Wilson Cary Nicholas, Governor, U.S. Senator

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Sen. Wilson Cary Nicholas

Birthdate:
Birthplace: Williamsburg, Virginia, British America
Death: October 10, 1820 (59)
Charlottesville, Albemarle County, Virginia, United States
Place of Burial: Charlottesville, Albemarle County, Virginia, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Judge Robert Carter Nicholas, Sr. and Anne Cary Nicholas
Husband of Margaret Nicholas
Father of Sen. Robert Carter Nicholas; Capt. John Smith Nicholas; Jane Hollins Randolph and Sidney Smith Carr
Brother of Sarah Ann Norton; Elizabeth Carter Randolph; Lt. Col. George Nicholas; Thomas Carter Nicholas; Rep. John Nicholas and 5 others

Managed by: Dan Cornett
Last Updated:

About Wilson Cary Nicholas, Governor, U.S. Senator

Patriot of the American Revolution for VIRGINIA with the rank of CAPTAIN. DAR Ancestor # A206763

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilson_Cary_Nicholas

Wilson Cary Nicholas (January 31, 1761 – October 10, 1820) was an American politician who served in the U.S. Senate from 1799 to 1804 and was the 19th Governor of Virginia from 1814 to 1816.


Nicholas was born in Williamsburg, Virginia. He attended the College of William and Mary. According to Nicholas's entry in the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, he served in the American Revolutionary War as commander of George Washington's Life Guard until the unit disbanded in 1783. This appears to be an error: his entry in American National Biography states that "he commanded Virginia volunteer units from the fall of 1780 until the following fall, but there is no evidence that he was actually involved in battlefield action."


After the war, he was a member of the Virginia House of Delegates 1784-1789 and a delegate to the ratifying convention of 1788 which approved the Federal Constitution.


During the deliberations, on June 6, 1788, Nicholas countered Patrick's Henry's objection that correcting defects in the new national Constitution by way of the Article V convention would be excessively difficult. Said Nicholas: "The conventions which shall be so called will have their deliberations confined to a few points; no local interest to divert their attention; nothing but the necessary alterations. They will have many advantages over the last Convention. No experiments to devise; the general and fundamental regulations being already laid down."


During the years 1794-1800, Nicholas served again in the State house of delegates. He was elected as a Democratic-Republican to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Henry Tazewell and served from December 5, 1799, until May 22, 1804, when he resigned to become collector of the port of Norfolk 1804-1807. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in the Tenth and Eleventh Congresses and served from March 4, 1807, until his resignation November 27, 1809. Nicholas was chosen to be Governor of Virginia and served in that position 1814-1817.


Nicholas also served as president of the Richmond branch of the Second Bank of the United States. His speculations in western lands put him in serious debt during the Panic of 1819. Having convinced Thomas Jefferson to endorse two of his notes for $10,000 each, he also plunged Jefferson into debt.


He died at Tufton, near Charlottesville, Virginia. As his son had married Jefferson's granddaughter, Nicholas was a Jefferson relation. Thus, he was interred in the Jefferson burying ground at Monticello, near Charlottesville.


Nicholas County, Virginia (now West Virginia) was formed in 1843 and named in honor of Nicholas.

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https://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Nicholas_Wilson_Cary_1761-1820

Wilson Cary Nicholas was a member of the Convention of 1788, member of the U.S. Senate (1799–1804) and the U.S. House of Representatives (1807–1809), and governor of Virginia (1814–1816). Born in Williamsburg to a prominent political family, Nicholas was educated at the College of William and Mary and served as an officer of volunteers during the American Revolution (1775–1783). In 1780 he moved to a plantation in Albemarle County and represented the county in the House of Delegates from 1788 to 1789 and from 1794 to 1799. Nicholas voted to ratify the U.S. Constitution in the Convention of 1788, supporting Republicanism in the style of his friend Thomas Jefferson while also earning a reputation as a political moderate. The two worked together on revising what became the Virginia Resolutions (1798), asserting states' right to nullify federal laws they deem unconstitutional. In the Senate, Nicholas supported the Louisiana Purchase and in Congress he advocated for war with Great Britain. As governor, he was charged with defending Virginia when war finally did break out and paying for that defense once the war ended. He later served as president of the Richmond branch of the Bank of the United States but his own personal financial trouble, combined with the Panic of 1819, led to his personal and professional downfall. He defaulted on two $10,000 notes, endorsed by Jefferson, and resigned in disgrace. He died in 1820.

