Thomas Nelson Jr.

Thomas Nelson Jr., Virginia (1738-1789)

Thomas Nelson, Jr. was born on December 26, 1738 at Yorktown, Virginia, the son of William Nelson and Elizabeth Burwell. He was known as “Junior” because his uncle Thomas Nelson was also of Yorktown. Through his mother’s Burwell family and her Carter ancestors, his family’s history can be traced back to King Henry III in England.

Thomas Nelson’s grandfather Thomas Nelson, who was known as “Scotch Tom”, was born on February 20, 1677 at Penrith, England (located on the Scottish border) where records indicate he was Baptized in the local Church of England, and came to America about 1690. He founded and laid out the town of York in 1705. “Scotch Tom” was a merchant and built the first custom house in the colonies. He also built Nelson House about 1740 in the presence of William Nelson and Thomas Nelson, Jr. as an infant. This is the same house, still standing, that was to play an important role in the famous American victory over the British at Yorktown in 1781.

“Scotch Tom” married Margaret Reade in 1710, and her family’s history goes back to Sir Thomas Windebank who was clerk of the signet to Queen Elizabeth I and King James I. Margaret Reade’s ancestor, Richard Reade, was knighted and acquired a property listed in the Domesday Survey, and the Reade family can be traced back to King Edward I and Eleanor of Castile.

Thomas Nelson, Jr., received his primary education from the Reverend Yates of Gloucester County and went to England for additional schooling in 1753. He attended Eton and then entered Trinity College at Cambridge where he graduated in 1761. He returned home to the family mercantile business at the age of 23. While still on board his ship on the way back home he was elected to Virginia’s House of Burgesses.

Nelson married Lucy Grymes on July 29, 1762 and they had 11 children. Through her mother’s family, Mary Randolph, Lucy was the cousin of many of the founding fathers who served with her husband including Peyton Randolph, Benjamin Harrison, Carter Braxton, the Lee brothers and Thomas Jefferson. Her grandfather, Colonel William Randolph, was born in 1651 and came to America from Yorkshire, England in 1674.

Thomas Nelson, Jr. came to manhood just as the colonies began to protest the new direction in the mother country’s policy. In 1774, the House of Burgesses was dissolved by Lord Dunmore because of its resolutions censuring and condemning the closing of the Port of Boston. To protest this action, Nelson began spending some of his personal fortune, sending needed supplies to Boston. He arranged a Yorktown tea party and personally threw two half-chests of tea into the York River.

Nelson was elected to represent York County at the first Virginia Convention which met at Williamsburg August 1, 1774. Prominent in the debate over the question of military force, Nelson was appointed colonel in the second Virginia Infantry Regiment in July 1775. He was elected to the House of Delegates in 1776, and was elected to serve in the Second Continental Congress where he replaced Patrick Henry. Nelson and Patrick Henry, had each been appointed Colonel of a Virginia infantry regiment, but Nelson resigned his commission to take a seat in Congress. Here he voted for independence and signed the Declaration of Independence. Nelson continued his service in Congress but was forced to resign in May 1777 when he experienced a bout of severe asthma.

In the spring of 1781 Nelson was elected Governor, succeeding Thomas Jefferson, who had replaced the first Governor, Patrick Henry. The Virginia Legislature was on the run at the time, pursued by the British cavalry commander Banastre Tarleton into Albemarle County.

By early September the American and French armies were closing in on Cornwallis who had decided to await evacuation of his army at Yorktown. When the French fleet arrived his fate was sealed. During the siege and battle Nelson led the Virginia Militia whom he had personally organized and supplied with his own funds. Legend had it that Nelson ordered his artillery to direct their fire on his own house which was occupied by Cornwallis, offering five guineas to the first man who hit the house. Either the cannoneers were inaccurate or the event never happened, but there are three cannon balls still lodged on the outer wall of the house.

Thomas Nelson, Jr.’s personal fortune was ruined by the Revolutionary War. Raising a substantial money for the French fleet on his own credit, he was never compensated. In 1781 illness forced him to resign as Governor, and he moved to his son’s home “Mont Air” in Hanover County. He died on January 4, 1789 and is buried at the Grace churchyard at Yorktown.

