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About Tench Tilghman
Tench Tilghman (December 25, 1744–April 18, 1786) was an officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary war. He served as an aide de camp to General George Washington, achieving the rank of lieutenant colonel.
Tilghman rose to become a trusted member of Washington's staff. The historic events of the time sparked his transformation from a privileged family member of Loyalists to a dedicated Patriot. Tench paid a high price, facing such tragedies as a split with his family and suffering an early death from disease contracted during the American Revolutionary War.
Lt. Col. Tench Tilghman December 25, 1744 was born at "Fausley," the plantation owned by his father, James Tilghman, located on Fausley Creek, a branch of the St. Michaels River, in Talbot County, Maryand, U.S.A a few miles from the town of Easton. Tench’s grandfather was Richard Tilghman, a surgeon who was born in the County of Kent, England. In 1662, he moved his family to Talbot County, Maryland, settling in an area along the Third Haven River. Within a short time, Richard moved to the "Hermitage," located on the Chester River, then in Kent County, but today in Queen Anne’s County. Richard’s son, James Tilghman, was a distinguished gentleman lawyer,
Tilghman was not destined to become a revolutionary. He graduated from the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania) with an A.B. degree in 1761. While his 11 siblings worked for the British, Tench built a business. Citing Tench's fine communication skills, the Continental Congress recruited him to make peace with the Six Nations. Following his return from this mission, he enlisted in the Maryland Militia. His good service was rewarded with a promotion to General George Washington’s Army where he was soon promoted to Washington's aide-de-camp. During the Battle of Monmouth in 1778, Tench again distinguished himself as one of a handful on Washington's staff fluent in French. Tench continued to serve faithfully for three more years. Then, Tench's moment of triumph came when Washington chose him to carry the surrender papers from Yorktown to Philadelphia.
Split family loyalties
Tench's transformation into a Patriot didn't occur overnight. Tench became the first in his family to join the Patriot’s cause. Most of the Tilghman family served the King: Tench's father James was the Attorney General of Pennsylvania, his brothers Richard and Philemon served in the military. Tench's brother William Tilghman desired to study law in England creating a professional conflict for Tench.
Tench's letter to his brother William denying his request for a passage to England, June 12, 1781:
I am placed in as delicate a situation as it is possible for a man to be. I am, from my station, a master of the most valuable secrets of the Cabinet, and the master of the field and it might give cause of umbrage and suspicion at the this critical moment to interest myself in procuring the passage of a brother to England.
Tories burn Tench’s business
At the start of the Revolution, Tench ran a saddle-making business which began to decline when the Non-Importation Resolution made it impossible to import British goods. Tench supported the resolution, which resulted in Tories burning down his business.
Service during the Revolution
Tilghman was Washington's trusted confidant throughout the war. From his appointment on August 8, 1776, as Washington's aide-de-camp, it did not take Tench long to impress Washington. He stayed by Washington during the disastrous Battle of Harlem Heights on September 16, 1776, escaping with him on the last boat from Manhattan Island. As the war was ending, Washington sent Tilghman a worried letter about King George III’s actions.
Washington's letter to Tench on January 7, 1783, from Newburgh, New York:
The obstinacy of the King and his unwillingness to acknowledge the independency of this country, I have ever considered as the greatest obstacles in the way of a peace.
Tench Tilghman’s Yorktown Journal October 17, 1781 at the Siege of Yorktown:
In the morning Lord Cornwallis put out a letter requesting 24 hours must be granted to the commissioners to settle terms of capitulation of the posts of York and Gloster. The General answered that only two hours would be allowed for him to send out his terms. He accordingly sent them out generally as follows, that the Garrisons should be prisoners of war, the German and British soldiers to be sent to England and Germany. The General answered on the 18th that the terms of sending the troops to England and Germany were inadmissible. Lord Cornwallis closed with all the terms except the same honors granted at Charlestown.
Carried surrender papers
The Siege of Yorktown in October 1781 marked the start of the Patriot’s victory and an honor for Tench who Washington picked to carry the surrender papers to Philadelphia. In a letter to Tilghman the following year, Washington’s humor and admiration is apparent.
Washington’s letter to Tench on July 9, 1782 from Newburgh, New York:
“Till your letter of the 28th arrived which is the first from you and the only direct account of you since we departed at Philadelphia, we have various conjectures about you. Some thought you were dead—others that you were married—and all that you have forgot us. Your letter is not a more evident contradiction of the first and last of these suppositions than it is a tacit conformation of the second and as more can wish you greater success in the prosecution of the plan you are upon than I do...you have no friend who wishes more to see you than I do.”
Later life and death
10,000 American soldiers died from disease rather than battle. Tench was among those who contracted disease during the war. His early death at 42 years of age was tragic because he had little time to love a woman as a family man and did not live to see democracy in action. Congress rewarded Tench’s merits and Washington recalled him fondly.
George Washington’s letters to brother Richard Tilghman on May 10:
As there were few man for whom I had a warmer friendship or greater regard for your brother Colonel Tilghman—when living; so, with much truth I can assure you that there are whose death I could have more sincerely regretted—And I pray you and his numerous friends to permit me to mingle my sorrows with theirs on this unexpected and melancholy occasion. June 5, 1786 ...none could have felt his death with more regard than I did, because no one entertained a higher opinion of his worth. Tench Tilghman is buried in the Oxford, Maryland cemetery.