“The Elevation of The Governors House at Newbern, North Carolina,” ca. 1767, by John Hawks
There was a measure appropriating £5,000 proclamation money which was to be used to construct the Governor’s new home. In January of 1767, John Hawks, who had originally come over to North Carolina from England with Governor Tryon, was appointed to design and oversee the construction of “a Convenient Dwelling House” for North Carolina’s governors (Nelson, 1990, p.55). Almost immediately, Hawks left for Philadelphia to shop for supplies, even before Tryon had received approval of the project from London. Once adequately supplied, construction began in August 1767. But by December, money was exhausted and Tryon had to ask the Assembly for £10,000 to complete the project, which they approved without opposition (Nelson, 1990). The extra amount was to be derived from a tax of two pence a gallon on all imported wine, rum and distilled liquors, obtained from any place except Great Britain and from a poll tax of eight pence proclamation money for the next two years (Robinson, 1963). Needless to say, this imposed a real burden on the already tax-laden citizens and especially angered those in the Piedmont and Western parts of North Carolina, as most would never see the structure for which they paid the high tax to help build. A Mecklenburg County resident said it best when he said that “not one in twenty of the four most populous counties will ever see this famous house when built” (Powell, 1989, 148).
The governor and his family moved into the still un-finished palace during the early summer of 1770. The Governor wrote to the King hoping that the crown would pay for the palace furnishings (Powell, 1981). The King denied the request saying that “yet the King does not think fit to comply with their desire in this respect as it could not be done without establishing a Precedent, that would probably be the foundation for applications of the like nature from every other Colony” (Powell, 1981, p.316). Tryon was then forced to provide for the furnishings himself.
Governor Tryon thanked the Assembly and people in December 1770, “for their Gift of this very Elegant and Noble Structure…, a Palace that is a public Ornament and Credit to the Colony, as well as an Honour to British America” (Nelson, 1990, p.56). The Palace became a showplace for travelers and was referred to by the Governor as “this much-admired structure” (Dill, 1955, p.118). Many world travelers also sang the praises of the new governor’s palace. Francisco de Miranda, the South American patriot wrote that the Palace was a building “which really merits the attention of the wise traveler” (Dill, 1955, p.118).
The physical make-up of the palace was 198 feet wide and was made of red brick with marble trimmings. It faced the town of New Bern and had its back with formal gardens overlooking the Trent River. The inside of the house had wide staircases with the rooms grouped around them. One of the rooms was the council chamber, which is the room where the governor’s council, the upper house of the legislature would meet. The rooms had hand-carved woodworking and elaborate doors, and many had white marble decorations. The entrance hall was spacious enough for four statues. The second floor had seven bedrooms with dressing rooms for the governor’s wife and daughter. Other rooms included servants’ quarters and a library. The basement housed the plumbing and drainage systems that used eight tons of lead ("The cost of Tryon Palace - North Carolina Digital History", 2009)