This tribute was happily and affectionately paid to the memory of Thomas Nelson, Jr. by his good friend Colonel Innes:

The illustrious General Thomas Nelson is no more! He paid the last great debt to nature, on Sunday, the fourth of the present month, at his estate in Hanover. He who undertakes barely to recite the exalted virtues which adorned the life of this great and good man, will unavoidably pronounce a panegyric on human nature. As a man, a citizen, a legislator , and a patriot, he exhibited a conduct untarnished and undebased by sordid or selfish interest, and strongly marked with the genuine characteristics of true religion, sound benevolence, and liberal policy. Entertaining the most ardent love for civil and religious liberty, he was among the first of that glorious band of patriots whose exertions dashed and defeated the machination of British tyranny, and gave United America freedom and independent empire.

At a most important crisis, during the late struggle for American liberty, when this state appeared to be designated as the theatre of action for the contending armies, he was selected by the unanimous suffrage of the legislature to command the virtuous yeomanry intrepid of his country. In this honorable employment he remained until the end of the war, as a soldier, he was indefatigably active and cooly intrepid; resolute and undejected in misfortunes, he towered above distress, and struggled with the manifold difficulties to which his situation exposed him, with constancy and courage.

In the memorable year 1781, when the whole force of the southern British army was directed to the immediate subjugation of this state, he was called to the helm of government; this was a juncture which indeed ‘tried men’s souls.’ He did not avail himself of this opportunity to retire in the rear of danger, but on the contrary, took the field at the head of his countrymen; and at the hazard of his life, his fame, and individual fortune, by his decision and magnanimity, he saved not only his country, but all America, from disgrace, if not from total ruin. Of this truly patriotic and heroic conduct, the renowned commander in chief, with all the gallant officers of the combined armies employed at the siege of York, will bear ample testimony; this part of his conduct even contemporary jealousy, envy, and malignity were forced to approve, and this, more impartial posterity , if it can believe, will almost adore.

If, after contemplating the splendid and heroic parts of his character, we shall inquire for the milder virtues of humanity, and seek for the man, we shall find the refined, beneficent, and social qualities of private life, through all its forms and combination, so happily modified and united in him, that in the words of the darling poet of nature, it may be said:

His life was gentle: and the elements so mixed in him, that nature might stand and say to all the world—this was a man.

The circa 1740 Nelson House built by “Scotch Tom” Nelson before his death in 1745 in Yorktown, Virginia, and occupied by Thomas Nelson, Jr. during the Revolutionary War, is a National Historical Landmark maintained by the Colonial National Historical Park of the U.S. National Park Service.

On Capitol Square (the capitol grounds in Richmond, Virginia) is the George Washington memorial known as the Washington Equestrian Monument. Six lesser statues are displayed on that monument positioned in an oval shape under Washington. Thomas Nelson, Jr. is one of them, along with Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, George Mason, Patrick Henry and Andrew Lewis. The cornerstone for the monument was laid on February 22, 1850 in the presence of President Zachary Taylor and former President John Tyler. Cast in Germany, the statue arrived in Richmond in 1857.

The Virginia State Council for Higher Education named Thomas Nelson Community College in Thomas Nelson’s honor in 1967. Nelson County, Virginia and Nelson County, Kentucky are named in his honor.

John D. Nelson, descendant, 2008


  • Barthelmas, Della Gray, The Signers of the Declaration of Independence, (McFarland & Co., Jefferson, NC. 1997)

  • Blatteau, John and Paul Hirshorn, The Illuminated Declaration of Independence, (1976)
  • Collins, Gene, The Signers of the Declaration of Independence, (2000)
  • Ferris, Robert G. and Richard E. Morris, The Signers of the Declaration of Independence, 1982
  • Fradin, Dennis B., The Signers, 2000
  • Charles A. Goodrich, Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence, web edition, New York: William Reed & Co., 1856. (, accessed 2007)
  • Maier, Pauline, American Scripture, Making the Declaration of Independence, (New York, Alfred A. Knoph, 1997)
  • Lossing, B.J., Biographical Sketches of the Signers of the Declaration of American Independence, (1848)
  • Malone, Dumas, The Story of the Declaration of Independence, (1954)
  • Nelson, John, Dandridge (descendant)
  • The Prudential Insurance Company of America, The Signers of the Declaration of Independence, date NS
  • This entry was posted in Signers by state, Virginia. Bookmark the permalink.

