Thomas Nelson, Jr. (1738 - 1789) MP

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Gen. Thomas Nelson, Jr., signer of the "Declaration of Independence"'s Geni Profile

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Birthplace: Yorktown, York, Virginia
Death: Died in Mt. Airy, Hanover, Virginia, United States
Occupation: Merchant-Planter; Major General; Gov. of Virginia
Managed by: Erica Isabel Howton, (c)
Last Updated:

About Thomas Nelson, Jr.

Thomas Nelson, Jr. (December 26 , 1738–January 4 , 1789 ), was an American planter, soldier, and statesman from Yorktown, Virginia. He represented Virginia in the Continental Congress and was its Governor in 1781. He is regarded as one of the U.S. Founding Fathers since he signed the Declaration of Independence as a member of the Virginia delegation.

Thomas Nelson was born at Yorktown Virginia on 28 December 1738 and died on 4 January 1789 at his son's home in Hanover County, Virginia. He is buried in the old churchyard (Grace Church) of Yorktown.

Parents: son of William Nelson (1711 - 1772) [President of the Council and acting Governor of Virginia], of Yorktown, Virginia and Elizabeth Burwell (1718 - ____)


  1. 1762, Lucy Grymes (1743 - 1830) dau. of Philip Grymes, Esquire, of Brandon, Virginia, and Mary Grimes, and had issue, 11 children. (13 children?)

Children include:

  1. Thomas Nelson (1764 - 1804)
  2. Francis Nelson (1767 - 1833)
  3. Hugh Nelson (1768-1836)
  4. Elizabeth Nelson Page (1770 - 1853)
  5. Mary Nelson Carter (1774 - 1803)
  6. Robert Nelson (1778 - 1818)
  7. Susannah Nelson Page (1780 - 1819)


  • A merchant.
  • On H.M. Council of Virginia, 1764; and one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.
  • Although an ardent Revolutionist, keenly opposed the Virginia Act of sequestration of British property, 1777, being said to have declared that he 'would pay his debts like an honest man.' Commander-in-Chief in the Virginia Commonwealth, and marched to Philadelphia, 1778.
  • On account of illness retired to Virginia, to serve as financier, Governor, and Commander of the Militia.
  • Elected Governor, 1781.
  • Joined Washington as Major-General of the Virginia forces in the siege of Yorktown, 1781, but resigned through ill-health.
  • Financially ruined, he moved to a small estate (Offley, Hanover County), where he stayed for the remainder of his life.

sacrificed his business ...

In 1774, after hearing about the Boston Tea Party, he performed an act against the British Tea Tax by boarding a merchant ship, Virginia, which was anchored near his home, and dumped several chests of tea into the York River. In an age when destroying another person's property was a serious crime, this was a very risky act, yet he was not punished for doing this.

sacrificed his health ...

He served as a delegate to the Continental Congress from 1775 to 1777, and again in 1779. He was one of the first congressmen to favor independence, and urged his fellow delegates to support the cause of independence. The following spring, in May 1777, he suffered the first of many strokes. Returning home, he seemed to recover, but would have additional strokes as well as periodic bouts of asthma. Despite these health problems, he kept active in politics, and in 1781, he was elected as Virginia's Governor, succeeding Thomas Jefferson. In addition, he commanded the Virginia Militia with the rank of General.

sacrificed his home ...

In the fall of 1781, General Nelson led 3,000 Virginia Militiamen as part of George Washington's Army besieging Yorktown. When the British took refuge in his home, American artillerymen refused to fire on the house, in respect to General Nelson. Nelson then aimed and fired a cannon at his own home, and ordered the men to fire at his house, destroying it. The British surrendered at Yorktown on October 19, 1781, marking the end of the major fighting in the American Revolution.

this was a man

This tribute was happily and affectionately paid to his memory by Colonel Innes:

"The illustrious General Thomas Nelson is no more!

He paid the last great debt to nature, on Sunday, the fourth of the present month, at his estate in Hanover. He who undertakes barely to recite the exalted virtues which adorned the life of this great and good man, will unavoidably pronounce a panegyric on human nature. As a man, a citizen, a legislator, and a patriot, he exhibited a conduct untarnished and undebased by sordid or selfish interest, and strongly marked with the genuine characteristics of true religion, sound benevolence, and liberal policy.

Entertaining the most ardent love for civil and religious liberty, he was among the first of that glorious band of patriots whose exertions dashed and defeated the machinations of British tyranny, and gave United America freedom and independent empire. At a most important crisis, during the late struggle for American liberty, when this state appeared to be designated as the theatre of action for the contending armies, he was selected by the unanimous suffrage of the legislature to command the virtuous yeomanry of his country; in this honourable employment he remained until the end of the war; as a soldier, he was indefatigably active and coolly intrepid; resolute and undejected in misfortunes, he towered above distress, and struggled with the manifold difficulties to which his situation exposed him, with constancy and courage.

In the memorable year 1781, when the whole force of the southern British army was directed to the immediate subjugation of this state, he was called to the helm of government; this was a juncture which indeed 'tried men's souls.' He did not avail himself of this opportunity to retire in the rear of danger; but on the contrary, took the field at the head of his countrymen; and at the hazard of his life, his fame, and individual fortune, by his decision and magnanimity, he saved not only his country, but all America, from disgrace, if not from total ruin.

Of this truly patriotic and heroic conduct, the renowned commander in chief, with all the gallant officers of the combined armies employed at the siege of York, will bear ample testimony; this part of his conduct even contemporary jealousy, envy, and malignity were forced to approve, and this, more impartial posterity, if it can believe, will almost adore. If, after contemplating the splendid and heroic parts of his character, we shall inquire for the milder virtues of humanity, and seek for the man, we shall find the refined, beneficent, and social qualities of private life, through all its forms and combinations, so happily modified and united in him, that in the words of the darling poet of nature, it may be said:

"His life was gentle: and the elements so mixed in him, that nature might stand up And say to all the world--this was a man."



  • Rev. Charles A. Goodrich Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence. New York: William Reed & Co., 1856. Pages 410-415.
  • A Guide to the Executive Papers of Governor Thomas Nelson, Jr., 1781 June 12-November 22 at The Library of Virginia
  • Peile, I. 266; a Virginia Correspondent; Dict. of American Biography, . 424; M. V. Smith, Virginia, 1492-1892; A History of the Executives of the Colony and of the Commonwealth.)
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Gen. Thomas Nelson, Jr., signer of the "Declaration of Independence"'s Timeline

December 26, 1738
Yorktown, York, Virginia
July 29, 1762
Age 23
York, Virginia
August 9, 1763
Age 24
Yorktown, VA, USA
December 27, 1764
Age 26
Yorktown, VA
March 4, 1766
Age 27
Yorktown, VA, USA
June 25, 1767
Age 28
Yorktown, York, Virginia
September 30, 1768
Age 29
Yorktown, VA, USA
December 26, 1770
Age 32
December 19, 1774
Age 35
Yorktown, York County, Province of Virginia
January 2, 1777
Age 38