Gov. William Nelson

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Gov. William Nelson

Birthdate: (61)
Birthplace: Yorktown, York County, Virginia
Death: November 19, 1772 (57-65)
Yorktown, York, Virginia
Place of Burial: Grace Episcopal Churchyard Yorktown York County Virginia, USA Plot: E34 GPS (lat/lon): 37.23582, -76.50748
Immediate Family:

Son of Thomas "Scotch Tom" Nelson, Sr. and Margaret Nelson
Husband of Elizabeth Nelson and Elizabeth Nelson
Father of Rev. Samuel Nelson; William Nelson, Jr.; Amos Nelson; Mary Nelson; Abner Nelson and 11 others
Brother of Mary Berkeley and Thomas Nelson, I
Half brother of John Nelson and Sarah "Sally" Burwell

Occupation: Colonial Governor of Virginia (1770-1771)
Managed by: Stanley Welsh Duke, Jr.
Last Updated:

About Gov. William Nelson

William Nelson (1711 – November, 1772 ) was an American planter and colonial leader from Yorktown, Virginia. In the interim between the royal governors Norborne Berkeley and Lord Dunmore (John_Murray,_4th_Earl_of_Dunmore), he served as governor of colonial Virginia in 1770 and 1771.

In the early stages of the American Revolution he was an active supporter of the colonial cause, and his son Thomas Nelson, Jr. (Major General) went on to sign the Declaration of Independence.

William Nelson

He died the 19th of November Anno Domini 1772. Aged 61.

"Here lies the body of the Honourable William Nelson Esquire. Late Resident of His Majesty's Council in this Dominion in whom the Love of Man and the Love of God so restrained and enforced each other and so invicurated the mental power in general as not only to defend him from the vices and follies of his country but also to render it a matter of difficult decision in what part of laudable conduct most excelled whether in the tender and endearing accomplishments of domestic life. As a neighbor, a gentleman or a magistrate. Whether in the graces of hospitality or in the possession of piety, reader if you feel the spirit of that excellent ardour which aspires to the felicity of conscious virtue animated by those considerations and divine admonitions perform the task and expect the distinction of the righteous man.

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1742, 4 - Burgess from York Co. 1744-72 - Councilor Oct 15, 1770 - Aug '71 - acting Governor (as president) of the Colony President of the Colony

"William (1711-1772) married Elizabeth Burwell; he was President of the Privy Council and in 1770 became governor of Virginia. There are five children of record, among them: William, Jr. (from whom my gggrandmother Cindarilla Nelson is reported to be descended); and, Thomas (1738-1789) who married Lucy Grymes had eleven children and is apparently the signer described above." - Bill Leggett

Sources: 1.Title: Americans of Royal Descent Author: Charles H. /Browning/ Publication: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1911 Note: 7th Edition, reprinted 1986 in Baltimore Text: pp. 56, 132 2.Title: Colonial Virginia, Vol. II Author: Richard L. /Morton/ Publication: University of North Carolina Press, 1960 Note: "Westward Expansion and Prelude to Revolution, 1710-1763" contains the index Text: pp. 799, 869

