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The Religious Affiliation of
Thomas Nelson Jr.
a Signer of the American Declaration of Independence


Thomas Nelson Jr. is regarded as one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America. He was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. He was a delegate from Virginia.

Thomas Nelson Jr. was an Episcopalian.

From: B. J. Lossing, Signers of the Declaration of Independence, George F. Cooledge & Brother: New York (1848) [reprinted in Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, WallBuilder Press: Aledo, Texas (1995)], pages 188-193:

Thomas Nelson was born at Yorktown, in Virginia, on the twenty-sixth of December, 1738. His father, William Nelson was a native of England, and emigrated to America about the beginning of the last century. By prudence and industry he accumulated a large fortune, and held rank among the first families of Virginia.

Thomas was the oldest son of his parents, and his father, in conformity to the fashion of the times among the opulent of that province, sent him to England at the age of fourteen to be educated. He was placed in a distinguished private school not far from London, and after comlpeting a preparatory course of studies there, he went to Cambridge and was entered a member of Trinity College. He there enjoyed the private instructions of the celebrated Dr. Proteus, afterward the Bishop of London [in the Church of England, part of the Anglican Communion]. He remained there, a close and diligent student until 1761, when he returned to America...

In the spring of 1777, Mr. Nelson was seized with an alarming illnes, which confined its attack chiefly to his head, and nearly deprived him, for a time, of his powers of memory. His friends urged him to withdraw from Congress for the purpose of recruiting his health, but he was loath to deset his post. He was, however, compelled to leave Philadelphia, and he returned to Virginia to recruit, with the hope and expectation of speedily resuming his seat in Congress. But his convalescence was slow, and when the convention met, he resigned his seat and returned to private life.

Within a month after the battle of Yorktown, Governor Nelson, finding his health declining, resigned his office and retired to private life. It was at this period, while endeavoring to recruit his health by quiet and repose, that he was charged with mal-practice, while governor, as alluded to in a preceding note. A full investigation took place, and the legislature, as before mentioned, legalized his acts, and they also acquitted him of allthe charges preferred. He never again appeared in public life, but spent the reaminder of his days alternately at his mansion in Yorktown, and his estate at Offly. His health gradually declined until 1789, when, on the fourth day of January, his useful life closed. He was in his fifty-third year of his age.

From: Robert G. Ferris (editor), Signers of the Declaration: Historic Places Commemorating the Signing of the Declaration of Independence, published by the United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service: Washington, D.C. (revised edition 1975), page 110-112:
Thomas Nelson, Jr., a rich planter-merchant who at one time owned more than 400 slaves, was one of the most active of the Virginia patriots. Mainly because of health problems, however, his career in Congress was brief and undistinguished., though he made great financial sacrifices during the war and won fame as a militia commander and State politician.

The eldest of five sons, Nelson was born at Yorktown, Va., in 1738. At the age of 14, he sailed to England to supplement his initial tutorial education. In 1761, after graduating from Hackney School and Cambridge University, he returned to Virginia to help his father manage his plantation and mercantile business. The next year, young Nelson married; he and his wife were to have 11 children.

In 1764 Nelson became a justice of the peace for York County and entered the House of Burgesses. He served in the house until May 1774, when Royal Governor Lord Dunmore, provoked at its protests over the Boston Port Act, dissolved it. hat year and the next, Nelson attended three of the Virginia provincial assemblies, where he worked closely with Patrick Henry. The last assembly elected Nelson tot he Continental Congress, at which time he resigned his colonelcy in the Virginia militia.

In Congress, Nelson was outspoken in his desire to sever the bonds with England. He journeyed to Virginia, in the spring of 1776. At a convention held in Williamsburg in May, he introduced and won approval for a resolution recommending national independence, drafted by Edmund Pendleton. Nelson carried it to Philadelphia and presented it to Richard Henry Lee, who redrafted and condensed it into his June 7 resolution. NOt long afterward, Nelson's health began to decline. Subsequently, he divided his time between Philadelphia and Virginia, and in the spring of 1777 resigned from Congress.

Back in Virginia, Nelson was awarded the rank of brigadier general in the militia and was elected to the lower house of the legislature. In the spring of 1778 Congress appealed to men of means in the Colonies to form troops of light cavalry. Nelson, partially at his own expense, outfitted, and trained such a unit. In July he marched it northward to Philadelphia. The next month, Congress decided it was not needed and it returned home.

Nelson served in Congress again for a short time in 1779, but poor health forced him to retire once more. Nevertheless, the next year he obtained munitions and supplies for the militia, commanded troops, attended the legislature, and raised money to help subsidize the war. He was particularly effective in soliciting funds from wealthy plantation owners, to whom he pledged to repay the loans personally if the State should fail to do so.

When the British invaded Virginia in 1780-81, civilian control seriously hampered Nelson's effectiveness as a militia commander. Consequently, in the latter year the legislature elected him as Governor and granted him powers approaching those of a military dictator. Although still bothered by bad health, he kept the government intact and strengthened defenses. In September-October 1781, while taking part in the Yorktown siege, according to family tradition he ordered troops to shell his own mansion where he learned it was a British headquarters. Soon after the victory at Yorktown, overwhelmed by the burdens of office and still in poor physical condition, he resigned the governorship.

That same year, Nelson partially retired to Offley Hoo, a modest estate in Hanover County that his father had willed to him on his death in 1772. In financial distress from his wartime sacrifices, the younger Nelson lacked money to renovate his Yorktown home, where he had lived since 1767. Except for occasional tours in the legislature and visits to Yorktown, he devoted the rest of his life to his business affairs. He died at Offley Hoo in 1789 at the age of 50. His grave is at Yorktown in the yard of Grace Episcopal Church.

From: "Grace Church Cemetery, Yorktown, VA: Grace Episcopal Church" webpage, 14 January 2005, on "Carol's House" website (http://www.carolshouse.com/cemeteryrecords/grace/; viewed 23 November 2005):
Grace Episcopal Church
A walk through the churchyard surrounding Grace Episcopal is a walk through time. Resting in the shadow of the historic marl wall are men who shaped the future of our colony, commonwealth and country. Gov. Thomas Nelson, Signer of the Declaration of Independence, lies at the foot of his father, who also lies at the foot of his father. The generational walk through time continues as one approaches next the Nicolas Martiau family group. Martiau was granted the original patent for the land that became Yorktown. He is also the earliest American ancestor of both President George Washington and Gov. Thomas Nelson. If one reverently listens, while treading these ancient grounds, it is possible to hear the ages whisper. "It is the duty of each generation to preserve the past for the future we don't yet know." May our generation honor that pledge as have those that came before.

[The graves marker for Thomas Nelson Jr.:]

Gen. Thomas Nelson Jr.
Patriot - Soldier - Christian - Gentleman
Born December 16, 1738
Died January 2, 1789
Mover of the Resolution of May 15 1776
in the Virginia Convention


Instructing her Delegates in Congress
To Move that body to Declare the Colonies
Free and Independent States.
Signer of Declaration of Independence
War Governor of Virginia
Commander of Virginia Forces
He Gave All For Liberty

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Portrait: from Robert G. Ferris (editor), Signers of the Declaration: Historic Places Commemorating the Signing of the Declaration of Independence, published by the United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service: Washington, D.C. (revised edition 1975).

Webpage created 13 November 2005. Last modified 23 November 2005.

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