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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 711

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This is the grave of Thomas Nelson.

Born in 1738 in Yorktown, Virginia, Nelson was part of the early Virginia elite. He was educated in England, graduating from Cambridge in 1760 and then returning home. He married rich, owned a ton of slaves, operated big plantations, and lived the life of the truly rich of the American colonies.

Nelson was first elected to the House of Burgesses in 1761 and became associated with the colonial cause against the British by the 1770s. He was a delegate to the many Virginia conventions on what to do about the situation through the 1770s. In 1776, he was a member of the Second Continental Congress, which means he was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. We think of our Founding Fathers, for all the problems that construction provides about our past. But many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence are basically obscure, forgotten figures who just happened to be in the right place, playing minor but important roles in the American Revolution. That is certainly true of Nelson, who was basically a respected rich Virginia planter who was the lesser light compared to his fellow young Virginian Thomas Jefferson.

Nelson later served as governor of Virginia after Jefferson, was at the Siege of Yorktown, and was in the Virginia House of Delegates for a few terms in the 1780s. But honestly, that’s about it, other than of course him wresting an easy life out of the violence of slavery, which should never be forgotten. He died in 1789, at the age of 50. People died young then. Nelson wasn’t a huge figure to begin with, but he was locally important and of course signed the nation’s foundational document.

Thomas Nelson is buried in Grace Episcopal Churchyard, Yorktown, Virginia.

This grave visit was funded by LGM reader donations. Many thanks! If you would like this series to visit other signers of the Declaration of Independence, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Thomas Stone is buried in Port Tobacco, Maryland and Abraham Clark is in Rahway, New Jersey. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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