Early Years

Nicholas was born on January 31, 1761, in Williamsburg and was the son of Robert Carter Nicholas and Anne Cary Nicholas. His father was a prominent member of the House of Burgesses and later treasurer of the colony and a judge of the state's High Court of Chancery. After moving with his family to Hanover County during the American Revolution, Nicholas reportedly spent time as a student at the College of William and Mary about 1779. He was appointed a lieutenant of Virginia's volunteer troops in 1780. That same year his father died and Nicholas, his mother, and her other children, including his brother Philip Norborne Nicholas, later Virginia's attorney general and a member of the Convention of 1829–1830, soon relocated to a Nicholas plantation in Albemarle County. On January 29, 1785, Nicholas married Margaret "Peggy" Smith, the daughter of a wealthy Baltimore merchant. They had at least three sons and seven daughters. Their daughter Jane Hollins Nicholas later married Thomas Jefferson Randolph, grandson of Thomas Jefferson.

Political Career

The year before his marriage Nicholas entered politics and won election to the House of Delegates representing Albemarle County. He was reelected to a second one-year term in 1785. Nicholas served on the Committee for Courts of Justice in both terms and on the Committees on Propositions and Grievances and for Religion in his second. He left politics briefly to devote more time to his family and to Warren, his Albemarle County estate where he raised primarily wheat with the labor of as many as ninety-five enslaved people. Nicholas also founded a small settlement on the James River that eventually included grain mills, a distillery, and a ferry, among other buildings and services. In 1795 the settlement, previously known as Nicholas's Landing, was legally established as the town of Warren.

In the spring of 1788 he and his brother George Nicholas won election as the two Albemarle County delegates to the convention that met in June of that year to consider ratification of the proposed U.S. Constitution. They both favored ratification and voted against a motion to require prior amendments before ratification, voted to ratify the Constitution, and voted against a proposal to limit the taxing power of the new Congress. Nicholas won election to the House of Delegates in 1788 and 1789, and from 1794 through 1799. He served on the Committee for Courts of Justice in some terms, of Privileges and Elections in some, and on Propositions and Grievances in some others. During the 1790s he had established himself as an important political agent. He was a presidential elector for Thomas Jefferson in 1796, and in December 1798 supporters of Jefferson nominated him for Speaker of the House of Delegates, but the Federalist incumbent John Wise won reelection. Wise then appointed Nicholas chair of the Committee of Privileges and Elections. He also held several local offices including justice of the peace and commanding officer of the county militia.

Nicholas's contemporaries regarded him as politically moderate, and he had many Federalist friends and relatives, including his close friend John Marshall. Nevertheless, by the mid-1790s, Nicholas was a staunch Republican with his closest political ties to his friend and Albemarle County neighbor Thomas Jefferson. In 1793 while Jefferson was secretary of state he enlisted Nicholas's help in drafting a report to President George Washington on Virginians' attitudes toward Washington's Proclamation of Neutrality, a measure Jefferson strongly opposed. Five years later Nicholas worked closely with Jefferson in implementing the Republicans' response to the Alien and Sedition Acts. By October 1798 Jefferson had sent Nicholas a copy of resolutions declaring the acts unconstitutional and void, which Nicholas forwarded to Kentuckian John Breckinridge who helped the resolutions pass the legislature as the Kentucky Resolutions in November. That month James Madison gave Nicholas a draft of what became the Virginia Resolutions, which Nicholas worked with Jefferson to revise.

On December 5, 1799, the General Assembly elected Nicholas to fill a vacant seat in the U.S. Senate. He helped orchestrate the repeal of the Judiciary Act of 1801, argued for the constitutionality of the purchase of Louisiana, and pushed for a speedy conviction in the trial of the insane Federalist judge John Pickering. Nicholas was not known as a particularly fiery speaker or writer, but he was skilled at maneuvering behind the scenes to form alliances, garner votes, and persuade others to speak on behalf of Republican measures. His political views mirrored his personal talents, as he deplored factionalism and favored policies of conciliation. Nicholas also supported strict term limits and other restrictions on the power of the federal government, and believed that war, with all its evils, was not a greater threat to the survival of the republic than either unchecked executive power or political partisanship.

He resigned his seat in the Senate on May 22, 1804, and in August, Jefferson appointed Nicholas collector of the ports of Norfolk and Portsmouth. Nicholas had reluctantly requested the appointment to meet his mounting debts and later regretted taking it when his political enemies charged him with being more concerned with his personal profit than with the good of the nation. Furthermore, within just a few months of taking office Nicholas began to fear for his life in the coastal climate. He also found the distance from his home, family, and business enterprises in Albemarle County inconvenient. In November Nicholas wrote Jefferson expressing his intention to resign, but he did not manage to leave the office until the following spring.

