Moses Coit Tyler

Moses Coit Tyler (1835-1900), American historian, pioneered in the development of American intellectual history.

Moses Coit Tyler was born in Griswold, Conn., on Aug. 2, 1835. His family later moved to Detroit, where Tyler grew up. After a year as a book agent, he enrolled at the University of Michigan at the age of 16, transferring to Yale University a year later. Following graduation he became an independent student for a year at Andover Theological Seminary.

In 1859 Tyler was ordained as a Congregational minister, took a pastorate at Oswego, N.Y., and married Jeannette Hull Gilbert. In 1860 he received a call to a larger congregation in Poughkeepsie. While there he wrote an essay, "Our Solace and Our Duty in This Crisis" (1861), designed to provide guidance at the beginning of the Civil War. Poor health forced him to resign his pulpit in 1862, however, and he did not preach again for 14 years.

Tyler went to Boston seeking a cure. He found it in a course of musical gymnastics under a Dr. Dio Lewis. He became an apostle of Lewis and was sent to England in 1863 to open a branch school. During his 3-year stay he wrote The New System of Musical Gymnastics as an Instrument in Education (1864). Upon his return to America he became professor of rhetoric and English literature at the University of Michigan.

At Michigan, Tyler wrote his first real book, a collection of essays entitled The Brawnsville Papers (1869). In 1875 he accepted an offer to compose a manual of American literature. He projected a completion date to coincide with the centennial of the Revolution. Tyler had to extend his deadline and limit his subject, in part because of renewed religious interest. In 1877 he joined the Episcopal Church and eventually became a priest. His History of American Literature during the Colonial Period, 1607-1765 (2 vols.) was completed in 1878.

Tyler's next major writing project, which took almost 20 years to complete, was the Literary History of the American Revolution, 1763-1785 (2 vols., 1897). In 1881 he accepted Cornell University's offer of the first chair in United States history in the country. He was one of the founders of the American Historical Association in 1884 and of the American Historical Review in 1895. Two other significant books were Patrick Henry (1887) and Three Men of Letters (1895). He died on Dec. 28, 1900.

Tyler's fame rests largely on his two literary histories, which he described as history of thought—one of the first uses of the term. He used original sources and included songs, sermons, and pamphlets. The critic Michael Kraus (1953) wrote that "nothing better has ever been done on the literary history of the Revolution despite some defects of omission."

Further Reading on Moses Coit Tyler

Howard Mumford Jones, The Life of Moses Coit Tyler (1933), is a revision of a doctoral dissertation written by Thomas Edgar Casady, who died before he completed it. The book is valuable as a biography, although the style is difficult. Two insightful views of Tyler as a historian are in sections of Michael Kraus, The Writing of American History (1953), and Robert Allen Skotheim, American Intellectual History and Historians (1966).