    One Response to Thomas Nelson Jr.

    1. jim says:

      Lucy Grymes Nelson

      Lucy Grymes was most likely born in Williamsburg on September 4, 1743. According to her daughter, Susannah, Lucy was a premature baby so small she “might have been put in a quart Pot”. Her father, Philip Ludwell Grymes (1721-1762) of Brandon in Middlesex County, was a member of the House of Burgesses, a Receiver-General of the Colony and a member of His Majesty’s Council for Virginia. Her mother was Mary Randolph Grymes (1720-1768). Lucy’s parents maintained a residence in Williamsburg and were in the capital attending to
      political matters when she made an early entrance into the world.

      Lucy’s father and extended family members were amongst the most politically influential and powerful citizens of the Virginia colony. Lucy’s grandfather, Sir John Randolph of
      Williamsburg (1693-1737) was Speaker of the House of Burgesses and Attorney General for the Colony of Virginia. Her maternal uncle, Peyton Randolph (c.1721-1775), also served as Speaker of the House of Burgesses, President of the Virginia Conventions, and first President of the Continental Congress. A second uncle, John Randolph (1727-1784), served as the King’s attorney for Virginia from 1766 until the beginning of the American Revolution. Lucy counted Carter Braxton (1736-1797), Benjamin Harrison (1726-1791), and Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) among her cousins. From her birth, Lucy found herself at the center of colonial politics. Throughout her life, she lived amongst her numerous male relatives who would become many of the Founding Fathers of our nation.

      Lucy Grymes (left) and siblings

      Lucy was the eldest of eight Grymes children, four boys and four girls. The only known portrait of Lucy, painted in 1751, is attributed to John Hesselius. The portrait resides in the
      collection of the Virginia Historical Society and depicts an eight-year old Lucy and three of her siblings. Lucy was well-educated and attended the school of the Reverend William Yates (1720-1764), a Gloucester minister. She excelled at math and reading. She was proficient at singing, dancing, and the harpsichord. As the daughter of a prominent colonial family, Lucy was expected to become accomplished and educated. She was also considered beautiful.

      On July 29, 1762 Lucy married Thomas Nelson, Jr. (1738-1789) of Yorktown. She was almost nineteen and her groom was twenty-four. They were married in Williamsburg by the Reverend Yates whose school they had both attended. Thomas was the eldest son of William Nelson (1711-1772), who served as President of His Majesty’s Council and interim Governor of Virginia (1771), and his wife Elizabeth Carter Burwell Nelson (1718-1798). His grandfather, Thomas ‘Scotch Tom’ Nelson (1677-1745) was a founder of Yorktown and created a successful shipping and mercantile empire. Young Thomas was educated in England at Eaton and Cambridge. When he returned to the colonies, Thomas helped his father manage the family’s mercantile enterprises and began his political career. He became a Justice of the Peace for York County and entered the House of Burgesses as his father and so many of Lucy’s family members had previously.

      For the first five years of their marriage, the Nelsons lived with Thomas’ parents. In 1767, after the birth of their fourth child and following the death of Thomas’ grandmother, Lucy and Thomas moved into his grandparent’s home in Yorktown. The Nelson house, completed circa 1745, an elegant and imposing Georgian residence, provided plenty of room for Thomas and Lucy’s growing family. The Nelson family also kept residences in Williamsburg, one of which was the Nelson-Gault house. They undoubtedly spent a part of every year there while Thomas and his father attended to political matters.

      The Nelson House

      Over the next twenty years, Lucy gave birth to eleven children who survived infancy—six sons and five daughters. She also had two stillbirths. Lucy’s family Bible is preserved in the collection of Colonial Williamsburg and contains the birth names and dates of her eleven children, recorded presumably in Lucy’s own hand. Lucy was a devout Episcopalian who brought up her children in the strictest faith. She prayed and read the Bible daily and was regarded as a rigid disciplinarian.

