Thomas Nelson, Jr.

Signer of the Declaration of Independence

1738 Born in York County, Virginia
Graduated from Trinity College,
Cambridge, England.
1774-75 Member of the Provincial Convention
1775 Colonel of the Second Virginia Regiment
1775-77 Delegate to the Continental Congress
Mover of the Resolution of May 15, 1776
in the Virginia Convention for Independence.
1776 Signed the Declaration of Independence
1776 Signer of the Declaration of Independence
1775-82 Commander of the Virginia Militia
1781 Governor of Virginia
1789 Died in York County, Virginia


As the wealthiest man of his era in Virginia, did Thomas Nelson, Jr. really “give all for liberty”?

Thomas Nelson, Jr. headed the Virginia Militia during the siege of Yorktown, resulting in the final surrender, on October 19, 1781, of General Cornwallis to General George Washington, Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Armies. During the siege, it was believed that Cornwallis had established his headquarters in Nelson’s house. Thomas Nelson, Jr. ordered the bombardment of his own house, and purportedly fired the first cannon ball. The cannon balls remain stuck on the outer façade of his magnificent home, as a reminder to succeeding generations, that this founding father “gave all for liberty.”

After Thomas Nelson, Jr.’s untimely death, his heirs, in a testimony to the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia, reported the following:

“…He often declared, that he did not consider the assertions made in that sacred instrument, by those who signed it, as the empty menace of excited feeling, but as the heart-felt solemn pledge of honourable men, determined on its redemption and fulfillment, as occasion and the necessities of the country should demand…

The ancestor of these petitions, heard from afar this pressing call, and ever ready with his aid when needed by his country, he buckled on his armor, and summoned to the field a band of the gallant youth of his native state, amounting to 70 in number, and being chosen as their commander, he marched them to Philadelphia, the seat of the Continental Congress, and there made a tender of their services to that venerable body…
He entered the revolutionary arena, as a champion to maintain the rights of America, possessed of a very large estate, unencumbered with debts, and of 40,000 pounds, in bonds of the most solvent men of the country. All these he may with truth be said to have offered as a sacrifice on the altar of the public weal. For at the close of his life, doubtless shortened by infirmity and sickness, contracted by exposure during the arduous conflict, and which occurred in a very few years after the end of the war, there remained, after the application of his property to the payment of his debts, but a pittance of his immense estate, for the support of a large and numerous family, reduced almost to want, by the generous and disinterested sacrifices of their ancestor, made to promote the freedom and independence of his beloved country…1

Hence we learn from his family’s testimony, that Thomas Nelson, Jr. – the wealthiest man in Virginia – gave his “life, his entire fortune and his sacred honor” for the cause of liberty, “being reduced almost to want, by generous and disinterested sacrifices to promote the freedom and independence of his beloved country.”
Furthermore, he ordered the bombardment of his own house, in this arduous conflict.

To learn more, click here. (Founders’ book)




Address Delivered to the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia, by the heirs and representatives of General Thomas Nelson of Yorktown. Library of Congress, Rare Book Collection.


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