Born in Guilford, Vermont, Tyler attended the Boston Latin School and then Harvard, where he earned a reputation as a quick-witted joker. He was also considered rather profligate, spending half his inheritance while in college. After graduation, he joined the Continental Army, where he served under John Hancock. In late 1778, he returned to Harvard to study law, and was admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1780. He opened a practice in Braintree, Massachusetts, eight miles outside of Boston, and lodged with Mary and Richard Cranch. Mary was Abigail Adams's sister, and Tyler soon met the younger Abigail ("Nabby") Adams, for whom he began to nurse a deep affection. In a letter to her husband, Abigail Adams Sr. noted that despite having "a sprightly fancy, a warm imagination and an agreeable person," he was nonetheless "rather negligent in pursueing (sic) his business ... and dissipated two or 3 more years of his Life and too much of his fortune to reflect upon with pleasure; all of which he now laments but cannot recall." The relationship was broken off and Tyler fell into a depression.
After a brief stint in suppressing the 1787 Shays's Rebellion, Tyler moved to Boston and eventually wed Mary Palmer in 1794, with whom he had eleven children. In 1801, he was appointed to the Supreme Court of Vermont as an assistant judge, and was later elected chief justice. In 1812 he ran unsuccessfully for the US Senate, losing due to a recent shift from being a Federalist to a Republican at a time when Vermont was controlled by the Federalists. He died in Vermont, of facial cancer that he had suffered from for ten years.
The main theater at the University of Vermont is named after him.
Lauter, Paul, Ed. The Heath Anthology of American Literature.  Vol. 1. 4th ed. Houghton Mifflin Co.: Boston, 2002.