      Lucy supported her husband as he steadily rose in the political ranks of the Colony and became an ardent patriot and revolutionary. Thomas served as a Burgess from 1761
      until that body was dissolved shortly before the Revolution. He was elected to five of Virginia’s Revolutionary Conventions and to the Continental Congress. Nelson, who believed as did Patrick Henry, urged his native state to prepare for war. Thomas helped to establish the Virginia militia and introduced the resolution to the Virginia Convention, calling on Congress to declare the American colonies free and independent. He carried the adopted resolution to Philadelphia
      himself. On September 1st, 1775, the Virginia Gazette reported that Peyton Randolph, Thomas Nelson, and George Wythe set out for Philadelphia to attend the General Congress “with their several ladies”. Lucy and Thomas traveled in their carriage and lodged with her cousin, Thomas Jefferson at the home of Benjamin Randolph (1721-1791) on Chestnut Street. While in Philadelphia, Lucy was inoculated against smallpox. She may have actually contracted the disease while in the city or at the least suffered the profound effects of the inoculation. The Virginia Gazette reported on October 6th, “the agreeable intelligence that Mrs Nelson and Mr Wythe and his lady, Mr Francis L Lee and his lady …are lately through the smallpox.” While in Philadelphia again in 1776, Lucy went to hear the Reverend John Witherspoon (1723-1794) preach. Witherspoon was a delegate to the Continental Congress from New Jersey and a Signer of the Declaration. It is not known if Lucy was with her husband in Philadelphia when he signed the Declaration of Independence in August. Lucy was newly pregnant in the late spring and early summer of 1776 and may have been unable or unwilling to travel. Her eighth child and namesake, Lucy Grymes Nelson (1777-1863) was born in January 1777.

      Lucy was no doubt aware that as Thomas added his signature to the Declaration, he placed himself and his family at great risk. Their daughter describes how throughout the war her mother “was obliged to run from place to place with her large family and knew that her Beloved Husband was exposed to all the horrors of war.” She endured Thomas’ long absences as he continued to serve his country as a Brigadier-General and Commander-in-Chief of the Virginia forces, a Captain in the Continental Army, a member of the Virginia legislature, a member of Congress from Virginia, and wartime Governor of Virginia (1781) succeeding Thomas Jefferson. Adding to Lucy’s worry during this time was that Thomas most likely suffered a stroke on the floor of Congress in 1777 and was thereafter plagued with chronic health problems. She also saw her family divided as her maternal uncle, John Randolph and her brother, John Randolph Grymes (1747-1796) remained Loyalists during the war. Her uncle returned to England with his family and her brother served in the Queen’s Rangers.

      To protect their family during the Revolution, the Nelsons hurriedly built a temporary residence in Hanover County as a wartime retreat and refuge. The small frame house was named Offley and constructed on 12,000 acres, which had been granted to Thomas’ grandfather by King George I. Offley differed vastly from the Georgian splendor of the Nelson House in Yorktown. However, the modest dwelling, far from the battleground of the Revolutionary War, provided safety. Lucy fled to Offley in her carriage with her three-week-old infant Susanna and her other children ages two through seventeen, when the southern British army invaded
      Virginia. Lucy and her family remained in Hanover during the time Thomas served as the
      wartime Governor of Virginia, and for many years afterwards. Major-General Chastellux of the French Army wrote in his diary of being received there by the General’s wife and mother, as the General was in Williamsburg. He describes being served an “excellent breakfast” and “sumtuous (sic) dinner” at the family’s home. General Rochambeau and Baron Ludwig von Closen also visited Offley during this time. Lucy’s youngest daughter, Judith, was born in 1782 at Hanover. During this time, Thomas returned to Offley to recuperate from periodic bouts of ill health and then resumed his demanding schedule of public service in the capital.

      Offley also provided Lucy and her children with much needed privacy. After Thomas became commander of the Virginia militia forces in 1777, he quite literally brought his soldiers home with him. The walled garden of the Nelson House, which once boasted fruit trees and native plants was soon overrun by soldiers and the military provisions needed to sustain them. During the Battle of Yorktown, Nelson commanded thousands of Virginia militiamen, many
      outfitted at his own expense. Family tradition maintains that during the Siege of Yorktown, General Nelson ordered his own men to shell the family’s home rather than see it occupied by the British. Although the Nelson home suffered damage during the war, it survived and was
      restored as a National Historic Landmark. The Nelson House is maintained by the National Park Service as part of the Colonial National Historical Park. A symbolic cannon ball remains imbedded in its exterior.

