About this Collection
The John Tyler Papers, one of twenty-three presidential collections in the Library of Congress Manuscript Division, contains more than 1,400 items dating from 1691 to 1918, most of which fall between 1757 and 1918. The collection is made up primarily of correspondence, including letters and copies of letters to or from Tyler (1790-1862), a governor and U.S. representative and senator from Virginia, who served as vice president under William Henry Harrison before becoming the tenth president of the United States upon Harrison’s death in 1841. Also included are letters to and from Julia Gardiner Tyler, Tyler’s second wife, and members of the Gardiner family, and “autograph” letters by others, which were collected by Tyler.
Notable correspondents in the collection include George Bancroft, James Barbour, Margaret Gardiner Beeckman, Richard T. Brown, James Buchanan, John S. Cunningham, Henry Curtis, John B. Floyd, Alexander Gardiner, Juliana McLachlan Gardiner, Thomas W. Gilmer, James Monroe, John Page, Littleton W. Tazewell, St. George Tucker, Septimus Tustin, Robert Tyler, and Henry A. Wise. The Index to the John Tyler Papers (PDF and page view) created by the Manuscript Division in 1961 when the bulk of the collection was microfilmed provides a full list of the correspondents and notes the series number and dates of the items indexed. This information is helpful in finding an individual letter or document in the online version.
Additional letters received by the Library after 1961 and located in Series 4 are not represented in the Index to the John Tyler Papers. Among the correspondents represented in Series 4 are Hugh B. Grigsby, John Leeds Kerr, James Lyons, Cincinnatus Newton, St. George Tucker, and John Tyler's daughter, Mary Tyler, and son, Robert Tyler.
Description of Series
The original collection was acquired by the Library of Congress in 1919 and supplemented by other small gifts and purchases thereafter. The collection is arranged into four series, the first three of which were reproduced in 1961 on 3 reels of microfilm, scans of which comprise the bulk of this online collection. Material added to the collection after the microfilm edition was completed forms Series 4, Addenda, the originals of which were scanned for this presentation. A list of the series follows.
Series 1, General Correspondence, 1710-1861 (Reels 1-2)
Bound volumes of letters and copies of letters to or from Tyler and a few other documents. Arranged chronologically.
Series 2, Autograph Collection, 1691-1917 (Reels 2-3)
Bound volumes of letters and documents assembled by Lyon G. Tyler. Arranged alphabetically with a few oddments at the end.
Series 3, Additional Correspondence, 1844-1918 (Reel 3)
Letters to or from Julia Gardiner Tyler and other women of the Tyler family. Arranged chronologically.
Series 4, Addenda, 1830-1863 (Not filmed; scanned from originals)
Letters to and from Tyler, a letter fragment, and an engraved portrait. Grouped by the year in which each addition was processed.
Brief History of the Tyler Papers
John Tyler saved documentation of his life and career, and he was acutely conscious of the legacy he would leave upon his death. The bulk of the papers that he carefully collected during his lifetime, however, are presumed lost to history. According to his 1859 will, drawn up late in his life, before the beginning of the Civil War, Tyler bequeathed his archival materials to the stewardship of his family. Those documents related to public affairs were intended to go into the care of his sons and sons-in-law as his literary executors. Personal materials were to be given to his wife, Julia Gardiner Tyler.
Disunion and war preceded Tyler’s January 1862 death from illness, in Richmond, Virginia. During the Civil War years, the Tyler home, Sherwood Forest, in Charles City County, Virginia, was entered by Union soldiers and others. Papers that were reported to be present in the house were subjected to ransacking, looting, and destruction. The Tyler family left the house and Tyler’s widow and her children went to stay for much of the war with her mother in New York. Julia Gardiner Tyler later explained that before departing, she stored some of her husband’s papers for safe keeping in a bank in Richmond. They were destroyed by fire in early April 1865. Additional papers were reportedly stored at the Tyler’s summer home, Villa Margaret, near Hampton, Virginia, but these items are unaccounted for.
John and Julia Gardiner Tylers’ son, Lyon Gardiner Tyler (1853-1935), took on the role as literary executor in his father’s honor. An 1875 University of Virginia graduate and a historian, he served from 1918 to 1919 as the president of the College of William and Mary—an institution with a long history in regard to the Tyler family. As executor and family chronicler, he set about collecting the papers that now make up the John Tyler Papers at the Library of Congress. Seeking materials that might still be extant, he contacted family friends and known recipients of Tyler correspondence. He recovered part of an autograph collection and letters, or copies of letters, written by his father to friends and political contemporaries. Between 1884 and 1896 Tyler published a three-volume set, Letters and Times of the Tylers, based on recovered documents. He sold the original documents and copies he had collected to the Library of Congress in 1919.