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The Nelson jrr
HOMAS 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 years to be educated. He was placed in a
distinguished private school not far from London, and after completing 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. He remained there, a close and diligent student until 1761, when he returned to America.
Mr. Nelson watched with much interest the movements of the British Parliament, during and after the time of the administration of Mr. Grenville,* and his sympathies were keenly alive in favor of the Americans and their cause. His first appearance in public life, was in 1774, when he was elected a member of the House of Burgesses of Virginia, and there he took sides with the patriots. It was during that session, that the resolutions reprobating the "Boston Port Bill" caused Lord Dunmore, the royal governor of Virginia, to dissolve the Assembly. Eighty-nine of the members, among whom was Mr. Nelson, met the next day at a neighboring tavern, and formed an association far more efficient in throwing up the strong bulwarks of freedom, than was the regular Assembly. Mr Nelson was a member of the first general convention of Virginia, which met at Williamsburgh in August, 1774, and elected delegates to the first Continental Congress. In the spring of 1775, he was elected a member of another general convention, and there he displayed such boldness of spirit, that he was looked upon as an efficient leader in the patriotic movements of the day. Much to the alarm of his friends, he proposed in that convention, the bold and almost treasonable measure of organizing the militia of the State for the defence of
* George Grenville, the Prime Minister of England in 1765, was the author of the Stamp Act. He is represented as an honest, but short-sighted politician, and the Stamp Act was doubtless more an error of his head than of his heart. He saw an empty treasury, with large demands upon it waiting to be satisfied, and he thought to replenish it by taxing the American colonies,
the chartered rights of the people. Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee, and others, warmly seconded the proposition, and it was adopted by the convention.* This act told Governor Dunmore and his royal master, in language that could not be mistaken, that Virginia was determined to exercise with freedom all the privileges guarantied to her by the British Constitution.†
In August 1774, the Virginia convention elected Mr. Nelson a delegate to the General Congress, and he took his seat in September. There he was very active, and gave such entire satisfaction to his constituents that he was unanimously re-elected for 1776. Although he seldom took part in the debates, he was assiduous and efficient in committee duty. He was a zealous supporter of the proposition for independence, and voted for and signed the declaration thereof.
In the spring of 1777, Mr. Nelson was seized with an alarming illness, 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 desert 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 retired to private life. But he was not suffered long to
* Mr. Nelson was appointed to the command of one regiment, Patrick Henry of another, and Richard Henry Lee of another, each holding the rank of colonel.
+ It was not long before the wisdom of those military movements became apparent, for the royal governor of Virginia, as well as those of some of the other colonies, attempted to secure the powder and other munitions of war in the public
agazines, under a secret order from the British ministry. This movement clearly divulged the premeditated design of disarming the people, and reducing them to slavery. The interesting movements in Virginia which immediately preceded the abdication of the royal governor, and his escape on board a British shipof-war, cannot be detailed within our brief space, and we must refer the reader to the published history of the times.
remain there, for the appearance of a British fleet off the coast of Virginia, and the contemplated attack of the enemy upon the almost defenceless seaboard, called him into the 'field at the head of the militia of the State.* The alarm soon subsided, for the fleet of Lord Howe, instead of landing a force upon Virginia, sailed up the Chesapeake bay for the purpose of making an attack, by land, upon Philadelphia.
About this time, the financial embarrassments of Congress caused that body to make an appeal to the young men of the Union, of wealth and character, to aid in recruiting the army, and otherwise assisting their country. Mr. Nelson entered heartily into the measure, and by the free use of his influence and purse, he raised a volunteer corps, who placed him at their head, and proceeded to join Washington at Philadelphia. Their services were not called into requisition, and they returned home, bearing the honor of a vote of thanks from Congress. The physical activity which this expedition produced, had an excellent effect upon General Nelson's health, and in 1779, he consented to be again elected a delegate to the Continental Congress. He took his seat in February, but a second attack of his old complaint obliged him to leave it in April, and return home. In May, the predatory operations of the enemy upon the coast, in burning Portsmouth, and threatening Norfolk and other places, caused General Nelson again to resume the services of the field. He collected a large force and
* Mr. Nelson's popularity at that time in Virginia was almost unbounded. The governor and council appointed him Brigadier General and Commander-in-Chief of the military forces of the State.
†The sudden call of the militia from their homes left many families in embarrassed circumstances, for a great part of the agricultural operations were suspended. General Nelson used the extent of his means in ameliorating the condition of their families, by having his own numerous servants till their land. He also distributed his money liberally among them, and thus more than a hundred families were kept from absolute want.
proceeded to Yorktown, but the fleet of the enemy soon afterward returned to New-York.
In 1781, Virginia became the chief theatre of warlike operations. The traitor Arnold, and General Phillips, with a small flotilla ravaged the coasts and ascended the rivers on predatory excursions; and Cornwallis, from southern fields of strife, marched victoriously over the lower counties of the State. About this time, the term of Mr. Jefferson's official duties as Governor of the State, expired, and General Nelson was elected his successor. This, however, did not drive him from the field, but as both governor and commander-in-chief of the militia of the State,* he placed himself at the head of a considerable force, and formed a junction with La Fayette, who had been sent there to check the northward progress of Cornwallis. By great personal exertions and a liberal use of his own funds,† he succeeded in keeping his force together until the capture of Cornwallis at Yorktown. He headed a body of militia in the siege of that place, and although he owned a fine mansion in the town, he did not hesitate to bombard it. In this as in
* The active Colonel Tarleton, of the British army, made every effort to effect the capture of the legislature of Virginia. He succeeded in getting some into his custody, and so irregular became their meetings, in consequence of being frequently obliged to disperse and flee for personal safety, that they passed an act which placed the government of the State in the hands of the governor and his council. The council, too, being scattered, General Nelson had the whole responsibility laid upon his shoulders, and in the exercise of his individual powers he was compelled, by the exigencies of the times, to do some things that were not strictly legal; but the legislature subsequently legalized all his acts.
† Mr. Nelson made many and great pecuniary sacrifices for his country. When, in 1780, the French fleet was hourly expected, Congress felt it highly necessary that provision should be made for them. But its credit was prostrate, and its calls upon the States were tardily responded to. Virginia proposed to raise two millions of dollars, and Mr. Nelson at once opened a subscription list. But many wealthy men told Mr. Nelson that they would not contribute a penny on the security of the Commonwealth, but they would lend him all he wanted. He at once added his personal security.
During the siege he observed that while the Americans poured their shot and shells thick and fast into every part of the town, they seemed carefully to avoid