If you were standing on the hallowed grounds of the James River for the 1807 Jubilee – the 200th birthday celebration of the founding of Jamestown and the birth of America – you might have met revolutionary war hero John Tyler and his 17-year-old son, John Jr., who was then a student at the College of William and Mary.
Fifty years later, John was no longer known as Jr., but as the former president of the United States of America. As the keynote speaker on May 13, 1857, for the 250th Jubilee of Jamestown, President John Tyler would remind those in attendance that they must honor their fathers, give thanks to almighty God and never forget the many kindnesses He had bestowed upon our land. Tyler spoke reverently of the legacy of Jamestown, and the great pantheon of patriot pastors and Christian heroes that providentially descended from the Jamestown fathers.
Here amid the graves of our ancestors, we renew our pledges to those principles of self-government, which have been consecrated by their examples through 250 years; and implore that great Being who so often and signally preserved them through trials and difficulties, to continue to our country His protecting guardianship and care.
In fact, for close to three hours President John Tyler would regale those in attendance with stories of providence and perseverance in the Old Dominion. He concluded with this admonition to children of the future:
The memory of a glorious ancestry should be kept bright in the recollections of their posterity; and their noble daring in the cause of civilization, and brave resolves in favor of freedom, should be recounted from generation to generation.
Fifty years later, the president’s son Lyon Gardiner Tyler would follow in the footsteps of his father by teaching America about the magnificent legacy of the Jamestown founding. That year was 1907, and the entire nation joined Virginia for the celebration of America’s 300th birthday.
Lyon was his father’s son. Toward the end of the 19th century he was leading delegations of thousands to Jamestown for annual celebrations. At the beginning of the 20th century, it was Lyon who first called on Americans to create a grand tercentennial celebration. As president of the College of William and Mary and the most noteworthy historian of the Jamestown Tercentenary, Lyon would edit and release that year the “Narratives of Early Virginia: 1606-1625,” a follow-up to his prior work, “The Cradle of the Republic: Jamestown and the James River.”
But the remarkable multi-generational legacy of the Tyler family and their contribution to America’s birthday celebrations would not end in 1907, or even in 1957 for the 350th celebration of Jamestown. For America’s 400th birthday, Harrison Tyler, the grandson of the 10th president of the United States, will continue the multi-generational legacy of the Tyler family when he serves as grand marshal to the “Jamestown Quadricentennial: A Celebration of America’s Providential History.”
If you are trying to figure out how the numbers add up in this remarkable family tree, here are a few helps: President Tyler was born in the 18th century. He died in the middle of the Civil War – 66 years before his grandson was born. His son Lyon Gardiner Tyler was born in 1853 and died in 1935. Now in the year 2007, Harrison Tyler often reminds children he meets: “If my grandfather were here to talk with you, he would be more than 225 years old.”
At 78 years of age, this sprightly, athletic heir to one of Virginia’s most noble family names is known to many as a walking repository of Virginia history and trivia. Harrison Tyler daily honors the legacy of his forefathers through his preservation and maintenance of his grandfather’s 4,000-acre estate, Sherwood Forest, the home of America’s 10th president and the location of Fort Pocahontas, the site of this year’s celebration, to be held from June 11-16.
In contrast to the official, state-sponsored event, which has banned the use of the word “celebration” (so as not to offend descendants of Chief Powhatan), the “Jamestown Quadricentennial: A Celebration of America’s Providential History” will be a glorious birthday party of gratitude that includes hot air balloon rides, symposia on early American history, period music, boat rides on the James, history tours and much more.
And it will include at least one very grateful direct descendant of Indian Chief Powhatan and princess Pocahontas – because it will include the great grandson (times about 14) of Pocahontas, none other than Harrison Ruffin Tyler.
As we celebrate 400 years of law and liberty under God beginning at Jamestown, it is important to remember that our nation’s history is not merely the history of men, but of families. For 200 years, the fathers and sons of the Tylers have led the American people in acts of remembrance for our providential beginnings in Jamestown – that is why this multi-generational dynasty should be remembered as “The Grand Family of America’s birthday.”