Brig. General Francis T. Nicholls (CSA), Governor, Chief Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court

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Francis Redding Tillou Nicholls

Birthplace: Donaldsonville, LA, USA
Death: Died in Thibodaux, LA, USA
Cause of death: Heart Failure
Place of Burial: Thibodaux, Louisiana, USA
Immediate Family:

Son of Thomas Clark Nicholls, USA and Louisa Hannah Nicholls
Husband of Caroline Zilpha Nicholls
Father of Francis Welman Nicholls; Caroline Winder Nicholls; Louisa Josephine Nicholls; Harriet Guion Nicholls; Virginia McDaniel Nicholls and 2 others
Brother of Captain Lawrence D. Nicholls (CSA); Robert W Nicholls; Edward F Nicholls; Thomas C Nicholls and Josephine Williamina Pugh

Occupation: 26th and 30th Governor of Louisiana, Lawyer and Confederate General, Chief Justice and Associated Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court
Managed by: Joel Scott Cognevich
Last Updated:

About Brig. General Francis T. Nicholls (CSA), Governor, Chief Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court

A conservative Democrat who looked at the antebellum period as a golden age in Louisiana, Francis R. T. Nicholls embodied the "Bourbon" or planter approach to less government-low taxes, few official services and little involvement by blacks in the political processes.

Nicholls became Governor as part of the national compromise of 1877. In return for Louisiana's presidential electoral votes, Rutherford B. Hayes recognized Nicholls' victory over Stephen B. Packard.

Nicholls still had to determine which of the rival legislatures would act as the official institution. Nicholls convinced some Republicans to join his Democratic faction to give it the necessary quorum.

His first administration battled three corrupt men with great power: State Treasurer, Edward Burke; Samuel James, operator of the convict lease system, and Lieutenant Governor Louis Wiltz, a defender of the Louisiana Lottery.

Wiltz presided over the Constitutional Convention of 1879 which reapportioned the legislature, moved the capital back to Baton Rouge, lowered taxes and cut a year from Nicholls' term.

Nicholls fought the corrupt Louisiana Lottery throughout his second term. He lost the battle when the state Supreme Court revoked his dissolution of the lottery. Nicholls won the war, however, when the Federal government outlawed the use of mails to sell lottery tickets.

Nicholls later became a Supreme Court Justice himself, serving until his retirement in 1911.

He died in Thibodaux in 1912.

Francis Redding Tillou Nicholls (August 20, 1834 – January 4, 1912) was an American attorney, politician, judge, and a brigadier general in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War. He served two terms as the 28th Governor of Louisiana, first from 1876 to 1880 and then from 1888 to 1892.

Nicholls and such fellow Democrats as Richard Coke of neighboring Texas and Wade Hampton of South Carolina were called "Redeemer" governors because their elections, coupled with the accession to the White House of moderate Republican President Rutherford B. Hayes, essentially ended the power of Radical Republicans during Reconstruction. As things developed, the "Redeemers" imposed a one-party system on the defeated South which lasted for nearly a century.

Early life and career

Nicholls was born in Donaldsonville, Louisiana, the seat of Ascension Parish, the seventh son of Thomas Clark Nicholls (himself a seventh son) and Louisa Hannah (Drake) Nicholls, a sister of the poet Joseph Rodman Drake and sister-in-law of Francis Redding Tillou. His paternal grandfather was Cornish American Edward Church Nicholls. He attended Jefferson Academy in New Orleans and graduated in 1855 from the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. Initially assigned as a second lieutenant in the United States Army, he served in the third war against the Seminoles in Florida, but resigned his commission after a year and returned home.

He then attended the University of Louisiana (subsequently Tulane University) in New Orleans. He practiced law in Napoleonville, the seat of Assumption Parish, until the start of the Civil War.

Two weeks after the surrender of Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, Nicholls wed the former Caroline Zilpha Guion, the daughter of George Seth Guion and the former Caroline Lucretia Winder. The couple had one son, Francis Welman Nicholls (born 1863), and six daughters, Caroline (born 1865), Louisa (born 1868), Harriet (born 1870), Virginia (born 1873), Margaret (born 1875), and Elizabeth (born 1877).

Civil War

Nicholls joined the Confederate Army in 1861 and participated in the First Battle of Bull Run and in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign in Virginia, where he lost his left arm. On October 14, 1862, Nicholls was promoted from lieutenant colonel to the rank of brigadier general and given command of a brigade of Louisiana infantry. During the Battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia, in May 1863, a shell ripped off Nicholls' left foot.

Disabled and unfit for further field command, he was transferred to the Trans-Mississippi Department to direct the Volunteer and Conscript Bureau until the end of the war.


After the war, Nicholls returned to his law practice. In 1876, he ran for governor against the Republican Stephen B. Packard. The outcome was disputed, and both men claimed victory. Nicholls garnered a majority of 8,000 votes, but the Republican-controlled State Returning Board cited irregularities and declared Packard the winner. As part of the Compromise of 1877 to resolve the disputed presidential election of 1876, President Hayes recognized the Democrat Nicholls as the winner.

During his first term, he battled political corruption, which was epitomized by Samuel James, the operator of the convict lease system, state Treasurer Edward A. Burke, and Lieutenant Governor Louis A. Wiltz, who supported the corrupt Louisiana Lottery.

Nicholls chaired the Louisiana Constitutional Convention of 1879, and returned the state Capitol from New Orleans to Baton Rouge. He also accepted an appointment from President Grover Cleveland to the Board of Visitors for the U.S. Military Academy.

After his tenure as governor closed, Nicholls became Chief Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court in 1892, a post which he held until 1911. He also grew sugar cane and other crops on his Ridgefield Plantation near Thibodaux, the seat of Lafourche Parish. He died at Ridgefield. Francis and Caroline Nicholls, Thomas Clark Nicholls, and other family members are interred in St. Johns's Episcopal Cemetery in Thibodaux.

Nicholls State University is named for Francis Nicholls.


From 1913 to about 1950, there was a vocational school at 3649 Laurel Street in New Orleans named for Nicholls. It opened as the Francis T. Nicholls Industrial School for Girls, and offered secondary vocational training, concentrating on apparel manufacturing. The school was later renamed Nicholls Vocational School for Girls, and even later Nicholls Evening Vocational School.

In 1940, a new public high school, Francis T. Nicholls High School, was opened at 3820 St. Claude Avenue in New Orleans. In the late 1960s the high school was renamed for former slave and abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass.

There is a "Governor Nicholls Street" in New Orleans. Where it meets the Mississippi River near the downriver end of the French Quarter, there is a Governor Nicholls Street Wharf. Atop the wharf shed there, the United States Coast Guard built a manned control tower with a red and green traffic signal to control vessel traffic rounding Algiers Point. When speaking to the controller via marine VHF radio, mariners address him or her familiarly as "Governor Nick."

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Brig. General Francis T. Nicholls (CSA), Governor, Chief Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court's Timeline

August 20, 1834
Donaldsonville, LA, USA
Age 28
Age 30
Age 33
Age 35
Age 38
March 20, 1875
Age 40
Age 42
January 4, 1912
Age 77
Thibodaux, LA, USA