Nelson House, Yorktown Virginia
Image by Ken Lund
I visted the site of the Battle of Yorktown as part of my tour of the Hampton Roads area of Southeast Virginia in May 2003 while staying with a friend in Washington, D.C. The Yorktown area is spectacular. Yorktown itself sits across a brook from the Yorktown Visitors Center. A swarm of bumblebees was plaguing the bridge when I crossed it. Crossing was an act of courage. But I am glad I did, as the town of Yorktown itself is very worthwhile.
The circa 1730 Nelson House built by "Scotch Tom" Nelson 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.
Thomas Nelson, Jr. (December 26, 1738–January 4, 1789), was an American planter, soldier, and statesman from Yorktown, Virginia. He represented Virginia in the Continental Congress and was its Governor in 1781. He is regarded as one of the U.S. Founding Fathers since he signed the Declaration of Independence as a member of the Virginia delegation.
Thomas, Jr. was actually the grandson of Thomas "Scotch Tom" Nelson, an immigrant from Scotland who was an early pioneer at Yorktown. His father, William Nelson was also a leader of the colony, and briefly served as governor. Thomas was born at Yorktown, and like many Virginians of his time, was educated in England. He attended Eton before entering Trinity College at Cambridge University. He graduated in 1760 and returned home the following year.
Thomas was first elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1761. The following year he married Lucy Grymes (her maternal uncle was Peyton Randolph; her paternal aunt was the mother of "Light Horse Harry" Lee). Their son Hugh Nelson (1768-1836) would later serve in the U.S. Congress.
When the Revolution neared in 1774, Lord Dunmore, the royal governor, dismissed the Burgesses. Nelson was a member of the rebel convention that met in response. He supported motions to support resistance to the Boston Port Act. The following year he was an active voice in reorganizing the militia, outside of royal control and loyalist influences. He was named Colonel of the 3rd Virginia Regiment, but resigned the post when elected to the Continental Congress later in 1775.
Nelson’s first term in the Congress continued until 1777, when about of illness forced his resignation. While a member of Congress, Nelson still found time to return home and play a key role in Virginia’s Constitutional Convention in the spring of 1776. He returned to Congress in time to sign the Declaration of Independence.
He was commanding General of the Lower Virginia Militia, and succeeded Thomas Jefferson as governor of Virginia. Nelson himself was engaged in the final siege of Yorktown. According to legend, he urged General Washington (or, in some versions, the Marquis de Lafayette) to fire on his own home, the Nelson House, where Cornwallis had his headquarters, offering five guineas to the first man to hit his house.