Documenting the World of Outlander #2: Meeting Governor William Tryon

[This post was written by Alison Thurman and Josh Hager, Reference Archivists]

This blog is intended as a “bonus feature” for fans of Outlander who want to explore the world of Jamie and Claire through original documents housed at the State Archives of North Carolina. SPOILERS for the first three episodes of Season 4!

Outlander, the hit series from Starz, has officially arrived in colonial North Carolina. This season, Jamie and Claire will traverse the state from Wilmington to the mountains. The State Archives of North Carolina will join them on this journey as we showcase documents that provide a window into their world. Welcome to our biweekly series, Documenting the World of Outlander, wherein each new entry in our series will focus on one topic that appears on screen in Outlander.

In episode one of Outlander, Season 4, “America the Beautiful,” Jamie and Claire are introduced to  Governor William Tryon at a dinner party. He seems interested in the couple’s future plans in North Carolina and takes an opportunity to propose a land deal that interests Jamie a great deal. He offers Jamie large tracts of free land in exchange for recruiting settlers to the back country. If he accepts the deal, Jamie realizes that Tryon will expect his loyalty and gratitude in the future.  Claire knows that conflict with the British is coming and she is suspicious of Tryon’s motives. Is William Tryon to be a friend to the Fraser’s or will association with him bring them unhappiness in the future?

The historical William Tryon served as royal governor of North Carolina from 1765-1771.  He was born in 1729 to a landed gentry family in Surrey, England.  He served in the British military during the Seven Years’ War and rose militarily and politically. Through family connections he obtained a political appointment as governor of North Carolina in 1764 and arrived with his wife, Margaret, and their young daughter, assuming his duties in 1765. He made some internal improvements in the colony such as successfully negotiating a boundary dispute with the Cherokee Indians, establishing a postal service and completing church building projects for the Church of England.  However, he arrived in North Carolina during a period of political unrest in the back county where the Regulator movement was gaining support over such issues as insufficient currency, currency fraud, unequal taxation, and discontent with local officials. Though his time as governor was short, he had to contend with violent conflicts and political upheaval in the years prior to the American Revolution. You can read more on the life of William Tryon on the NCpedia website https://www.ncpedia.org/

List of Land Grants to Scots, Isle of Jura, Argyle Shire, Nov.4, 1767

List of Land Grants to Scots, Isle of Jura, Argyle Shire, Nov.4, 1767 Colonial Governor’s Papers: William Tryon C.G.P.10

In the State Archives we have the official governor’s papers of William Tryon. Most of them have been digitized and made available on the Digital Collections webpage where the public can search by subject, place and time. The papers include petitions from the colonists, proclamations and orders and correspondence on a wide range of topics.

Are you curious to see what kind of genealogical information may be found in his papers?  The image to the left is a list of land grants awarded to Scots from the Isle of Jura, Argyle Shire dated November 4, 1767. It lists not only the names of the families, but the acreage they were allotted in Cumberland and Mecklenburg Counties. This kind of document would have been helpful to Roger and Brianna if they were searching for proof that Jamie and Claire settled in North Carolina.

Are you interested in historical topics included in Tryon’s correspondence of 1765-1771, or do you want to read his proclamations concerning unrest in the back country? You can read all about it in the Governor’s Papers, Historical Collection on the Digital Collections webpage http://digital.ncdcr.gov/

Tryon’s final legacy in North Carolina is the “palace” he commissioned in New Bern in 1767. He was convinced that the colony needed a house of government that was equal to more prosperous British colonial buildings at the time.  It was completed in 1770, but it was controversial from the beginning. The General Assembly allocated a budget for the project, but the costs quickly went over. At the same time settlers were petitioning Tryon to pay taxes with commodities instead of cash because currency was scarce, he was persuading the General Assembly to require an extra poll tax to help pay the cost of building the mansion.  He miscalculated how unpopular this would be with the settlers in the west who did not agree with the need for such an unnecessary extravagance. It only added to existing tensions and was one of the catalysts in North Carolina’s War of the Regulation.

The image below is a list of expenses for the building of Tryon Palace. You can see why some colonists questioned the necessity versus the cost.

Expense for Governor’s Mansion, 1767

Expense for Governor’s Mansion, 1767 Colonial Governor’s Papers : William Tryon C.G.P.6

Gov. Tryon left North Carolina in 1771, to become governor of New York after living in the mansion only a little over a year. It was used as a meeting place for the General Assembly sporadically, but was abandoned in 1792 when the state capital moved from New Bern to Raleigh. Shortly after that, the main building burned in an accidental fire. A reconstruction of the palace was built in the 1950’s using the original architect’s plans and period inventories. Today it is a thriving historic site open  to the public. You may learn more about visiting Tryon Palace at   https://www.tryonpalace.org/

Jamie and Claire will no doubt cross paths with Governor Tryon again, especially now that Jamie has accepted his offer of a land grant knowing that, in return, Tryon is expecting his loyalty and help with any disturbances among his neighbors in the back country.  Accepting an offer of free land where you can begin anew is very tempting, but will Jamie and Claire regret taking Tryon’s deal?

Stay tuned for more…