The Devilish

The Devilish William Tryon

During his term as the appointed Royal Governor of New York, English-born William Tryon lorded over his charges with a callous viciousness. His method of rule, often at the tip of a bayonet, was condemned by Patriot leaders in the New York capital as “the wicked arts and insidious and corrupt practices of William Tryon, Esq.”

An investigation by the Committee for Detecting and Defeating Conspiracies, formed by the New York state legislature, determined Tryon was also actively recruiting spies. As John Jay, the famed statesman who led the Committee, wrote, “Governor Tryon has been very mischievous: and we find our hands full in counteracting and suppressing the conspiracies formed by him and his adherents.”

Fort George, New York

During his term as the appointed Royal Governor of New York, English-born William Tryon lorded over his charges with a callous viciousness. His method of rule, often at the tip of a bayonet, was condemned by Patriot leaders in the New York capital as “the wicked arts and insidious and corrupt practices of William Tryon, Esq.”

An investigation by the Committee for Detecting and Defeating Conspiracies, formed by the New York state legislature, determined Tryon was also actively recruiting spies. As John Jay, the famed statesman who led the Committee, wrote, “Governor Tryon has been very mischievous: and we find our hands full in counteracting and suppressing the conspiracies formed by him and his adherents.”

Early in the war, as the British and Continentals clashed in New York, Tryon feared for his safety and sought refuge aboard a British merchant vessel moored in New York Harbor and guarded by a 64-gun warship. From this lair, Tryon oversaw a currency counterfeiting workshop, part of a concerted British effort to produce and circulate forged Continental money. With such operations threatening to sabotage and destabilize the colonies’ fragile economy and bankrupt the Continental Army, the Continental Congress made counterfeiting a crime punishable by death, and even took the extraordinary step of recalling all of its paper currency in 1780.

Counterfeiting was hardly Tryon’s only pursuit. He routinely met with other British sympathizers, including David Mathews, the Loyalist mayor of New York City. Together, the men conspired to turn a number of George Washington’s personal guards against the American general; a scheme that could have changed the entire course of the war.

Tryon remained in self-exile until late summer, 1776, when the British Army seized control of New York. Following his appointment as an army general in 1777, he led a British raiding party on a supply depot in the town of Danbury, Connecticut. Tryon’s forces were met by a force of militia and Continental Army regulars commanded by Benedict Arnold, then one of Washington’s most able field generals. It would one day be Arnold, the most disreputable traitor of the war, leading a force of redcoats in the Connecticut countryside.

In his military role, Tryon often exceeded his orders and repeatedly brutalized the civilian population. He eventually fell out of favor with the British high command, and in 1780, returned home to England, never to return to America.

Tryon has been very mischievous: and we find our hands full in counteracting and suppressing the conspiracies formed by him and his adherents.
—John Jay, concluding his investigation of William Tryon