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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.

Letter from Tench Tilghman to George Washington, circa 1776-1781

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.

Early life[]

Tench 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 St. Michaels River, in Talbot County, Maryland, a few miles from the town of Easton.[1] Tench’s great grandfather was Richard Tilghman, a British Navy surgeon who was born in Kent County, England. In 1661, 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.[2] Richard’s son (and Tench's grandfather), James Tilghman, was a distinguished gentleman lawyer and important Marylander in his time. Tench's father James was the Attorney General of Pennsylvania. Tench graduated from the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania) with an A.B. degree in 1761. One of his first jobs was using his communication skills to negotiate with the Six Nations on behalf of the British and their American colonists.[3]

Revolutionary service[]

At the start of the Revolution, Tench ran a saddle-making business, which suffered when the Non-Importation Resolution made it impossible to import British goods.[4] Because Tench supported the resolution, Tories burnt down his shop.[5]

Tench enlisted in the Maryland Militia, but was soon assigned to the Continental Army. On August 8, 1776, Tilghman received a commission as Washington's aide-de-camp. He served General George Washington as confidential secretary for an additional three years.[6] During the Battle of Monmouth in 1778, Tench distinguished himself as one of a handful on Washington's staff fluent in French. Tench Tlighman's Patriot loyalties split his family. He became the first among his-eleven-siblings to join the Revolutionary cause.[7] 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, who refused him passage to England on June 12, 1781.[8]

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.[9]

The Siege of Yorktown in October 1781 culminated in a Patriot victory and an honor for Tench, whom Washington picked to carry the surrender papers to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia.[10][11][12][13] Poets Dr. Oliver Huchel and Howard Pyle each considered Tilghman a hero for that ride.[14][15] 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.[16]

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 more can wish you greater success in the prosecution of the plan you are upon than I have no friend who wishes more to see you than I do.”[17]

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.[18]

Later life and death[]

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, the veteran had restarted his business after the war, shipping wheat, tobacco and other American products to Spain, in exchange for which Riera [head a Spanish company] shipped wine and manufactured products to Baltimore.[19]

Tilghman was an original member of the Maryland Society of the Cincinnati.

Tench Tilghman died in 1786 [in] his 42nd year.[20] Washington's regard for Tilghman can be inferred from their joint portrait with Lafayette, by Charles Willson Peale[21] After Tilghman's death, Washington twice wrote to his brother Richard Tilghman:

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.[22]

...none could have felt his death with more regard than I did, because no one entertained a higher opinion of his worth.[23]

Posthumous honors[]

Tench 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 tallest monument in the cemetery.[24][25][26][27][28] The Maryland State archives has a painting of Tench Tilghman and two swords which he once owned and which his descendant Mrs. Judith Goldsborough Oates donated to the State of Maryland on December 26, 1997.[29] Baltimore City also named an elementary/middle school and a recreation center for the patriot,[30][31] who is also the namesake of a Daughters of the American Revolution chapter in Bethesda, Maryland.[32]


  1. Talbot County Free Library. "Tench Tilghman." Talbot County Free Library. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2012. <>.
  3. About Famous People, Tench Tilghman by John T. Marck.--check if this book really exists
  4. About Famous People, Tench Tilghman by John T. Marck
  6. Col. Tench Tilghman - Delmarva Heritage Series
  7. Samuel Alexander Harrison, Memoir of Lieutenant Colonel Tench Tilghman: Secretary and Aide to Washington. Albany, NY 1876
  9. Samuel Alexander Harrison, Memoir of Lieutenant Colonel Tench Tilghman: Secretary and Aide to Washington. Albany, NY 1876
  10. O’Dea, Merle, “Growing Pains: Tench Tilghman vs. Paul Revere,” April 18, 1941, The Easton Star-Democrat.
  11. Wroten, William H., “Colonel Tench Tilghman,” February 28, 1962, Salisbury Times.
  12. “A Talbot Man More Deserving of Fame than Paul Revere,” July 7, 1928. The Star Democrat.
  16. The Yorktown Journal of Tench Tilghman, 1781. Entry for October 17, 1781 At the Library of Congress
  17. Shreve, L.G, Tench Tilghman: The Life and Times of Washington’s Aide-de-Camp. Centreville, Maryland: Tidewater Publishers, 1982. citing Washington’s letter to Tench on July 9, 1782 from Newburgh, New York
  18. Shreve, L.G, Tench Tilghman: The Life and Times of Washington’s Aide-de-Camp. Centreville, Maryland: Tidewater Publishers, 1982 citing Washington's letter to Tench on January 7, 1783, from Newburgh, New York:
  21. Painting of Tilghman
  22. Shreve, L.G, Tench Tilghman: The Life and Times of Washington’s Aide-de-Camp. Centreville, Maryland: Tidewater Publishers, 1982. citing letter dated May 10th, 1786.
  23. Shreve, L.G, Tench Tilghman: The Life and Times of Washington’s Aide-de-Camp. Centreville, Maryland: Tidewater Publishers, 1982. citing Letter dated June 5, 1786 i

External links[]

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