Nelson, William (1711--Nov. 19, 1772), merchant, planter, councilor, was born in the region of Yorktown, a notable member of the first generation of the Nelson family who bore so vital a part in eighteenth-century Virginia. He was the son of Margaret Reade and Thomas Nelson, "Scotch Tom," as he was called, who emigrated to Virginia at the close of the seventeenth century from Penrith, on the English side of the Scotch border, where the Nelsons were numerous and were occupied in various trades and callings. Scotch Tom settled about 1700 at Yorktown, where he became a successful merchant and landholder. William was for many years the most prominent merchant in Virginia, and was also a very extensive land and slave owner. The earlier portion of his life seems to have been given to building up one of the greatest mercantile houses in the colonies, but when he once entered public life he held office until his death. In his marriage he allied himself to two of the most prominent families of the Virginia aristocracy, In 1738 he married Elizabeth, only daughter of Nathaniel Burwell, of Gloucester County, and Elizabeth Carter, second daughter of "King Carter" and his wife Judith Armstead. There were of this union six children who reached maturity, among them his eldest son Thomas Nelson (1738-1789), signer of the Declaration of Independence and Revolutionary governor of Virginia and Major General in the American Army. Thomas Nelson, was educated in England at Hackney School under Dr. Newcome, and on May 15, 1758 was admitted a pensioner, under Mr. (afterwards Bishop) Porteous to Christ's College, Cambridge, where he resided until Ladyday 1761. As early as 1738 William Nelson was made sheriff of York and represented that county in the House of Burgesses from 1742 to 1744. He became a member of the Virginia council in 1744 and retained membership until his death in 1772. He served as president of the council and hence was generally known as President Nelson. On the death of Governor Botetourt he was an officio acting governor from October 1770 to August 1771 when Lord Dunmore arrived. He was a visitor of William and Mary College. He was a member of the Committee of Correspondence of the Virginia Assembly, established in 1759, and took a lending part in opposing the taxation policy of England in the decades before the Revolution. In 1770 he declared that the colonists were learning to make many things for themselves and boasted that he wore a "good suit of cloth of my son's wool, manufactured as well as my shirts, in Albemarle, my shoes, hose, Buckles, Wigg & hat, etc., of our own country, and in these we improve every year in Quantity as well as Quality" (William and Mary College Quarterly, July 1808, p. 26). Interested in sports as well as politics, he was keenly concerned in the horse racing of his generation and is credited with having promoted distance racing at the earliest subscription meets. He was a zealous communicant of the Anglican church and staunchly sought to train his children in that faith and with something of austerity he censored their social habits. He patented lands widely scattered over Virginia. thus adding to the considerable patrimony inherited from his father. He cooperated in the forming of the Dismal Swamp Company of 1763 to take up and drain the vast domain of the Dismal Swamp. As a merchant in the thriving town of York, building on the trade inherited from his father, he became the leading merchant of that region and one of the best known in the colonies. For may years he served on the board of visitors of the College of William and Mary. On his death in 1772 Nelson was buried in the churchyard at Yorktown. In his will he left bequests for the relief of patients in the Public Hospital and to the poor of the parish of York-Hampton. [Nelson's letter book is preserved at the Episcopal Seminary in Alexandria, Va. Extracts from his letter book appear in the Wm. and Mary Coll. Quart., July 1868, an his will is reprinted in R. C. M. Page, Gencal. of the Page Family in Va., (2nd ed., 1893). See also: Wm. Meade, Old Churches, Ministers, and Families of Va. (1857), vol. I; and the Va. Mag. of Hist. and Biog., Apr. 1902, Apr. 1903, Apr. 1909, Apr. 1925 (reprint of will), Oct. 1927 (article by Fairfax Harrison), Jan. 1929.) M. H. W.

One of President Nelson's letter books is now in the library of the Episcopal Theological Seminary, Alexandria, Va., and extracts from it have been printed in the William and Mary Quarterly, VII, 25-30.

