Wilson Cary Nicholas

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Wilson Cary Nicholas
Wilson Cary Nicholas 2.jpg
Wilson Cary Nicholas, by Gilbert Stuart. 1805.
19th Governor of Virginia
In office
December 1, 1814 – December 1, 1816
Preceded byJames Barbour
Succeeded byJames P. Preston
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 21st district
In office
March 4, 1807 – November 27, 1809
Preceded byThomas M. Randolph, Jr.
Succeeded byDavid S. Garland
United States Senator from Virginia
In office
December 5, 1799 – May 22, 1804
Preceded byHenry Tazewell
Succeeded byAndrew Moore
Member of the Virginia House of Delegates from Albemarle County
In office
1794 – December 1789
Serving with Edward Moore, Joseph Jones Monroe, Francis Walker
Preceded byWilliam Clarke
Succeeded byWilliam Woods
Member of the Virginia House of Delegates from Albemarle County
In office
1788–1789
Serving with Francis Walker
Preceded byGeorge Nicholas
Succeeded byWilliam Clarke
Member of the Virginia House of Delegates from Albemarle County
In office
1784–1786
Serving with Joshua Fry
Edward Carter
Preceded byGeorge Nicholas
Succeeded byGeorge Nicholas
Personal details
Born(1761-01-31)January 31, 1761
Williamsburg, Colony of Virginia, British America
DiedOctober 10, 1820(1820-10-10) (aged 59)
Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic-Republican
RelationsRobert Carter Nicholas Sr. (Father)
George Nicholas (Brother)
John Nicholas (Brother)
Robert C. Nicholas (Nephew)
Samuel Smith (Brother in law)
Robert Smith (Brother in Law)
Alma materCollege of William and Mary

Wilson Cary Nicholas (January 31, 1761 – October 10, 1820) was an American politician who served in the U.S. Senate from 1799 to 1804 and was the 19th Governor of Virginia from 1814 to 1816.

Early life[edit]

Nicholas was born in Williamsburg in the Colony of Virginia on January 31, 1761. The son of Robert Carter Nicholas Sr. and his wife Ann Cary was born into the First Families of Virginia.

Education[edit]

As usual for his class, he received a private education and later attended the College of William and Mary. Nicholas studied law, probably with his father, and possibly with George Wythe.

Family[edit]

The brothers of Wilson Cary Nicholas included attorneys George Nicholas and John Nicholas. Another brother, Philip Norborne Nicholas (1776-1849) served as Virginia's attorney general from 1800 to 1819.

Nicholas married Margaret Smith (1765–1849) of Baltimore. His brother George married Margaret's sister, Mary. Thus his brothers-in-law (the sisters' brother) were Samuel Smith and Robert Smith.

The children of Wilson Cary Nicholas and Margaret Smith Nicholas included Mary Buchanan, Charlotte G., Jane Hollins, John Smith, and Sidney Smith. Jane Hollins Nicholas (1798–1871) was the wife of Thomas Jefferson's grandson Thomas Jefferson Randolph (1792–1875).

Revolutionary War[edit]

Nicholas served as a lieutenant in the Albemarle County Militia during the American Revolution.[1]

Career[edit]

Nicholas was admitted to the Virginia bar in 1778, and returned to Albemarle County after the war, where he owned and operated a plantation along the James River which he called Mount Warren. Like his father and relatives, Nicholas farmed and operated his household using enslaved labor. In the final census during his lifetime, he owned 57 slaves in Albemarle County, of whom 32 were engaged in agriculture.[2] Albemarle County voters elected (and re-elected) Nicholas as one of their two members of the Virginia House of Delegates several times, and he served in that part-time position from 1784 to 1785 and again 1788 to 1789. Both he and his brother George (who served several times when W.C. Nicholas did not run) represented Albemarle County in the ratifying convention of 1788, which approved the Federal Constitution.[3] During the deliberations, on June 6, 1788, Nicholas countered Patrick Henry's objection that correcting defects in the new national Constitution by way of the Article V convention would be excessively difficult. Nicholas said, "The conventions which shall be so called will have their deliberations confined to a few points; no local interest to divert their attention; nothing but the necessary alterations. They will have many advantages over the last Convention. No experiments to devise; the general and fundamental regulations being already laid down."[4]

From 1794 to 1800, Nicholas again won election and several times on re-election as one of Albemarle County's two representatives in the House of Delegates.[5] He resigned after Fellow legislators elected him as a Democratic-Republican to the U.S. Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Henry Tazewell. Nicholas served as one of Virginia's Senators from December 5, 1799, until May 22, 1804, when he resigned to become collector of the port of Norfolk 1804–1807.

