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Friday, December 21, 2012

THOMAS NELSON SOLDIER & STATESMAN



THOMAS NELSON
SOLDIER & STATESMAN


How often does one get to have a chat with a descendant of one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence? For me, it was a rare, informative, and very enjoyable experience.

Two years ago, I got to know a delightful lady, Poppet Nelson, through my Bible study class. She shared with me that she and her husband Tom had recently bought and were operating The Marl Inn, a Bed and Breakfast, in Yorktown, VA. Most folks probably wouldn't do a double take as I did, but having a love of American history, I think I chuckled and said something like, “You’re married to Thomas Nelson of Yorktown . . . sure.” Thomas Nelson is a familiar name around the Old Dominion. A county in Virginia, and another in Kentucky, and a college in Virginia are all named after him.


Poppet responded cheerfully, “Yes, Tom is a direct descendant of Thomas Nelson, the signer of the Declaration of Independence”.

How interesting that this couple, related to Yorktown’s favorite son, had returned to the very village where the Nelson family first settled when they came to the colonies from Great Britain in the latter part of the 17th century. I hoped then I would one day be able to meet her husband. That opportunity came recently when I visited the Nelsons at their B&B in Yorktown.

Thomas Nelson Jr. is well known to historians as one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. His family resided in Yorktown, known as York until the Revolution, from the early 1700’s and they had a long history of service to our country. Thomas Nelson Jr. was a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses, he was elected to the Continental Congress, and he was one of the first Congressmen to favor independence. General Nelson commanded the Virginia Militia under George Washington at the Siege of Yorktown, and served as Virginia’s third Governor.

Young Thomas Nelson Jr.
by unknown artist
Since then I've learned more about Thomas Nelson Jr. He was born into the Virginia aristocracy in 1738 to William Nelson and Elizabeth Burwell at Yorktown VA. Both of his parent’s family lines can be traced back to the nobility and royalty of England. His grandfather “Scotch Tom” Nelson came to Virginia in 1690 and became a successful merchant. When Thomas Nelson Jr. was fourteen he went to England, first to a private school and later to study at Cambridge. Shortly after returning to York he married Lucy Grymes, who was also related to several of our Founding Fathers. Together they had eleven children.

Thomas Nelson House
“Scotch Tom” built Nelson House around 1730 which still stands. The William Nelson house was built later and was considerably larger, but it was burned down in 1814. Both of these large brick homes were in the early Georgian architectural style, very popular during the eighteenth century.

During the siege of Yorktown in 1781, Thomas Nelson Jr. ordered his home be fired upon, thinking that General Cornwallis had made it his headquarters.   

Ebb Pate's painting based on
footprint and description of the
William Nelson House 
Thomas Nelson Jr. was a man of considerable wealth and he owned thousands of acres of property throughout the colony, yet he used his personal fortune to subsidize the patriot cause. His family was never compensated. At several times during Nelson’s service to Virginia and the country he had to step aside for a time due to ill health. When it improved he returned to serve. Nelson died of asthma at the age of fifty-one. He is buried at Grace Church in Yorktown near his father and grandfather.
John Trumbull's painting of
The Surrender at Yorktown

close-up of Thomas Nelson (left)
in Trumbull's Surrender at Yorktown
John Trumbull, the famous Revolutionary War era painter, features Thomas Nelson in his painting of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and Cornwallis’s  Surrender at Yorktown.

Grave of Thomas Nelson Jr.
Grace Episcopal Church
The writings of Thomas and Lucy’s daughter reveal that the Nelson families were very active members of Grace Episcopal Church located within walking distance of their homes. Lucy Nelson, a pious woman, spent hours a day studying the Scriptures and in prayer.
Poppet & Thomas Nelson
at the Marl Inn, Yorktown
As we visited in the Nelson’s living room, Poppet and Tom told me that while they were in England, where Poppet is from, they were visiting a beautiful old church, St. Andrew’s in Penrith. While Tom was studying the information about his Nelson relatives who had lived and attended services there, Poppet noticed that some of the lovely stained glass windows were gifts from her own family, who she discovered were also parishioners. Small world!
Alas, Tom and Poppet are relocating to an area near Charlottesville, VA and their charming Bed and Breakfast in this quaint and historic town is currently for sale. They are a lovely and fascinating couple and I wish them well in this next season of their life.

12 comments:

  1. Janet, this was a fascinating peek into the life of one of America's great men. Thank you for the research and insight. How cool that his lineage has stayed in the same place after all the generations.

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  2. Such a great read !!! It was so interesting !!! thanks for sharing this... :-D

    Rosemary Foley rfoley@salemstate.edu

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  3. Thanks for stopping by Kathleen and Rosemary. I'm always inspired by of our founders and their courage and willingness to sacrifice all.

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  4. Janet, I feel like I've just gone on the loveliest historical tour. I didn't know much about Thomas Nelson and I've enjoyed this very much!

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  5. That was lovely, Janet. Makes me wish I could rush there myself and stay a night before they move on.

    All through the article I couldn't help thinking of the Thomas Nelson publishing company and its long history. Of course, that began in Scotland a bit later....

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  6. Thank you, Lori and Lisa. For a history lover, it's such fun to live in Virginia's Historic Triangle; Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown. There's no end of places to explore.

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  7. What a fascinating article, Janet! I wish Tom and Poppet the very best wishes as they relocate to Charlottesville and sorry they are leaving our community. What a blessing for them to know about their ancestors' histories. I did notice, when reading at the Thomas Nelson house on tour, how sad things turned out for them after the American Revolution. Blessings!

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    1. Thanks Carrie, The Nelsons do have such an interesting story.

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  8. Lovely post! History is so fascinating. How blessed you are to live in that geographic area. Thank you for sharing.

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  9. Thanks for stopping by Judith. I agree, history is so interesting, and we can learn a lot from those who came before us.

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  10. Very interesting! Thank you so much for sharing.

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