Following is a copy of the will of President Nelson recorded in York County: "In the name of God, Amen. I, William Nelson of the Town and County of York in the Colony of Virginia, Esquire, being at present indisposed, tho in my perfect senses, do make this my last Will and Testament. My precious and immortal soul, whenever it shall please God to call me hence, I most humbly resign into the hands of Almighty God, hoping through the merits and meditation of my blessed Saviour and Redeemer Jesus Christ, to receive a full pardon of my great and manifold sins, and to partake of the joyful resurrection at the last day--My Body I desire to be interred as my Executors shall think fit, in a decent but not pompous manner, and as to the worldly Estate with which it hath pleased God to bless me, so much above my desire, I dispose of the same (my just debts and funeral expenses being first paid) in the following manner. I give and bequeath unto my dear and well beloved wife, Elizabeth Nelson, the sum of five thousand pounds sterling to be paid her one year after my decease. I also give to my said well beloved wife, the sum of Two hundred and fifty pounds Sterling per annum during her natural life--the first payment to be made within one month after my decease. I also give to my said well beloved wife, her Watch, all her Jewels, Rings, Snuff Boxes, Clothes and other ornaments of which she may be possessed at the time of my death. I also give to my well beloved wife, during her natural life, my House wherin I now live, with the Lotts and Gardens thereto belonging, including the Store Garden, but not the Storehouses, also my Stable and the Lott wheron it stands, the use of all my household furniture, Plate, Coach, Chariot and Cart with all their Harness, my Town Horses and Town Cows, and the use of Ten House Servants, such as she shall Chuse: all these things I say I give her the use of during her natural life--I also give to my said well beloved wife all the Liquors and Provisions of every kind that shall be in the House at my death, and any Medeira Wine and Rum imported for the use of the family, which may be in my storehouses. I likewise give her all such Family goods and liquors as I may have wrote for. I also give to my said wife such new goods as she may chuse out of my store for herself and the use of my three younger children to the amount of One hundred and fifty pounds sterling, prime cost. I further give to my dear wife, during her natural life, the use and profits of my Plantations in Warwich and James City Counties, commonly called Cheesecake Plantation with the use of the Slaves and Stocks of every kind therto belonging, and after her decease, I give and devise the said Lands, Slaves and Stocks and every thing else belonging therto, to my son Hugh and his heirs forever. I also give to my said dear wife, during the term of her life, the use of my Plantations near Yorktown, called Pennys and Tarrpin Point, including my meadows with the Slaves, horses, Carts and Stocks of every kind therto belonging with liberty of cutting her firewood off the said lands and also a tract called Dowsings. It is my will, and I do accordingly direct that, of the annuity hereby given to my dear wife, one hundred pounds Sterling shall be paid yearly by my son Thomas out of the residue of my estate given to him, and seventy five pounds sterling shall be paid by each of my sons Hugh and Robert yearly out of the estates I shall give to them. It is my further will and desire that my dear wife shall be supplied out of any part of my estate, with such Beef, Pork, Wheat and Corn as she shall require annually. After the decease of my dear wife, I give to my son Hugh, his heirs and assigns forever the House I now live in, the lotts and gardens thereto belonging, together with the Store Garden, but not the Storehouses, also my Stable and the lott on which it stands, likewise all the furniture of my House, as it may remain at his mother's death, my Plate excepted. I do also give to my said son Hugh and his heirs forever my Mulatto woman named Aggy with all her Children and future increase. I give and devise to my sons Thomas and Hugh and their heirs forever, as tenants in common and not as joint tenants, my Store Houses in Yorktown and at the waterside, having already by deeds, given to my son Hugh, all my lands and Slaves in the Counties of Frederick and Fauquier, I only give him a legacy in money of Two Thousand Pounds Sterling. I give and devise to my son Robert and his heirs forever, all my lands in the county of Albemarle with the Slaves and Stocks of every kind therto belonging, which lands, Slaves and Stocks are now in the possession and occupation of my son Thomas Nelson, but as I shall, by this Will, give my said son Thomas, a much larger proportion of my estate, I do hereby order and direct that he shall give a Release to his brother Robert and his heirs forever of all that whole estate in the County of Albemarle upon which condition, he is to hold my lands and estate in the County of Hanover. I also give and bequeath to my said son Robert the sum of Two Thousand pounds sterling. I give and devise to my two sons, Nathaniel and William and their heirs forever, all my share and interest in The Dismal Swamp Scheme and if either of them should die before he comes of age, I give and devise the whole to the survivor and his heirs forever. I also give and bequeath to my said sons Nathaniel and William, to each of them, I say, the sum of five thousand pounds sterling. I desire that the Pecuniary Legacy given to my dear wife may be first paid, and that the other money Legacies to my children may be collected and paid according to their Seniority, and that the parts of my younger sons may be placed out at interest till they respectively come of age. After the death of my wife, I give to my son Thomas, my best Silver Cup and the rest of my Plate I desire may be divided--two thirds parts of which I give to my son Thomas, and the other third part to my son Hugh. I give to my son Thomas my Mulatto woman, Hannah, with her children and all her future increase, to him and his heirs forever, and after the death of my dear wife, I give the Ten House Servants with their Children and future increase of which she is to have the use for life, unto my son Hugh and his heirs forever. I give to my son Thomas, my Virginia Amathyst Seal set in gold, to my son Hugh, my gold watch, Chain and Cornelian seal, to my son Robert my gold Stock Buckle, to my son Nathaniel my Sword and Pistols, and to my son William I give my best Garnett Sleeve Buttons sett in gold. I give to my dear sister, Mary Berkley, the sum of twenty five pounds sterling per annum diring her life, to be paid to her by son Thomas out of the residue of my estate, and I do hereby remit and release to my said Sister any sum or sums of money she may owe me at the time of my death. I give and bequeath to my Cousin Hephzibah Nelson Twenty Pounds Current Money a year to be paid her by my son Thomas, out of the residue of my Estate, during her natural life. I give and bequeath to the Court of Directors appointed by Act of Assembly to errect and superintend the Public Hospital for the reception of Lunatics, etc., the sum of One hundred pounds current money to be by them applied towards the farther relief of such Patients as may be sent to the said Hospital as they, in their discretion, may think fit, but not to the enlargement of the Building or to any other purpose. I give and bequeath Fifty Pounds current money to the poor of the Parish of York Hampton to be distributed as my Executor shall think proper. I desire that my wearing Apparel of every kind shall be disposed of in such manner as my dear wife and my two eldest sons shall chuse. All the rest and residue of my estate of what nature of quality soever, whether real or personal in Virginia or elsewhere, I give, devise and bequeath to my son, Thomas Nelson, to him, his heirs and assigns forever. I appoint my dear Brother, the Hon. Thomas Nelson Esquire, my dear friend Robert Carter Nicholas Esqr. and my two sons Thomas and Hugh, Executors of this will, and guardians of my younger children during their minority. I desire that my Estate may not be appraised, and that my Executors may not be obliged to give any security for their performance of the Trust hereby reposed in them. Lastly, I do hereby revoke and annul all former wills by me heretofore made, and declare this to be my only true last Will and Testament. In Testimony whereof, I have herunto set my hand and affixed my seal this sixth day of October in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Seventy two. Wm. Nelson [L.S.] Signed, sealed, published and declared by the Hon. William Nelson Esquire as and for his last Will and Testament in presence of us who at his request and in his presence do hereunto subscribe our names as witnesses. Dudley Digges David Jameson Law. Smith, Junr.

