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College of William & Mary Walking Tour
Item 11 of 12
The Tyler Family Garden serves as a memorial to Virginia Governor John Tyler Sr., US President John Tyler, and William & Mary President Lyon Gardiner Tyler. These figures have been the source of both local and national controversy. L. G. Tyler helped to allow white women into the College of William & Mary but subscribed to racist beliefs and prohibited African Americans from attending or teaching at the college. The garden was paid for by descendants of the family and given to the university as a gift to the history department which is itself named for L. G. Tyler. A bust of each man with a brief summary of their lives are present in the garden which lies outside of the James Blair Building on William & Mary’s campus.

  • Tyler Family Garden, 2011
  • Plaque at the Garden
  • Portrait of President John Tyler in 1859

Gifted to the History Department at the College of William & Mary in 2004, the Tyler Family Garden is meant to honor the connection between the notable Tyler family and the university. The garden lies outside of James Blair Hall which is home to the history department. It features the busts of three generations of the Tyler family:  Governor John Tyler Sr., President John Tyler, and his son, Lyon Gardiner Tyler. Each man had strong ties to the university and would go on to gain notoriety in their careers. Descendants of these members of the Tyler family funded the construction of the garden which serves as a reminder of their legacy. The history department at the university acknowledges both the good work done by these men on behalf of the university and the racism they espoused.  

The most prominent of these men was the controversial US President John Tyler. Son of the aforementioned John Gardiner Tyler, President Tyler was a graduate of William & Mary where he studied law. Tyler became president in 1841 after the death of President William Henry Harrison. Prior to becoming President, John Tyler served as Vice President under William Henry Harrison who died within 33 days of becoming president, effectively making John Tyler the first president to take on the role after the death of a predecessor. As president, Tyler fought for states' rights and was also responsible for the annexation of Texas. It was Tyler's ardent support of states' rights that helped to worsen the divide between the northern and southern states. After leaving the presidency Tyler went on to serve as a member of the Confederate House of Representatives. He held this position until his death in 1862. 

President Tyler’s father also held political sway. John Tyler Sr. served as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates and later the governor of the state. The elder Tyler was also a William & Mary law graduate and served in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Governor Tyler also held a variety of judicial positions in the state during the course of his career.  

Lyon Gardiner Tyler, President Tyler’s son, was another notable figure. Like his father and grandfather, L. G. Tyler studied law at the College of William & Mary. The younger Tyler dedicated himself to the university and served as the school’s president from 1888 to 1919. During this time Tyler was able to help the university recover from financial difficulties. Tyler also notably founded the early American history journal, William & Mary Quarterly. Among Tyler’s accomplishments is a change in policy that allowed white women to attend the college. Racism at the college remained an issue during Tyler’s presidency. African Americans were not permitted to enroll or teach at the university at this time. Tyler infamously expressed viewpoints throughout his tenure that are shared with modern-day white supremacist groups.  

Augustyn, Adam. John Tyler, Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed September 12th 2020. https://www.britannica.com/biography/John-Tyler.

John Tyler, White House. Accessed September 12th 2020. https://www.whitehouse.gov/about-the-white-house/presidents/john-tyler/.

John Tyler, Tenth Vice President (1841), United States Sentate. Accessed September 12th 2020. https://www.senate.gov/about/officers-staff/vice-president/VP_John_Tyler.htm.

The Lyon Gardiner Tyler Department of History, William & Mary. Accessed September 12th 2020. https://www.wm.edu/as/history/about/index.php.

Special Collections Research Center. Tyler Family Garden, Dedicated 2004, Tribe Trek. Accessed September 12th 2020. https://tribetrek.wm.edu/items/show/12?tour=1&index=11.

Tyler, John, Federal Judicial Center. Accessed September 12th 2020. https://www.fjc.gov/node/1389016.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

https://tribetrek.wm.edu/items/show/12?tour=1&index=11

https://tribetrek.wm.edu/items/show/12?tour=1&index=11

https://www.britannica.com/biography/John-Tyler