Tench Tilghman, Revolutionary War officer
|Born||December 25, 1744|
|Died||April 18, 1786 (aged 41)|
|Unit||aide de camp|
|Battles/wars||American Revolutionary War|
|Relations||Anna Maria Tilghman (wife)
Anna Margaretta (Daughter, b. 1784)Elizabeth Tench (Daughter, b. 1786)
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. He paid a high price, facing tragedies including a split with Loyalist members of his family, and illness and an early death from disease contracted during the American Revolutionary War.
Tilghman was born on December 25, 1744, at "Fausley", a plantation owned by his father, James Tilghman, located on Fausley Creek, a branch of the Miles River, in Talbot County, Maryland, a few miles from the town of Easton. Tench's great-grandfather was Richard Tilghman, a British Navy surgeon who was born in Kent, England. In 1661, he moved his family to Talbot County, Maryland, settling in an area along the Tred Avon 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 (and Tench's grandfather), James Tilghman, was a distinguished gentleman lawyer and important Marylander in his time. Tench Tilghman's father James was the Attorney General of Pennsylvania.
Tilghman graduated from the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania) with an A.B. degree in 1761. One of his first jobs was to negotiate with the Six Nations on behalf of the British and their American colonists.
At the start of the Revolution, Tilghman ran a saddle-making business, which suffered when the Non-Importation Resolution made it impossible to import British goods. Because Tench supported the resolution, Tories burnt down his shop.
Tilghman enlisted in the Maryland Militia, but was soon assigned to the Continental Army. On August 8, 1776, he received a commission as Washington's aide-de-camp. He served Washington as confidential secretary for an additional three years. During the Battle of Monmouth in 1778 and afterwards, Tilghman distinguished himself as one of a handful on Washington's staff fluent in French, which enabled him to interpret written and verbal communications between Washington, Lafayette, Von Steuben, and commanders of the Continental Army's French allies.
Tilghman's Patriot loyalties split his family. He became the first among his eleven siblings to join the Revolutionary cause. Most of the Tilghman family served the King, as did many other rich families at that time. His brothers Richard and Philemon served in the British military. Another brother, William Tilghman, wanted to follow in their father's path and study law in England, which created a professional conflict for Tench Tilghman, who refused him passage to England on 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 this critical moment to interest myself in procuring the passage of a brother to England.
The Siege of Yorktown in October 1781 culminated in a Patriot victory and an honor for Tilghman, whom Washington picked to carry the surrender papers to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. Poets Dr. Oliver Huchel and Howard Pyle each considered Tilghman a hero for that ride. Tilghman's own journal entry was terse:
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.
In a letter to Tilghman the following year, Washington's humor and admiration is apparent:
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 none 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.
As the war formally ended with peace negotiations, Washington discussed the surrender of King George III with his trusted aide:
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.
The National Park Service writes that Tilghman was even sick during his ride from Yorktown to Philadelphia "with chills and fever" and that he left the army in 1783 with failing health. Nonetheless, he restarted his business after the war, shipping wheat, tobacco, and other American products to Spain, in exchange for which Valentin Riera [head of a Spanish company] shipped wine and manufactured products to Baltimore.
On June 9, 1783, in St. Michael's Parish, Tilghman married Anna Maria Tilghman, his first cousin and daughter of Matthew Tilghman. Together they had two children Anna Margaretta, born May 24, 1784 and Elizabeth Tench, born October 11, 1786.
Washington's regard for Tilghman can be inferred from their joint portrait with Lafayette, by Charles Wilson Peale After Tilghman's death, Washington wrote to his brother Thomas Ringgold Tilghman and to his father James Tilghman:
As there were few men for whom I had a warmer friendship, or greater regard than for your Brother--Colonel Tilghman--when living; so, with much truth I can assure you, that, there are none whose death I could more sincerely have regretted. and I pray you, & his numerous friends to permit me to mingle my sorrows with theirs on this unexpected & melancholy occasion.
Of all the numerous acquaintances of your lately deceased son, & amidst all the sorrowings that are mingled on that melancholy occasion, I may venture to assert that (excepting those of his nearest relatives) none could have felt his death with more regret than I did--No one entertained a higher opinion of his worth, or had imbibed sentiments of greater friendship for him than I had done.
Tilghman is buried in a historic cemetery in Oxford, Maryland. The horizontal lid on his grave vault references his achievements under Washington.
A plaque on the stone lid notes that his remains were reinterred from Baltimore on November 30, 1971.
Adjacent to his grave, the Tench Tilghman Monument is a spire, approximately 10 feet tall.
The Maryland State archives has a painting of Tilghman and two swords which he once owned, which his descendant Mrs. Judith Goldsborough Oates donated to the State of Maryland on December 26, 1997.