|Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota|
May 20, 1858 – May 16, 1896
|Appointed by||James Buchanan|
|Preceded by||New seat|
|Succeeded by||William Lochren|
Rensselaer Russell Nelson|
May 12, 1826
Cooperstown, New York, U.S.
October 15, 1904 (aged 78)|
St. Paul, Minnesota, U.S.
Emma Fuller Beebee Wright
(m. 1858; her death 1886)
|Alma mater||Yale College|
Nelson was born in Cooperstown, New York on May 12, 1826. He was the fourth child of Samuel Nelson and Catharine Ann Russell, his father's second wife. His father, a U.S. Supreme Court justice, had two children from his previous marriage to Pamela Woods, who died in 1822.
Nelson attended Hartwick Seminary and graduated from Yale College in 1846, where he was a member of Skull and Bones.:71 And reading law with James R. Whiting of New York City, he entered the bar in 1849.
He was in private practice in Buffalo, New York from 1849 to 1850, and then in St. Paul, Minnesota Territory until 1853. He was a county attorney of Douglas County, Wisconsin from 1853 to 1855, returning to private practice in St. Paul until 1857. He was an associate justice of the Minnesota Territorial Supreme Court from 1857 to 1858.
On May 20, 1858, Nelson, a Democrat, was nominated by President James Buchanan to a new seat on the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota created by 11 Stat. 285. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on May 30, 1858, and received his commission on May 20, 1858. Nelson served in that capacity until his retirement from the bench, on May 16, 1896. His retirement, although expected due to his age and length of service, was still surprising considering:
There was considerable surprise in the United States Court to-day over the retirement of Judge Nelson. He was in the midst of a trial when he astonished every one by dismissing the jury, adjourning court, and announcing his retirement to private life. Judge Nelson is the oldest Judge in point of service on the federal bench, having been appointed nearly forty years ago.
On November 2, 1858, Nelson was married to Mrs. Emma Fuller (née Beebee) Wright (1832–1886). She was the daughter of Washington T. Beebee and Sarah A. (née Fuller) Beebee. Together, they were the parents of:
- Emma Beebee Nelson (b. 1859), who married the Rev. George H. Mueller (1857–1917), a German born businessman, in 1902.
- Kate Russell Nelson (1862–1869), who died young.
Nelson died in St. Paul on October 15, 1904.
- Encyclopedia of Biography of Minnesota: Illustrated with Steel Plate and Copper Plate Engravings. Higginson Book Company. 1900. pp. 462–463. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
- Revolution, Daughters of the American (1908). Lineage Book - National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Daughters of the American Revolution. p. 332. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
- "The twelfth general catalogue of the Psi Upsilon Fraternity". 1917. Retrieved March 24, 2011.
- "Nelson, Rensselaer Russell". www.fjc.gov. Federal Judicial Center. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
- Heilman, Cheryl (June 1, 2008). "Minnesota Lawyers and Judges Who Made History « Bench and Bar of Minnesota". mnbenchbar.com. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
- "Justice Rensselaer R. Nelson". mn.gov. Minnesota State Law Library. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
- "A SURPRISE TO WASHINGTON.; Three Unexpected Nominations Sent to the Senate Yesteraay". The New York Times. 16 May 1896. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
- Collections of the Minnesota Historical Society. Minnesota Historical Society. 1905. p. 870. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
- Obituary Record of Graduates of Yale University... Yale University. 1905. p. 421. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
- Revolution, Daughters of the American (1895). Lineage Book of the Charter Members of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Harrisburg Publishing Company. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
- The Churchman. Churchman Company. 1902. p. 42. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
- Rensselaer Russell Nelson at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, a public domain publication of the Federal Judicial Center.
| Judge of the United States District Court
for the District of Minnesota