of the founders of Kappa Delta.[2]

Following Anne's death in 1921, he married Sue Ruffin, who was 35 years his junior,[7] with whom he had three more children: Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr. (1925-2020);[10][11] Harrison Ruffin Tyler (born 1928); and Henry Tyler, who died in infancy.[12] As of October 2020, Harrison Ruffin Tyler is still alive, making his grandfather the earliest former President of the United States with living grandchildren.[13] In late August 2018, Lyon, Jr. participated in a reunion of presidential descendants hosted by the White House Historical Association, and signed, along with other presidential descendants, a drawer from a copy of the Resolute Desk.[14]

Major works[edit]

Tyler Memorial Garden, dedicated to Lyon Gardiner Tyler, his father, and his grandfather

Tyler's major works include:[2]

  • The Letters and Times of the Tylers (three volumes, 1884–1896)
  • Parties and Patronage in the United States (1891)
  • The Cradle of the Republic: Jamestown and the James River (1900)
  • England in America (1904)
  • Williamsburg, the Old Colonial Capital (1907)
  • Men of Mark in Virginia (1906–1909)
  • Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography (1915)
  • History of Virginia from 1763 to 1861 (1924)
  • A Confederate Catechism (1929)


At the College of William & Mary, the Special Collections Research Center houses:

Numerous memorials to Tyler exist on the William and Mary campus, including:

  • the Tyler Family Garden, dedicated to Tyler as well as his father and paternal grandfather, both of whom were alumni of the College; located next to James Blair Hall, which houses the university's history department, the garden contains busts of the three men, and was dedicated on April 30, 2004. It was funded as part of a $5 million gift from Lyon's son, Harrison Ruffin Tyler, and his wife[17]
  • The Lyon Gardiner Tyler Department of History

There is also a Lyon Tyler Grant in History.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Lyon Tyler Obituary". Retrieved 5 October 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "Lyon Gardiner Tyler (1853–1935)". Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved 2016-11-14.
  3. ^ "Lyon Gardiner Tyler (1853–1935) – Special Collections Wiki". Retrieved 14 November 2016.
  4. ^ Edward P. Crapol (18 January 2012). John Tyler, the Accidental President. Univ of North Carolina Press. pp. 17–. ISBN 978-0-8078-8272-6.
  5. ^ "William & Mary- The Lyon Gardiner Tyler Department of History". Retrieved 14 November 2016.
  6. ^ "Dr. Lyon Tyler, 82, Dead in Richmond. Former Head of William and Mary". New York Times. Retrieved 2014-01-29.
  7. ^ a b Dan, Monroe (1 January 2003). "Lincoln the Dwarf: Lyon Gardiner Tyler's War on the Mythical Lincoln". 24 (1). Retrieved 14 November 2016. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  8. ^ Reeves, Jay (May 29, 2017). "'Confederate Catechism' key to monument backer beliefs". The Detroit Free Press. AP. Retrieved 23 January 2019.
  9. ^ Blakemore, Erin (Aug 29, 2017). "The Lost Dream of a Superhighway to Honor the Confederacy". The Atlantic Monthly. Retrieved 23 January 2019.
  10. ^ Robert D. McFadden (October 7, 2020). "Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr., Grandson of the 10th President, Dies at 95". The New York Times. Retrieved October 9, 2020.
  11. ^ Ryan W. Miller (October 9, 2020). "President John Tyler's grandson, Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr., dies at 95". USA Today. Retrieved October 9, 2020.
  12. ^ McFadden, Robert D. (Oct 7, 2020). "Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr., Grandson of the 10th President, Dies at 95". Retrieved Nov 20, 2020 – via
  13. ^ John English (February 15, 2016). "President John Tyler's Grandsons Are Still Alive". Mental Floss. Retrieved May 4, 2016.
  14. ^ McCarthy, Ellen (30 August 2018). "'No one talks about that. No, no no!' At a reunion of presidential descendants, don't ask about Trump". The Washington Post. Retrieved 31 August 2018.
  15. ^ "Tyler Family Papers, Group B". Special Collections Research Center, Earl Gregg Swem Library, College of William and Mary. Retrieved 22 January 2011.
  16. ^ "Office of the President. Lyon Gardiner Tyler". Special Collections Research Center, Earl Gregg Swem Library, College of William and Mary. Retrieved 22 January 2011.
  17. ^ "William & Mary- W&M Dedicates Garden in Honor of Tyler Family Legacy". Retrieved 14 November 2016.
  18. ^ "Lyon Gardiner Tyler Minor Grants For Undergraduate Research in History College of William and Mary" (PDF). College of William & Mary. Retrieved 23 December 2018.

External links[edit]