At a Court held for York County 21 day of December 1772. This Will was proved according to law by the oaths of Dudley Digges, David Jameson and Lawrence Smith, Junr., the witnesses therto, and ordered to be recorded, and on the motion of the Hon. Thomas Nelson Esquire, Robert Carter Nicholas, Thomas Nelson and Hugh Nelson Esquires, the Executors therin named, who made oath thereto as the law directs. Certificate was granted them for obtaining a Probat in due form. Examd. Teste. Thos. Everard," Cl. Cur.

President William Nelson was buried in the churchyard at Yorktown where his tomb bears the following inscription: "Here lies the body of the Honorable William Nelson, Esquire late President of His Majesty's Council in this Dominion. In whom the love of man and the love of God so restrained and enforced each other and so invigorated the mental powers in general as not only to defend him from the vices and follies of his country but also to render it a matter of difficult decision in what part of laudable conduct he most excelled. Whether in the tender and endearing accomplishments of domestic life or in the more active duties of a wider circuit. As a neighbor, a gentleman or a magistrate Whether in the graces of hospitality, or in the possession of piety. Reader if you feel the spirit of that excellent ardour which aspires to the felicity of conscious virtue animated by those consolations and divine admonitions, perform the task and the distinction of the righteous man. He died the 19th of November, Anno Domini, 1772 Aged 61"

The present Nelson house at Yorktown (now owned by Mrs. Blow and renamed "York Hall") was built by President Nelson in 1740-41. At the time of President Nelson's death in 1772 the house had doubtless been given to his son Thomas who then occupied it.

From "Patriot Above Profit" by Nell Moore Lee, a biography of the Nelsons, particularly Thomas, Jr. "While Tom was away at school in England, his father had obtained about one thousand acres on the frontier in Albemarle County in 1755. Three years later, he purchased a more than two-thousand-acre tract in Louisa County near the parish of Fredicksville from James Power, paying him 625 pounds for the property." Above information from "Patriot Above Profit" provided by Robert Nelson


3rd cousin once removed (and apparently much more, distantly) of his wife

view all 21

Gov. William Nelson's Timeline

November 19, 1711
Yorktown, York County, Virginia
December 26, 1738
Age 27
Yorktown, York, Virginia
July 18, 1741
Age 29
Middleborough, Plymouth County, Province of Massachusetts
Age 29
February 7, 1742
Age 30
Scotland or England or Wales
Age 30
Blount, Tennessee, United States
April 25, 1743
Age 31
Middleborough, Plymouth County, Province of Massachusetts
Age 33
Yorktown, York, Virginia