Author: Anna K. Roberts


Wilson Cary Nicholas (1761–1820)

Wilson Cary Nicholas was a member of the Convention of 1788, member of the U.S. Senate (1799–1804) and the U.S. House of Representatives (1807–1809), and governor of Virginia (1814–1816). Born in Williamsburg to a prominent political family, Nicholas was educated at the College of William and Mary and served as an officer of volunteers during the American Revolution (1775–1783). In 1780 he moved to a plantation in Albemarle County and represented the county in the House of Delegates from 1788 to 1789 and from 1794 to 1799. Nicholas voted to ratify the U.S. Constitution in the Convention of 1788, supporting Republicanism in the style of his friend Thomas Jefferson while also earning a reputation as a political moderate. The two worked together on revising what became the Virginia Resolutions (1798), asserting states’ right to nullify federal laws they deem unconstitutional. In the Senate, Nicholas supported the Louisiana Purchase and in Congress he advocated for war with Great Britain. As governor, he was charged with defending Virginia when war finally did break out and paying for that defense once the war ended. He later served as president of the Richmond branch of the Bank of the United States but his own personal financial trouble, combined with the Panic of 1819, led to his personal and professional downfall. He defaulted on two $10,000 notes, endorsed by Jefferson, and resigned in disgrace. He died in 1820.