The signers of the Declaration of Independence mutually pledged to each other their lives, their fortunes, and their Sacred Honor. Few made as great a sacrifice as Thomas Nelson Junior, the Virginia planter who spent $2 million of his own money to finance on an American fleet, and ordered the shelling of his own home in Yorktown in an effort to force Cornwallis to surrender.
Born on December 26, 1738, at Yorktown, Virginia, into wealth, Thomas Nelson Junior would be buried in an unmarked grave to avoid having creditors exhume the body to demand payment.
He attended Eton at 14 and graduated from Cambridge at 21. Returning home in 1761, he became a member of the House of Burgesses in Virginia. As the Crown put the screws on Americans, Nelson became an advocate of independence, placing him in the company of Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson, men he would succeed as elected governors of Virginia. Upon learning of the Boston Tea Party, Nelson became part of a tea party that threw cargo into the York River.
While Jefferson was drafting the Declaration of Independence in June 1776, Nelson worked on the Articles of Confederation which would guide the fledgling nation.
But after signing the Declaration, Nelson began suffering a series of strokes. He also had asthma. He also loaned the Continental Army money and purchased ships for the Navy. He quit the Continental Congress to recuperate at his home in Yorktown, which he had inherited when his father died in 1772. He remained involved in state politics and headed the militia.
The year 1781 was madness in Virginia. British Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton had Governor Jefferson and the legislature on the run. Nelson became governor, and also head of the militia. At Yorktown, he commanded 3,000 troops. At one point, they thought Cornwallis used the Nelson home as a headquarters and he ordered the artillery to fire upon his own home. Three cannonballs are lodged in the outer wall of the house.
The surrender of Cornwallis ended his public life. He spent the next eight years trying to collect on the $2 million he had loaned the nation, while trying to repair his house. He had to move in with his son in Hanover County, Virginia, where he died on January 4, 1789, at age 50. Freedom did not come cheap.
His home still stands and is part of the Colonial National Historical Park in Virginia. Some cite this to disprove he ordered the shelling. Those cannonballs are proof enough. We were founded by heroes.
My first collection of "Exceptional Americans" is available here. And the Kindle version is here.