John Tyler Sr.

John Tyler Sr. (February 28, 1747 – January 6, 1813) was an American lawyer, planter, politician and judge who served in the Virginia House of Delegates and became 15th Governor of Virginia and later United States district judge of the United States District Court for the District of Virginia.[1][2][3] He was the father of U.S. President John Tyler.

John Tyler Sr.
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Virginia
In office
January 7, 1811  January 6, 1813
Appointed byJames Madison
Preceded byCyrus Griffin
Succeeded bySt. George Tucker
15th Governor of Virginia
In office
December 1, 1808  January 15, 1811
Preceded byWilliam H. Cabell
Succeeded byJames Monroe
Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates
In office
Preceded byRichard Henry Lee
Succeeded byBenjamin Harrison
Member of the Virginia House of Delegates from Charles City County
In office
May 4, 1778  October 15, 1786
Serving with Benjamin Harrison, William Green Munford, Henry Southall
Preceded byWilliam Acrill
Succeeded byWilliam Christian
Personal details
John Tyler

(1747-02-28)February 28, 1747
James City County, Virginia, British America
DiedJanuary 6, 1813(1813-01-06) (aged 65)
Charles City County, Virginia, United States
SpouseMary Marot Armistead (m. 1777; death 1797)
  • Martha
  • John
  • Christiana
  • John Tyler II (father)
  • Anne Contesse (mother)
EducationCollege of William & Mary
  • Lawyer
  • judge

Early life and education

Born on February 28, 1747, in James City County, Colony of Virginia, British America, to the former Anne Contesse, the wife of John Tyler, the marshal of the Colony's vice-admiralty court. His maternal grandfather was Huguenot physician Dr. Louis Contesse.[3] Beginning in 1754, Tyler attended first the grammar school at the College of William & Mary in the colony's capitol, Williamsburg, then the college itself. When he was nineteen, Tyler stood in the lobby of the colony's assembly, the House of Burgesses and listened to Patrick Henry's speech concerning the Stamp Act 1765, which caused him both to become hostile to the British government, as well as to read law with eminent attorney Robert Carter Nicholas[1][3]


Tyler was admitted to the Virginia bar and had a private legal practice.[2] Around 1770, Tyler moved to Charles City County. There, in addition to his private legal practice, Tyler operated plantations using enslaved labor. By the time of his marriage in 1776 discussed below, Tyler built Greenway Plantation, where he would raise his family and later die. In the 1787 Virginia tax census, Tyler owned 20 enslaved adults and 14 enslaved children, as well as 12 horses and 75 cattle, and was also taxed for his carriages (which had a total of six wheels).[4] Meanwhile, as relations with Britain became strained, Tyler became a member of the Charles City County Committee of Safety, then in 1775 he raised a company of troops and joined his forces with those led by Patrick Henry to demand restoration of the gunpowder Virginia's governor Lord Dunmore had removed from the government magazine in Williamsburg, else compensation. In 1776 Tyler accepted a one-year appointment as commissioner in admiralty.

Tyler's statewide political career began in 1778, as he first won election as one of Charles City County's delegates to the Virginia House of Delegates. Charles City County voters re-elected him annually until 1788.[5] Furthermore, fellow delegates elected Tyler as their Speaker in 1781, when he succeeded Benjamin Harrison (who legislators had elected the Governor), and re-elected Tyler until 1785, when Benjamin Harrison became the Speaker).[1][3][6]

In addition to his legislative service, Tyler also served as a Judge of the Virginia High Court of Admiralty from 1776 to 1788.[2] He was a member of the Virginia Council of State (now the Virginia Governor's Council) from 1780 to 1781.[2] Legislators elected Tyler a Judge of the General Court of Virginia starting in 1788.[2]

Virginia ratification convention

Charles City County voters elected Tyler as one of their representatives to the Virginia Ratifying Convention that ultimately ratified the United States Constitution in 1788.[7] During that convocation, fellow delegates elected Tyler the convention's Vice-President.[2] In the debates over ratification of the United States Constitution, like George Mason and Patrick Henry, Tyler was an Anti-Federalist, ultimately voting against the document, although it was ratified by a narrow margin. Tyler explained his opposition stating, "It has been often observed ... that liberty ought not to be given up without knowing the terms. The gentlemen themselves cannot agree in the construction of various clauses of [the Constitution]; and so long as this is the case, so long shall liberty be in danger."[8]


Legislators elected Tyler the 15th Governor of Virginia from 1808 to 1811.[2]

Federal judicial service

President James Madison on January 2, 1811, appointed Tyler to a seat on the United States District Court for the District of Virginia vacated by Judge Cyrus Griffin.[2] The United States Senate confirmed the appointment on January 3, 1811, and Tyler received his commission on January 7, 1811.[2] Thus, Tyler judge some cases on his circuit with U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall, who had resided in Richmond and who had been a Federalist both during that Ratifying Convention years earlier, and in later elections.

Death and legacy

Tyler died on January 6, 1813, at Greenway Plantation in Charles City County.[2] His official papers as Governor are held by the Library of Virginia.[9]

Tyler County, West Virginia, is named in Tyler's honor.[10]


Tyler married Mary Marot Armistead (1761–1797) in 1777.[9] His wife was the only child of Robert Booth and Ann (Shields) Armistead of King's Creek plantation in York County, Virginia (her ancestor, another Robert Booth, had served as a burgess representing the county in 1653 and 1654-1655. They had eight children, including future President John Tyler.[3]


  1. Jamerson, Bruce F., Clerk of the House of Delegates, supervising (2007). Speakers and Clerks of the Virginia House of Delegates, 1776-2007. Richmond, Virginia: Virginia House of Delegates. p. 23.
  2. John Tyler at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, a public domain publication of the Federal Judicial Center.
  3. Lyon Gardiner Tyler, "John Tyler" in Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography (1915) vol. 2, pp. 35-36
  4. Netti Schreiner-Yantis and Florence Speakman Love, The 1787 Census of Virginia (Genealogical Books in Print, Springfield, Virginia, 1987) p. 1050
  5. Cynthia Miller Leonard, The Virginia General Assembly, 1619-1978 (Richmond: Virginia State Library 1978) pp. 129, 133, 137, 141, 145, 149, 153, 156
  6. Leonard pp. xv, 156
  7. Leonard p. 172
  8. "Energetic Government: John Tyler, Virginia Ratifying Convention".
  9. "A Guide to the Governor John Tyler Executive Papers, 1808-1811 Tyler, John, Executive Papers of Governor, 1808-1811 41223".
  10. "Tyler County history sources". 2013-05-29. Archived from the original on 2013-05-29. Retrieved 2021-07-13.
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