After a brief retirement at Warren, Nicholas ran for Congress in 1807, and was elected without opposition. The issue of British impressment of American sailors dominated his two-year term in the House. Nicholas was a strident advocate of war, and in the wake of the Chesapeake-Leopard affair of June 1807 he urged Jefferson to convene Congress immediately for the purpose of declaring war. Congress later adopted a more limited measure, the Embargo Act of 1807. Nicholas voted for the embargo but continued to push for stronger measures, including war. When the embargo was repealed early in 1809, Nicholas unsuccessfully advocated issuance of privateering licenses (letters of marque and reprisal) to American vessels. He was reelected to Congress in 1809 but resigned before the session began, in part because of chronic rheumatism but also in part from frustration with his inability to bring Congress or the new Madison administration around to his hawkish views.

Nicholas stayed out of politics for the duration of the first Madison administration, focusing on his own agricultural pursuits at Warren. In 1811 Nicholas suggested to Jefferson the formation of an agricultural society in Albemarle and became a member when it was finally established six years later. He also served as the first vice president of the Virginia Society for Promoting Agriculture following its reorganization in 1816.

Governor

Nicholas returned to public service when without serious opposition the General Assembly elected him to be governor of Virginia on November 10, 1814. He took office on December 11, and the assembly reelected him the following year. The challenge of defending Virginia from invasion during the final stages of the War of 1812 dominated the early months of Nicholas's governorship. After the war ended he worked to settle Virginia's accounts with the federal government to obtain compensation for the state's wartime expenses and to establish strong defenses in the Chesapeake Bay in the event of a future conflict. Nicholas was also deeply interested in internal improvements, including the surveying of a new, more accurate map of the state and the construction of roads and canals. He supported the establishment of new public schools in Virginia, and as governor he appointed the board of visitors for Central College, which became the University of Virginia.

Relinquishing his eligibility for a third one-year term as governor, Nicholas became president of the Richmond branch of the Bank of the United States early in 1817. The Panic of 1819 sounded the knell both for his fledgling career in banking and for his own personal finances, however. Nicholas had been plagued by money troubles for decades, starting in 1799 when George Nicholas died unexpectedly and Nicholas had to assume $30,000 of his brother's debts and provide partial support for his brother's large family. Five years later Nicholas assumed more than $50,000 of the debts of his brother-in-law and former secretary of state Edmund Randolph. Combined with Nicholas's own poor financial decisions, including extensive speculation in western lands, these decisions ultimately caused his ruin. On August 3, 1819, Nicholas defaulted on two $10,000 notes at the Bank of Virginia. About the same time the Richmond branch of the Bank of the United States posted a $60,000 deficit, and Nicholas resigned the bank presidency in disgrace.

Later Years

Nicholas spent the last year of his life dealing with creditors and watching his ruin slowly unfold. In March 1820, seven months before his death, he estimated his debt at $280,000. Nicholas's ruin was also a major financial blow to his old friend and political ally, Thomas Jefferson, who had endorsed the two notes on which Nicholas defaulted. Nicholas died on October 10, 1820, at the home of his son-in-law Thomas Jefferson Randolph and was buried at Monticello.

Time Line

January 31, 1761 - Wilson Cary Nicholas is born in Williamsburg.

1779 - Wilson Cary Nicholas attends the College of William and Mary.

1780 - Wilson Cary Nicholas is appointed a lieutenant of Virginia's volunteer troops.

January 29, 1785 - Wilson Cary Nicholas and Margaret "Peggy" Smith marry. They will have at least three sons and seven daughters.

1788–1789 - Wilson Cary Nicholas represents Albemarle County in the House of Delegates.

Spring 1788 - Brothers Wilson Cary Nicholas and George Nicholas are elected to represent Albemarle County at the Convention of 1788.

1794–1799 - Wilson Cary Nicholas represents Albemarle County in the House of Delegates.

October 1798 - Thomas Jefferson and Wilson Cary Nicholas revise a draft of what will become the Virginia Resolutions.

1799–1804 - Wilson Cary Nicholas serves in the U.S. Senate.

May 22, 1804 - Wilson Cary Nicholas resigns his seat in the U.S. Senate due to financial problems.

August 1804–spring 1805 - Wilson Cary Nicholas serves as collector of the ports of Norfolk and Portsmouth.

