Royall Tyler Writes Broadway's First Play

Royall Tyler Writes Broadway's First Play

Royall Tyler was an American Revolutionary turned playwright.

While it TECHNICALLY wasn’t on Broadway, Tyler’s play was the first one performed in NYC by an American author.

You’re welcome Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Royall Tyler

While attending Harvard, Royall Tyler became known for his love of a good time.

Always ready with a joke, Tyler wasted large sums of his inheritance on strong drink and lose women, something he would be embarrassed about later in life. He would briefly be engaged to Abigail ‘Nabby’ Adams (daughter of one future President and sister of another), but she would call the wedding off due to Tyler’s poor reputation.

After graduating college, Royall spent a brief time in the Massachusetts Militia with his one notable battle during the Revolutionary War being the Rhode Island Expedition.

Tyler studied for the Bar exam as an apprentice in the office of Patriot Francis Dana. After two years, he set off to open his own practice.

Shays’ Rebellion

Royall Tyler, still in the Militia, was assisted in the suppression of Shays’ Rebellion.

Tyler was part of a body of 3,000 soldiers hired with private funds raised by wealthy merchants to stop the revolt. He served as an aide de camp for Benjamin Lincoln during the expedition which sent the Rebellion’s leaders hiding.

Royall was then charged with travelling into Vermont to locate these fugitives.


Shortly after Shays’ Rebellion, Royall Tyler published a play which discussed the differences between British and American culture.

This piece, titled The Contrast, was the first play written by a United States citizen to be performed publicly. Staged in New York City, this theatrical run started the long tradition of live shows on Broadway.

Several years later, Tyler wrote a novel called The Algerian Captive. This was one of the first successful fiction books in American history and it discussed the importance of maintaining the Federal Union.


After marrying, Royall Tyler decided to establish himself in Vermont.

Tyler spent several years working as a State Attorney. This position is similar to what we might know as a DA today.

By his 45th birthday, Tyler was chosen to sit on the Vermont Supreme Court (known at the time as the Council of Censors). Six years later he was promoted to Chief Justice of the State.

Royall resigned his post in an unsuccessful attempt to receive election to the United States Senate. Instead, he spent several years as a Professor at the University of Vermont.

Tyler retired into the position of Register of Probate, responsible for carrying out wills in his home county until his own will was needed when he passed away at the age of 69.

To read about other early American writers, check out my articles on Washington Irving and Philip Freneau.

If you’d like to own your own copy of America’s first play, pick up ‘The Contrast’ through the affiliate link below.

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The Contrast
By Royall Tyler, Tyler Royall
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