      Thomas Nelson was with General Washington when he received the surrender of the British on October 19, 1781. After the colonial victory at Yorktown and in declining health, Thomas resigned the Governorship of Virginia. He continued to serve in the Virginia House of Delegates until 1788 and supported a resolution calling for Virginia’s capital to be removed from Richmond and returned to Williamsburg. During this period, the Nelsons spent time in Richmond, Williamsburg, and Hanover. By 1787, they had returned to Yorktown and the Nelson’s found themselves in financial distress and facing mounting debt. Thomas had committed much of the family’s personal resources to the revolutionary effort. His various mercantile enterprises suffered during the conflict from interruption in trade and from neglect while he served his country. In addition, Nelson had personally underwritten a portion of Virginia’s wartime loan of 1780. The loan was ultimately forfeited by the state and Nelson was eventually sued by creditors.

      Thomas suffered from increasingly poor health, perhaps exacerbated by these financial stressors. He drafted his will on December 26, 1788. Nelson died at his plantation house, Mont Air, in Hanover County on January 4, 1789, from an apparent asthma attack. Francis (1767-1833), the Nelson’s fourth son, resided on the property and would later inherit it. According to family history, Thomas was buried on the grounds of Mont Air the same day he died. The family buried Thomas immediately because they feared that his body could be seized and held for collateral on his debts. Attaching a body at the time of death to their debt was a legal practice at this time, and intended as a strong inducement for families to quickly settle the debts of their deceased loved ones. In his will, Thomas made provisions to pay his debts by selling a portion his considerable land and property holdings, eventually settling the estate. His body was later moved secretly by his sons and reinterred in Yorktown near the foot of the grave of his father at Grace Episcopal Church. Bishop Meade, who was married to two of Lucy’s and Thomas’ granddaughters, indicated in his memoir of 1857 that Thomas’ grave in Yorktown remained unmarked. He worried that all family members, who knew the exact location of his final resting place, would soon be dead. For reasons unknown, Thomas’ grave at Grace Church lay unmarked until the early twentieth century.

      Lucy was widowed at age forty-six. She must have realized that her life at the center of national politics had ended. According to her husband’s will, Lucy inherited her clothing,
      jewelry, a carriage with four horses, and lifelong rights to several properties in Hanover County. Among these were Mont Air, Mallory’s, Long Row and Smiths. All four properties were working plantations with livestock, farming equipment and lucrative crops, such as corn and tobacco. The income from these holdings helped to sustain Lucy and her minor children economically. An estate inventory of Thomas Nelson’s household possessions in Hanover was recorded in April of 1789 after his death. These possessions were valued at 9000 pounds. In addition to the holdings in Hanover, Lucy received life rights to the bulk of the Nelson property in Yorktown, which Thomas had not designated specifically for his older sons. The properties Lucy inherited included both the Nelson House and a farm just outside of Yorktown. The estate inventory of Thomas’ possessions in Yorktown was completed in June 1789. The numerous and elaborate furnishings of the Nelson House are part of this inventory. These included one dozen green Windsor chairs, a large Turkey carpet, two “Mohogony” dining tables and three bedsteads outfitted with “morrain” curtains of red, blue, and yellow silk. In total, the household possessions in all of the Nelson’s Yorktown properties were valued at nearly 3000 pounds. Examples of Lucy’s china and other household belongings from the Nelson House are on permanent display at the Yorktown Custom House Museum maintained by the Daughters of the American Revolution.

      While Thomas did not pass down the fortune that he had inherited from his father, the Nelson family still had extensive land holdings and considerable personal property at the time of his death. They were not destitute at the end of the war, as has become the legend. No doubt there was fear and uncertainty until all of Thomas’s creditors came forward and were paid, settling the estate, which did not happen until 1791.

