Born William Clark Tyler on July 18, 1757, in Boston, Massachusetts, Royall Tyler adopted his father’s name on the latter’s death in 1771. Tyler’s older brother, John Steele Tyler, had fallen out of favor with both parents and was disinherited; hence, most of the Tyler estate reverted to the young Royall. In 1772, Royall Tyler entered Harvard, from which he was graduated in 1776, the year of the Declaration of Independence. Tyler and his classmates were much caught up in the rhetoric and ideas of revolt that led to independence.
Tyler’s days at Harvard were hardly, then, devoted entirely to disputation, to the study of the Latin and Greek authors, or to the pursuit of philosophy, theology, and mathematics. Indeed, at one point in his Harvard studies, Tyler, along with his roommate, was suspended for relieving the college president of his wig by means of a book dropped from their dormitory window. This incident did not mark the end of Tyler’s collegiate escapades. During the period of his attendance at Harvard, the college had a strict rule that, on penalty of expulsion, no student could have anything to do with directing, staging, or acting in plays. Certain incidents related in the autobiographical The Bay Boy, concerning the clandestine performance of drama in Boston, suggest that the future dramatist violated this restriction as well.
Shortly after Tyler began to pursue his vocation as a lawyer, he struck up a courtship with the young Abigail Adams, daughter of Abigail and John Adams, who were later to become the first family of the United States. Evidently, the father of seventeen-year-old Abigail heard rumors of the enthusiastic young Tyler (who in 1777 was accused of wayward conduct), for not too long after Tyler let Abigail know of his intention to marry her, John Adams demanded that his wife and daughter join him in London, where the future second president of the United States was negotiating the peace treaty between America and Britain.
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