Thomas Nelson, an American statesman, born in York co., Va., Dec. 26, 1738, died there, Jan. 4, 1789. His father, William Nelson, for many years president of the colonial council, sent him in his 14th year to Cambridge, England, where he was educated at Trinity college. In his 24th year he married, and settled at Yorktown, where he possessed a great estate and led a life of leisure. He became a decided partisan of the American cause, and rendered efficient service in the house of burgesses, He was a member of the provincial conventions of 1774 and 1775, and in that which met in May, 1776, to frame a constitution for Virginia, in which he offered the resolution instructing the Virginia delegates in congress to propose a declaration of independence. Having been elected a delegate to congress, he signed the declaration of July 4, 1776. In May, 1777, he was obliged by indisposition to resign his seat. In the following August, during the alarm occasioned by the entry of the British fleet under Admiral Howe within the capes of Virginia, he was appointed commander-in-chief of the state forces; and soon after, in response to an appeal from congress, he raised a troop of cavalry which he led to Philadelphia. The danger apprehended from Howe's expedition having been averted, his corps was disbanded, and he resumed his duties as a member of the legislature.
He strongly opposed the proposition to sequestrate British property, on the ground that it would be an unjust retaliation of public wrongs on private individuals. In February, 1779, he again took his seat in congress, but was soon obliged by illness to resign. In May, however, he was suddenly called upon to organize the militia to repel a marauding expedition which was ravaging the Virginia coast. Congress having called for contributions to provide for the French fleet and armament, the general assembly of Virginia resolved early in June, 1780, to borrow $2,000,000 to be deposited in the continental treasury by the middle of the month. The public credit, however, was so low that there seemed little probability that the required sum could be obtained. Gen. Nelson on his personal security raised a considerable portion of the loan. About the same time he advanced money to pay two Virginia regiments ordered to the south, which had refused to march until their arrears were discharged. His ample fortune was so seriously impaired, that he was involved in pecuniary embarrassments in the latter part of his life.
In 1781 he succeeded Jefferson as governor of the state, and to repel the invasion of the enemy was compelled to assume dictatorial powers; and it was in no small degree owing to his exertions that the American army was kept together during its stay in Virginia. His extra-legal acts were subsequently approved by the Virginia legislature. He participated in the siege of York-town as commander of the Virginia militia, and directed that his own house, the largest and best in the place, should be bombarded. He resigned his office in November, 1781, and passed the rest of his life in retirement.