1807–1809 - Wilson Cary Nicholas serves in the U.S. House of Representatives.

1814–1816 - Wilson Cary Nicholas serves as governor of Virginia.

1816 - Wilson Cary Nicholas serves as the first vice president of the Virginia Society for Promoting Agriculture.

1817 - Wilson Cary Nicholas becomes president of the Richmond branch of the Bank of the United States.

August 3, 1819 - Wilson Cary Nicholas defaults on two $10,000 notes, endorsed by Thomas Jefferson, at the Bank of Virginia. He resigns as bank president.

March 1820 - Wilson Cary Nicholas's debt is estimated to be $280,000.

October 10, 1820 - Wilson Cary Nicholas dies at the home of his son-in-law Thomas Jefferson Randolph. He is buried at Monticello.

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Letters from Wilson Cary Nicholas to Samuel Smith, Accession #2343-a, Special Collections Dept., University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville, Va.

There are two letters, July 23, 1806 and September 25, 1810, from Wilson Cary Nicholas (1761-1820), U. S. senator and governor of Virginia, to his brother-in-law, General Samuel Smith (1752-1839), American politician. Wilson Cary Nicholas was married to the general's sister Margaret Smith (1765-1849) ca. 1783; they were the parents of Jane Hollins (1798-1871), who later became Mrs. Thomas Jefferson Randolph. Wilson Cary Nicholas (1761-1820) was the son of Robert Carter (1715-1780) and Anne (Cary) Nicholas. He had three brothers: George (1754-1799); John (1756-1819); and, Philip Norborne (1773-1849). George married General Samuel Smith's sister Mary (1755-1806); they had several children including Robert Carter ( -1857); Samuel Smith (1797-1869), Georgianna [George Ann?], Betsy [Elizabeth?], Cary, and Nelson [children mentioned in this letter].

On July 23, 1806, Wilson Cary Nicholas, "Warren," Albemarle County, Virginia, writes to his brother-in-law Samuel Smith, Baltimore, Maryland, upon receiving news of the death of sister [Mary (Smith)] Nicholas. He discusses the financial hardships following the death of his brother [George in 1799] and his dealings with the estate, estimating that "the house, lands, and Negroes, which is held in our names, and in mine, at [near] $40000..." Nicholas attempts to make financial arrangements to pay his own debts and the debts of the estate. One major concern of this letter is the disposition of the children of George and Mary (Smith) Nicholas, now dependent on Nicholas, Smith, and [ ] Morrison, who are apparently their guardians. Nicholas thinks it best for Georgianna and Betsy to live with close friends for awhile; and, he entrusts young Samuel to the general. He also mentions Cary and Nelson, who have been educated and supported at his own expense, as being the children of his dearest friends; and, he is concerned specifically about Nelson who "came to me so young, and has lived with me so long, that I feel towards him as if he was my own child..." He is also disturbed by [George's son]Robert being unfit to help with the children, claiming him unfit as a proper guardian for his five sisters.


NICHOLAS, Wilson Cary, (brother of John Nicholas and uncle of Robert Carter Nicholas), a Senator and a Representative from Virginia; born in Williamsburg, Va., January 31, 1761; attended the College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Va.; served in the Revolutionary Army and commanded George Washington’s Life Guard until it disbanded in 1783; member, State house of delegates 1784-1789; delegate to the State constitutional convention which ratified the Federal Constitution in 1788; member, State house of delegates 1794-1800; elected as a Democratic Republican to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Henry Tazewell and served from December 5, 1799, until May 22, 1804, when he resigned to become collector of the port of Norfolk 1804-1807; elected to the Tenth and Eleventh Congresses and served from March 4, 1807, until his resignation November 27, 1809; Governor of Virginia 1814-1817; died at “Tufton,” near Charlottesville, Va., October 10, 1820; interment in the Jefferson burying ground at “Monticello,” near Charlottesville.

Nicholas County, Virginia (now West Virginia) was formed in 1843 and named in honor of Nicholas.


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Wilson Cary Nicholas, Governor, U.S. Senator's Timeline

1761
January 31, 1761
Williamsburg, Virginia, British America
1787
January 10, 1787
Hanover, Hanover, Virginia, United States
1798
January 16, 1798
Albemarle, Virginia, USA
1800
January 22, 1800
Warren County, Virginia, United States
1805
January 15, 1805
Albemarle County, Virginia, United States
1820
October 10, 1820
Age 59
Charlottesville, Albemarle County, Virginia, United States
????
Charlottesville, Albemarle County, Virginia, United States