— Colonial National Historical Park —
"General Nelson?was excelled by no man in the generosity of his nature, in the nobleness of his sentiments, in the purity of his Revolutionary principles, and in the exalted patriotism that answered every service and sacrifice that his country might need."
James Madison, 1789
Thomas Nelson, Jr.'s legacy is a lasting example of a life dedicated to independence for his country.
His support towards political freedom from Great Britain began while a member of Virginia's colonial legislature. In addition to protesting British taxes and leading Yorktown's tea party, patterned after the one in Boston, he was one of Virginia's delegates to the Continental Congress.
In May 1776, he advocated that Virginia officially support independence—a proposal that helped lead to the Declaration of Independence signed by Nelson and 55 others. Nelson continued to support the revolution through political channels and used his own funds to purchase military supplies. On June 12, 1781, he was elected the third governor of Virginia and faced the greatest challenge of his public career—the invasion of the British army.
As governor and general of his state's militia, Nelson participated in the victory at Yorktown. One day after the British surrendered, Governor Thomas Nelson, Jr. wrote to the Continental Congress: "?the whole loss sustained by the Enemy?must be between 6 & 7000 men. This Blow, I think, must be a decisive one."
In November 1781, Nelson resigned as governor, poor in health and in debt. He died on January 4, 1789, and was buried next to his father and grandfather at Grace Church, just one block from his home.
On September 25, 1781, Governor Thomas Nelson, Jr. wrote Lord Cornwallis asking that citizens of Yorktown be permitted to return to town to move out their belongings. Three days later, the American and French armies reached Yorktown and the siege began.
Eyeglasses worn by Lucy Nelson, wife of Thomas Nelson, Jr.
One of the few tangible reminders of Thomas Nelson's sacrifice for independence is his home, which still bears scars from Allied cannon fire during the 1781 siege.
Nelson's grandfather, Thomas, built the house around 1730. The Nelson family retained ownership of the house until 1908. In 1968, the National Park Service purchased the house and restored it to its 18th century appearance.
In the 18th century there weer six outbuilding on the northwest side of the Nelson House. By the early 1900s, only the chimney from the kitchen remained.
Thomas Nelson, Jr.'s signatureCourtesy of the Library of Virginia