Samuel Nelson

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For the Northern Irish footballer, see Sammy Nelson.
Samuel L Nelson
Samuel Nelson - Brady-Handy.jpg
Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court
In office
February 14, 1845[1] – November 28, 1872
Nominated by John Tyler
Preceded by Smith Thompson
Succeeded by Ward Hunt
Personal details
Born (1792-11-10)November 10, 1792
Hebron, New York
Died December 13, 1873(1873-12-13) (aged 81)
Cooperstown, New York
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Pamela Woods
Catharine Russell
Religion Episcopalian [2]

Samuel Nelson (November 10, 1792 – December 13, 1873) was an American attorney and a Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Early life[edit]

Born in Hebron, New York, Nelson graduated from Middlebury College in Vermont in 1813 and read law with the firm of Savage & Woods in Salem, New York. He received his license to practice law in 1817, and entered private practice in Cortland, New York.


Nelson was a presidential elector in 1820, voting for James Monroe and Daniel D. Tompkins. Nelson was Postmaster of Cortland from 1820 to 1823.

He was Judge of the Sixth Circuit Court from 1823 to 1831; an associate justice of the New York Supreme Court from 1831 to 1837; and Chief Justice from 1837 to 1845. He was an unsuccessful candidate for U.S. Senator from New York in 1845.

On February 4, 1845, Nelson was nominated by President John Tyler to a seat as an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States vacated by Smith Thompson. Nelson was confirmed by the United States Senate on February 14, 1845, and received his commission immediately. Nelson's confirmation in the last month of Tyler's presidency was a surprise. The unpopular Tyler had failed repeatedly to fill the vacancy left by Thompson, as the Whig-controlled Senate rejected his nominations of John C. Spencer, Reuben Walworth, Edward King and John M. Read. The Whigs found Nelson acceptable because, although he was a Democrat, he had a reputation as a careful and uncontroversial jurist.

Nelson served as a Justice for 27 years, until his retirement on November 28, 1872. His tenure was generally viewed as unremarkable.

In 1871, President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Nelson to serve on the joint high commission to arbitrate the Alabama claims. During this time he took a leave of absence from the bench. Soon thereafter, Nelson became ill. He resigned from the commission in 1872, shortly before his death.

Death and burial[edit]

Samuel Nelson died in Cooperstown, New York, in 1873. He was buried at Cooperstown's Lakewood Cemetery.


Nelson married Pamela Woods in 1819. In 1825, after Pamela's death, he married Catharine Ann Russell. He had two children from his first marriage and six from his second. His fourth child with Catharine, Rensselaer Nelson, was the first United States District Court Judge for the District of Minnesota.


Nelson received the honorary degree of LL.D. from Geneva College in 1837 and Middlebury College in 1841. He received honorary LL.D. degrees from Columbia University and Hamilton College in 1870.


His law office may today be seen at the Farmers' Museum in Cooperstown.[3]


  1. ^ "Federal Judicial Center: Samuel Nelson". 2009-12-09. Retrieved 2009-12-09. 
  2. ^ Lawrence Kestenbaum. "Index to Politicians: Nelson". The Political Graveyard. Retrieved 2014-08-08. 
  3. ^ "Historic Structures - Samuel Nelson Law Office | The Farmers' Museum". Retrieved 2014-08-08. 

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Smith Thompson
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
February 14, 1845 – November 28, 1872
Succeeded by
Ward Hunt