      Adding to the financial confusion during this period, was the fact that Lucy Nelson renounced the terms of her husband’s will. On June 4, 1789, she made a record in York County court declaring that “in consideration of divers secret causes…. I do hereby declare that I will not take or accept the provision made for me”. She exercised her right to claim only dowager’s rights to her husband’s estate, instead of the lifetime rights on the many properties given to her. This reduced the financial terms afforded her. It is not known why she chose to make this declaration. It may have provided the Nelson family with some financial advantage in dealing with Thomas’s creditors. Or, this action may have simply been a way to enable her children to come into their inheritance immediately, instead of having to wait for her death.

      Lucy continued her life in Yorktown as a widow for the next thirty years. She was left alone to raise her last five children, Mary (1774-1803), Lucy (1777-1863), Robert (1778-1818), Susanna (1780-1850), and Judith (1782-1869). They ranged in ages from seven to fifteen. Each was provided for in their father’s will and Lucy was charged with seeing to their education. Over the next ten years, Lucy would see all of her remaining children educated and married. The last of whom was Susannah who was married in Yorktown in 1806. Lucy is listed in the United States Census for York County in 1810 as head of a large household which included thirteen family members and ninety-one slaves. Descriptive and detailed insurance policies for the residence survive and provide information about when Lucy was actually in residence there and with whom. An 1810 policy indicates that Lucy occupied the Nelson House in Yorktown at that time and lived there with Sarah and Thomas Nelson. The policy clearly notes Lucy as a tenant for life in the house and that the dwelling would revert to the heirs of her son, William, after her death. Sometime around 1812, Lucy went to live with her youngest son, Robert, and his family after he became a professor at the College of William and Mary. Shortly thereafter the War of 1812 began, and for the second time, Lucy was forced to flee from the British to the safety of Hanover, just as she had done during the Revolution. At this time, Lucy’s youngest daughter Susannah decided that Tidewater Virginia was too dangerous of a place for her family to live. They moved permanently from Yorktown to Rugswamp in Hanover. However, by 1815, Lucy had returned to Williamsburg with her son as he resumed his duties at the College of William and Mary. Lucy’s 1815 insurance policy indicates she was residing at York and Williamsburg, though Sarah and Thomas are listed as the sole occupants of the Nelson House. It is likely that Lucy was spending the majority of her time with Robert’s family in Williamsburg. Lucy developed cataracts around 1813 and her sight began to deteriorate. She reportedly made several long journeys to see her children at their various places of residence before her sight completely failed. Lucy was totally blind for approximately the last fourteen to seventeen years of her life. Robert, who eventually became Chancellor of the College of William and Mary, died in 1818 and was buried in Williamsburg. His death may have prompted Lucy to make a permanent move to Hanover sometime around 1819, where she already had a home and many family members residing. By 1823, the insurance policy for the Nelson House indicates that Lucy resided at Hanover and York, with the Hanover residence given first in order. Lucy is still listed as the owner of the Nelson House; however, Sarah and Thomas are again named as the sole occupants.

      Lucy’s children began building Springfield for her in Hanover sometime after 1790, though it may not have been completed until 1820. The house was constructed in a classic
      Virginia architectural style using common bond brick made on the property. The two-story Federal residence was one room deep with a center hall and chimneys on each end. It boasted an English basement and a wooden shake roof. Springfield still stands today with its original rooms, separate kitchen, and smokehouse intact. It has been designated a Virginia Historic Landmark.


      The 1820 federal census for Hanover lists Lucy as head of a large household at Springfield and indicates she lived with multiple family members, who may have been Robert’s widow and children. There are also thirty-seven slaves living on the property, eleven of whom are engaged in agricultural work, indicating that Springfield was a large and thriving farm.

      In her last years, Lucy’s health began to decline. In addition to blindness, she suffered from frequent bilious attacks. She is said to have kept to a strict routine, which along with her iron will, may have sustained her. Each morning she breakfasted in bed, spent several hours at prayer, and then dressed and received visitors in her room. One of her favorite pastimes was having the many friends and family members who came to call, read to her. Her visitors brought books to be read to “Grand Mama” as Lucy was known. Pilgrim’s Progress, the Christian Observer and A New Manual of Devotions were among these. Hymn number 222 “Remember Me” was known as one of her favorites, which she sang often. Extended family members also encouraged Lucy to talk about “old times” and generations of Nelsons sat in her bedchamber listening in rapt attention. Lucy was described as “the centre round which all the affections and happiness of her numerous family and friends moved.” Bishop Meade writes of giving communion to Lucy in her bedroom and to forty of her descendants who lined the corridors outside of her door. Family tradition maintains that she refused to receive the Marquis de Lafayette at Springfield in 1824 when he requested to call on her. Lafayette was in Virginia at the time and a guest at the Nelson House in Yorktown, where he was received by her grandson Thomas Nelson.

