Thomas Nelson Jr. - Armed Governor
Had you lived in Virginia during the late 18th century, Thomas Nelson Jr.'s name would have been known to you. He was a leader for both the state and nation as well as a committed revolutionary.
A Tea Party of His Own
Thomas Nelson Jr. was a well-educated farmer who had been serving in the Virginia House of Burgesses when war broke out with the British.
Nelson had already taken to the rebel cause, organizing a Yorktown Tea Party. This was in response to the Boston Tea Party and he helped dump goods into the York River himself.
As a respected member of Virginia’s elite, Nelson was sent to the Continental Congress. He voted for and signed the Declaration of Independence.
Nelson would be appointed by the Continental Congress as Virginia’s representative to the committee which drafted the Articles of Confederation. This committee had 13 members, one from each state. Though the main body of the work was done by John Dickinson, Nelson may also be considered as one of the authors.
Thomas Nelson Jr. was elected to succeed Thomas Jefferson as Governor of Virginia in 1781.
Later that year, the Battle of Yorktown took place. Nelson had a special interest in this battle as he grew up (and still lived) in Yorktown.
As Governor, he led the Virginia militia into the field alongside George Washington’s army.
Legend has it that the Americans believed General Cornwallis had stationed himself in Nelson's house. Nelson ordered the men to fire on his own house! On top of that, he offered a reward for the first man to hit it. (Please note, there is no written first-hand account of this story, so it may be a tall tale.)
Illness and Debt
Nelson had donated so much of his own money to the American Revolution that by the end of hostilities his once substantial fortune had disappeared.
Shortly after the Battle of Yorktown he fell ill and never fully recovered. He retired as Governor and passed away in 1789 at the age of 50.
Because of the respect had for him in Virginia, he loss was mourned across the State.
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