Nicholas re-entered the public arena and won election to the U.S. House of Representatives in the Tenth and Eleventh Congresses and served from March 4, 1807, until his resignation on November 27, 1809. He was elected Governor of Virginia in 1814 and served until 1816, when he retired from office.

Nicholas also became president of the Richmond branch of the Second Bank of the United States, charted by fellow Virginian and President James Madison in 1816, after Nicholas' daughter Jane married Thomas Jefferson Randolph, eldest and favorite grandson of Nicholas' longtime neighbor and friend, Thomas Jefferson. The bank made several loans to the former President, beset with high expenses from a constant flow of visitors to Monticello. However, Nicholas also speculated in western lands, which put him in serious debt during the Panic of 1819.[6] Jefferson had endorsed two of Nicholas's notes for $10,000 each, believing that Nicholas' plantations were worth more than $350,000. However, after Nicholas' death, his lands were worth only a third of that amount, and the estate was insolvent, which indebtedness greatly worsened Jefferson's financial situation, as described below.[7]

Death[edit]

He died on October 11, 1820 at Tufton, the plantation home of his daughter Jane and her husband, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, now part of Jefferson's Monticello near Charlottesville, Virginia. Nicholas was interred in the Jefferson burying ground at Monticello, near Charlottesville. However, when Jefferson died on July 4, 1826 and an inventory taken of his estate, debts attributable to Nicholas' insolvency far exceeded those incurred by Jefferson personally, which led to the sale of the furnishing and slaves of Monticello, and which was not finally extinguished by his descendants until 1878, following Jeff Randolph's death.

Legacy[edit]

The Virginia General Assembly named Nicholas County, West Virginia in his honor in 1818. Also named for him is a residence hall at William and Mary.[8]

References[edit]

  1. ^ The Magazine of Albemarle County History, Volumes 35–36. Albemarle County Historical Society. 1980. p. 143.
  2. ^ 1820 U.S. Federal Census for St. Ann's Parish, Albemarle County, Virginia p. 9 of 11.
  3. ^ Cynthia Miller Leonard, The Virginia General Assembly 1618-1978 (Richmond: Virginia State Library 1978) pp. 153, 156, 168, 172, 175
  4. ^ Eliot's Debates, vol. 3, p. 102, quoted in Russell L. Caplan, Constitutional Brinksmanship, Amending the Constitution by National Convention (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), p. 139.
  5. ^ Leonard pp. 195, 199, 203, 207, 211, 215
  6. ^ Herbert E. Sloan, Principle and Interest: Thomas Jefferson and the Problem of Debt (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2001), p. 219
  7. ^ Melvin I. Urofsky, The Levy Family and Monticello, 1834-1923 (Monticello Monograph Series 2001, pp. 19, 36
  8. ^ "William & Mary – Cabell & Nicholas Halls". Wm.edu. Retrieved July 2, 2016.

External links[edit]

Archival Records

U.S. Senate
Preceded by
Henry Tazewell
U.S. senator (Class 2) from Virginia
December 5, 1799 – May 22, 1804
Served alongside: Stevens T. Mason, John Taylor, Abraham B. Venable
Succeeded by
Andrew Moore
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Thomas M. Randolph, Jr.
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 21st congressional district

March 4, 1807 – November 27, 1809
Succeeded by
David S. Garland
Political offices
Preceded by
James Barbour
Governor of Virginia
December 1, 1814 – December 1, 1816
Succeeded by
James P. Preston