      The 1830 Hanover County census, taken the year that Lucy died, again identifies her as the head of a large and thriving household. She is noted for the record as being blind and between the ages of eighty and eighty-nine. Lucy was residing with multiple family members whose ages ranged from five to forty-nine years of age. In addition, there were now four free African Americans living on the property at Springfield, as well as thirty-eight slaves.

      Born to a life of privilege, Lucy’s circumstances changed dramatically throughout her lifetime. She survived countless hardships wrought by two wars fought quite literally in her backyard. She lost her husband of twenty-six years and was a widow for forty years. With the help of her sons and daughters and frugal management, Lucy oversaw the properties that would sustain her economically throughout her long widowhood. She endured sickness, blindness, and most heartbreakingly the deaths of four of her children, William d. 1801, Mary d. 1803, Thomas d. c. 1806, and Robert d. 1818. She also outlived several of her grandchildren.

      At Springfield, surrounded by her large and loving family, Lucy may have found peace and contentment at last. She lived to see her family multiply and prosper, establishing a new home in Hanover County. She saw five of her children marry five children of Governor John Page. Two other children would marry children of John Page of North End. Her son Thomas (1764-c.1806) became personal secretary to President George Washington. The Nelson’s son, Hugh (1768-1836), continued the family’s political legacy and became a United States Congressman and a diplomat under President Monroe. Lucy also lived to see the country, whose birth she had sacrificed so much for, become a thriving nation.

      Lucy Grymes Nelson died on September 18, 1830 at Springfield. This is the date that appears on her gravestone. Her obituary appeared in newspapers throughout Virginia. Most publications cited a death date of Friday night, September 14th for Lucy, which directly contradicts the date given on her gravestone. These death notices typically contained one or two sentences about her, giving her age as 87 year and 14 days and indicating that she left as many as one hundred and nineteen living descendants. The Richmond Enquirer uncharacteristically eulogized her with several paragraphs. The newspaper mentioned her pious nature and “venerable appearance.” The editor mourned her passing and noted that the “lives of few of the females of our country have been so varied, and so mixed up with good and evil as Mrs. Nelson’s.” Lucy was buried at Fork Church Cemetery in Doswell (Hanover County) on September 19th. Her burial sermon was taken from II Timothy 4:7, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” This was a fitting verse to describe Lucy’s life and character, the wife of a patriot and revolutionary, who herself sacrificed so much for the cause of freedom. On her gravestone she is identified as the relict of Governor Thomas Nelson. Her epitaph proclaims that she lived and died “Having Adored the Doctrine of God her Savior.” It is interesting to note that Lucy was not buried beside her husband. It is not known if Thomas was still buried in Hanover at the time of Lucy’s death or if he had already been reinterred in Yorktown. However, in 1909, during the 128th anniversary celebration of the surrender of Lord Cornwallis to General
      George Washington, a meeting was held of the descendants of Thomas and Lucy Nelson in Yorktown. A resolution was adopted to have Lucy reinterred next to her husband at Grace Episcopal Church. The 1909 resolution was never acted upon and Lucy remains separated from her husband and beyond the historical spotlight of the Colonial National Park at Yorktown. Lucy Grymes Nelson continues to rest at Fork Church Cemetery in Hanover surrounded by her many descendants.

      Fork Church

      Lucy Grymes Nelson original tombstone with plaque and commemorative marker

      Obituary of Lucy Grymes Nelson, Richmond Enquirer

      Laura Kelly Henderson Hayes
      Descendant – 5th Great Granddaughter of Lucy Grymes and Thomas Nelson, Jr.

