John Nelson (lawyer)

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John Nelson
John Nelson, bw photo portrait, Brady-Handy collection, circa 1855-1865.jpg
17th United States Attorney General
In office
July 1, 1843 – March 4, 1845
PresidentJohn Tyler
Preceded byHugh S. Legaré
Succeeded byJohn Y. Mason
United States Chargé d'Affaires to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies
In office
October 25, 1831 – October 15, 1832
PresidentAndrew Jackson
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded byEnos T. Throop
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Maryland's 4th district
In office
March 4, 1821 – March 3, 1823
Preceded bySamuel Ringgold
Succeeded byJohn Lee
Personal details
Born(1791-06-01)June 1, 1791
Frederick, Maryland, U.S.
DiedJanuary 18, 1860(1860-01-18) (aged 68)
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
Political partyWhig
Frances Harriott Burrows
(died 1836)

Matilda Tennant
(m. 1838)
RelationsCharles Steele (grandson)
Parent(s)Roger Nelson
Mary Brooke Sim Nelson
Alma materCollege of William and Mary
ProfessionPolitician, Lawyer

John Nelson (June 1, 1791 – January 18, 1860) was an American lawyer and statesman who served as the Attorney General of the United States from 1843 to 1845 under President John Tyler.[1] He served as the first United States Chargé d'Affaires to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies from 1831 to 1832 and as the U.S. representative for Maryland's 4th district from 1821 to 1823.[2]

Early life[edit]

Nelson was born in Frederick, Maryland on June 1, 1791. He was the fourth child of Roger Nelson and Mary Brooke (née Sim) Nelson (d. 1794).[3] Among his siblings was Madison Nelson, Frederick Stembel Nelson, and Sarah (née Nelson) Maulsby. His father served as Brigadier general during the Revolutionary War (and one of the original members of the Society of Cincinnati) and, later, a U.S. Representative.

He graduated from the College of William and Mary in 1811, and was admitted to the bar in 1813, starting practice in Frederick.[4]


He held several local offices before being elected to the United States House of Representatives representing Maryland's 4th district. He served only one term, March 4, 1821, to March 3, 1823, and was not a candidate for reelection. Nelson received an A.M. degree from Princeton University in 1825.[1]

In 1831, he was appointed Chargé d'affaires to the Two Sicilies, a position he served in from 1831 to 1832.[5]

President John Tyler appointed him Attorney General of the United States on July 1, 1843. He served in this position until the end of the Tyler administration. He also served as United States Secretary of State ad interim for about a month in 1844 after the sudden death of the previous Secretary of State Abel P. Upshur.[1]

After the end of the Tyler administration, Nelson retired from public life and returned to Baltimore.[1]

Personal life[edit]

Nelson was married to Frances Harriott Burrows (1798–1836), a daughter of William Ward Burrows I, the second Commandant of the Marine Corps, and the sister of William Ward Burrows II, a decorated officer in the United States Navy. Together, they were the parents of:[6]

After his first wife's death in 1836, he married Matilda Tennant (d. 1862), the daughter of Thomas Tennant,[9] on March 13, 1838.[10] Matilda and John were the parents of two children:

  • Joseph Story Nelson
  • Tennant Nelson

Nelson died in Baltimore, Maryland, on January 8, 1860.[11]


Through his daughter, he was the grandfather of Charles Steele, who was born in Baltimore and later spent 39 years as a partner in J.P. Morgan & Co. in New York City.[12]


  1. ^ a b c d "NELSON, John - Biographical Information". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved 8 March 2019.
  2. ^ "Congress Profiles | US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives". Retrieved 2023-02-12.
  3. ^ Lineage Book. The Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. 1896. p. 271. Retrieved 8 March 2019.
  4. ^ Ashbury, John W. (2013). Frederick County Characters: Innovators, Pioneers and Patriots of Western Maryland. Arcadia Publishing. p. 129. ISBN 9781625847508. Retrieved 8 March 2019.
  5. ^ Tracey, Grace L.; Dern, John Philip (1987). Pioneers of Old Monocacy: The Early Settlement of Frederick County, Maryland, 1721-1743. Genealogical Publishing Com. p. 59. ISBN 9780806311838. Retrieved 8 March 2019.
  6. ^ Swaine, Robert T. (2007). The Cravath Firm and Its Predecessors, 1819-1947. The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd. pp. 477–479. ISBN 9781584777137. Retrieved 8 March 2019.
  7. ^ "STEELE, John Nevett - Biographical Information". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  8. ^ Jones, Elias (1902). History of Dorchester County, Maryland. Williams & Wilkins. p. 304. Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  9. ^ Engelbrecht, Jacob (1976). The Diary of Jacob Engelbrecht, 1818-1878: 1832-1858, the building of the clustered spires: 1832-1858. Historical Society of Frederick County. p. 21. Retrieved 8 March 2019.
  10. ^ Scharf, John Thomas (1968). History of Western Maryland: Being a History of Frederick, Montgomery, Carroll, Washington, Allegany, and Garrett Counties from the Earliest Period to the Present Day; Including Biographical Sketches of Their Representative Men. Genealogical Publishing Com. p. 430. ISBN 9780806345659. Retrieved 8 March 2019.
  11. ^ "Attorney General: John Nelson". U.S. Department of Justice. 23 October 2014. Retrieved 8 March 2019.
  12. ^ "CHAS. STEELE DIES; MORGAN PARTNER; Member of Firm 39 Years Had Served House as Lawyer in 1890s--Succumbs at 82 EPISCOPAL CHURCH LEADER Endowed the St. Thomas Choir School--Was Treasurer of Opera Real Estate Co. Joined Banking Firm in 1900 Endowed Church Choir School" (PDF). The New York Times. 6 August 1939. Retrieved 8 March 2019.

External links[edit]

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Maryland's 4th congressional district

March 4, 1821 – March 3, 1823
Succeeded by
Legal offices
Preceded by U.S. Attorney General
Served under: John Tyler

July 1, 1843 – March 4, 1845
Succeeded by
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
United States Ambassador to Italy
October 24, 1831 – October 15, 1832
Succeeded by