Moses Coit Tyler

One of our favorite historical Tyler figures is Moses Coit Tyler, a well respected 19th Century historian.

His name keeps popping up in new contexts.

MosesCoitTylerHe is described as a very well respected early professor at the University of Michigan, where he was Chairman of the English Department for 15 years. He was also recognized as one of the most extraordinary orators of his time. At Cornell University, he became the first recognized professor of American History in the United States, and was a founder of the American Historical Society.

Of special interest to us, he also served as president of the Tyler Family Association, being elected in 1896 during its most active period.

When he died in 1900, the Literary Digest called him “the leading historian in American literature.”

One source of information on his life, new to us, was recently discovered in an unpublished dissertation from The University of Michigan, written in 1933 by Thomas Edgar Casady, which was edited and published by Howard Mumford Jones after the original author’s death. And so it was with special interest that I received as a gift from an Ann Arbor neighbor an original edition of this book on his life, written by Casady/Jones. In its 364 pages, the life of this incredible man is described in detail and with considerable nuance.

The first paragraph of the book is one of the most intriguing, for the author(s) begin with the story of the arrival of Moses Coit’s forebears. For those familiar with the Job Tyler lineage, it sounds familiar, but also presents an interesting twist. Here is how the book begins…

“Some twenty years after the arrival of the Mayflower, three brothers named Tyler landed at Plymouth after a long voyage from their native Shropshire, seated themselves on a log, partook of their refreshments, arose, embraced and kissed each other, and then went each his way, ‘and it saith not that they ever again met.’ One settled in Virginia, one in New Haven, and one in Andover near Boston. Unconscious of destiny, the Virginia brother, by name Henry, was the ancestor of John Tyler, tenth President of the United States. Brother Job, a restless soul, was the ancestor of Moses Coit Tyler, the historian.”

This sheds new light on the theory that the Job Tyler line is somehow connected with the President Tyler line, a theory that has been under review for decades. What is the source of information the author(s) cite for this information? As stated in the first endnote…

Paraphrased from the copy made by Moses Coit Tyler from MS. of his father, Elisha Tyler, at Detroit in 1857… “The three brothers are believed to have emigrated from Shropshire, perhaps as early as 1640, certainly by 1653. See the sketch of Tyler’s ancestry compiled by Professor George Lincoln Burr of Cornell University in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register, vol. 55 (1901), pp. xciii-xcv; and for corroborative detail see James Savage, A Genealogical Dictionary of the First Settlers of New England (Boston, 1860), vol. IV, pp. 354-6. I have seen only certain pages of the official Tyler genealogy.”

This interesting footnote indicates the authors had not yet reviewed William Tyler Brigham’s genealogy of Job Tyler, but it does cite two other sources worth looking into.

Toward the end of the Moses Coit biography, be gin ning on page 268, reference is made to the scholarly histories on which Moses Coit was working late in his career.They included Glimpses of England, Patrick Henry, and the significant Literary History of the American Revolution. But this section of text continues…

One of his chapters was to be on John Tyler, the descendant of one of the three original Tyler brothers from whom he himself had sprung, but when he wrote the Virginia Tylers for material, the Southerners did not respond as he had hoped they would. It was too bad; had he been permitted to complete his book, had he given to the south the same sympathetic interpretation he had given the loyalists in the Revolution, he would have been again a pioneer. Even Andrew D. White advised him against including Calhoun and Jefferson Davis. Tyler pondered gravely, examining his style and counseling himself to “avoid diffuseness; non-essentials; melodious conventionalism. Re-write each life patiently; cut it down; compress. The model is Tacitus, rather than Plutarch.”

For information, contact Norman Tyler at ntyler@emich.edu.

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