      With research, genealogical, and transcription assistance by Anne Drayton Nelson of Hanover, wife of the late John Garnett Nelson, 4th great grandson; Thomas Page Nelson, Jr. of Roseland, 4th great grandson; Leroy A. Keller, Jr., 5th great grandson and Historian General and Virginia Governor General of the DSDI.


      Primary Sources

      Earnst, Emma. “’An Account of a Cucumber:’ The Nelsons and the Botanical Kitchen Garden.”
      Thesis, University of Virginia, nd. Autographed copy in the possession of Thomas P.
      Nelson, Jr.

      Letter Susanna Nelson Page, Rug Swamp, Hanover County to Mrs. Ralph W. Digges, Locust
      Lodge, Louisa County, 10 April 1835, (Smith-Digges Papers (1789-1843) Colonia
      Williamsburg Manuscript Collection, MS1931.7.

      Old Homes of Hanover County, Virginia, Hanover County Historical Society, 1983.

      Pamphlet “My Table and its History: A memorial to Lucy Grymes, relating much family
      history,” probably written by Mrs. Ralph Wormeley Digges, post 1843. (Smith-Digges
      Papers (1789-1843) Colonial Williamsburg Manuscript Collection, MS1931.7,
      transcribed by Thomas P. Nelson, Jr.

      Joy, Rev. Charles Austin, “Sketches about the Early People in the Life of St. Martin’s Parish by
      the Rev. Charles Austin Joy,” 1976. ‘January’ copied 15 April 1991 by Donald MacDonald, Rt. 1, and Box 314, Doswell, VA 23047 with the permission from the library of Arthur Hastings Taylor, III, Beaver Dam, Virginia.

      Portraits in the Collection of the Virginia Historical Society: A Catalogue, compiled by
      Virginius Cornick Hall, Jr. University Press of Virginia, 1981.

      Pyne, Frederick Wallace, Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, vol.6,
      “Virginia”, Picton Press, 2000.

      The Register of Saint Martin’s Parish 1824-1905, Hanover County, Virginia, National Society
      Daughters of the American Revolution, 1977.

      Secondary Sources

      The Beverley Family of Virginia, Descendants of Major Robert Beverley (1641-1687) and Allied
      Families, compiled by John McGill, The R.L. Bryan Company, 1956.

      The Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography, edited by Lyon Gardiner Tyler, Volume II, Lewis
      Historical Publishing Company, 1915.

      Evans, Emory G., Thomas Nelson of Yorktown, Revolutionary Virginian. The Colonial
      Williamsburg Foundation. The University Press of Virginia, 1975.

      Hatch, Charles E., Jr., The Nelson House and the Nelsons, Office of History and Historic
      Architecture, Eastern Service Center, U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Washington, D.C., 1969.

      Hanover County Historical Bulletin, No. 59, November 1998.

      Lee, Nell Moore. Patriot Above Profit: A Portrait of Thomas Nelson, Jr., who supported the
      American Revolution with his Purse and Sword, Rutledge Hill Press, 1988.

      Meade, William, Old Churches, Ministers and Families of Virginia, Lippincott, 1910, originally
      published 1857.

      Images – In order of appearance

      Lucy Grymes Nelson age 8. Courtesy of the Virginia Museum of History and Culture, formerly
      the Virginia Historical Society.

      The Grymes Children, 1751. Lucy Grymes (1743-1830), John Randolph Grymes (1747-1796),
      Philip Ludwell Grymes (1746-1805), Charles Grymes (b.1748). Attributed to John
      Hesselius. Courtesy of the Virginia Museum of History and Culture, formerly the Virginia Historical Society.

      The Nelson House, Yorktown, Virginia. Courtesy of the Colonial National Historical Park.

      Springfield, Hanover, Virginia, 2019. Courtesy of Kelly and David Aderhold and L. Kelly

      Fork Church, Hanover, Virginia.

      Original tombstone of Lucy Grymes Nelson, courtesy of Anne Drayton Nelson.

      Tombstone of Lucy Grymes Nelson after the addition of the commemorative marker. Courtesy
      of Fork Church and L. Kelly Hayes.

      Obituary of Lucy Grymes Nelson, Richmond Enquirer, September 28, 1830, p.3. Column 6.
      Original in the collection of the Virginia Museum of History and Culture formerly the
      Virginia Historical Society.

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