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Meet Tyler County’s namesake

By Staff | Feb 5, 2014

John Tyler Sr.

There is often confusion regarding the namesake of Tyler County. When the district was officially founded in 1814, it was still a part of the State of Virginia and therefore named in honor of John Tyler, the state’s 15th governor.

Many hear the name John Tyler and immediately think of John Tyler Jr., the 10th President of the United States. However, it was actually the president’s father, John Tyler Sr., who inspired the province title. Although it is not clear why the Virginia Legislature named the new county after him, it is suggested that it was in light of his passing one year prior to Tyler County’s formation in 1814.

Tyler Sr. was born Feb. 28, 1747, in Virginia. He attended the College of William and Mary and later read law under Judge Robert Carter Nicholas in Williamsburg in order to enter the bar. He then practiced in the county courts of Charles City County, Virginia. While there, he was also a planter.

Before he became governor, he was also a soldier, a lawyer, and a planter. In 1775 he joined the Continental Army. He and fellow revolutionary Patrick Henry, who also went on to serve as a Virginia Governor following the establishment of the United States, worked together in forming a militia group prior to the American Revolution.

In 1777 Tyler joined the Virginia House of Delegates, where he served as Speaker from 1781 to 1784. From 1780 to 1781, he was also a member of the Virginia Council of State and vice-president of the Virginia Convention to ratify the United States Constitution in 1788. He was appointed a judge in the Virginia High Court of Admirality in 1786 and was a judge on the first Virginia Court of Appeals, later becoming a judge of the general court in 1788 when the Court of Appeals was reorganized. During his legal and political career, he was an outspoken advocate of states’ rights, which became a large part of his platform.

Tyler became Governor of Virginia in 1808. He was elected for two additional one-year terms but left governorship early on Jan. 15, 1811, accepting an appointment by President James Madison to be a judge of the Federal District Court for the District of Virginia. He filled that position until his death on Jan. 6, 1813. He was 65 years old.

Tyler and his wife Mary (maiden name Armistead) had eight children together: Anne Contesse Tyler, Elizabeth Armistead Tyler, Martha Jefferson Tyler, Maria Henry Tyler, Wat Henry Tyler, William Tyler, Christiana Booth Tyler, and of course John Tyler Jr., who became the first vice-president to succeed to the presidency when President William Harrison died of pneumonia a month after taking office.

During much of his life, Tyler Jr. followed in his father’s footsteps. He attended the college of William and Mary, practiced law, served on the Virginia House of Delegates, and also became the Governor of Virginia.