136
136
Nelson, Thomas, Signer of the Declaration of Independence from Virginia
Estimate
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LOT SOLD. 18,750 USD
JUMP TO LOT
136
Nelson, Thomas, Signer of the Declaration of Independence from Virginia
Estimate
20,00030,000
LOT SOLD. 18,750 USD
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

The JAMES S. COPLEY LIBRARY: MAGNIFICENT AMERICAN HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS: FIRST SELECTION

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Nelson, Thomas, Signer of the Declaration of Independence from Virginia
Autograph letter, 4 pages (9 1/8 x 7 1/4 in.; 231 x 184 mm) on a bifolium, Philadelphia, 13 February 1776, to John Page (at Rosewell Plantation, Gloucestor, Virginia), docketed in left margin of first page "Febry 13 1776"; separated at central fold, each sheet backed with tissue, closing a few tears and tiny losses costing bits of several characters. Half green morocco slipcase gilt, chemise.
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Provenance

Mrs. Philip D. Sang (Sotheby Parke Bernet, 26 April 1983, lot 74)

Literature

Letters of Delegates, ed. Smith, 3:248–49

Catalogue Note

Thomas Nelson mounts a blistering assault against Great Britain and the loyalists whose "squeamishness" prevents them from supporting the cause of independence: "We are carrying on a War & no War, they seize our property wherever they find it, either by Land or by Sea & we hesitate to retaliate, because we have a few friends in England. ..."

After acknowledging receipt of Page's most recent letter, Nelson warns his kinsman that their home colony must begin to prepare for military incursion by British General Henry Clinton, assisted by Virginia's royal governor, Hohn Murray, Earl of Dunmore: "It would certainly be prudent to draw off the Troops from Norfolk for what purpose can they serve by being kept before a ruinous Town & my word for it, you will have occasion for them elsewhere ere long. I am not a little uneasy at the situation of Williamsburg, for by the intelligence we have had, that City is but in a weak state of defence; & should Clinton proceed shortly to Virga, as is imagined, depend upon it Dunmore will make a violent push to effect the destruction of that place."

Nelson next reflects on the difficulties of persuading the Congress to assist with the expenses of some Virginia militia batallions. "We laid the Virginia matters before Congress yesterday & supported them with all our powers; but they met with so strong an opposition from almost every Colony, that altho' they were defer'd till to day as a piece of respect, yet I am almost afraid I know their fate. I do not believe that they will allow a Man more than the Six Battallions formerly voted; nor do I think they will agree that the two Battallions first raisd shall be taken into continental pay from the first of Novr, but from the time the vote past. They say that this will introduce an immense expence, as almost every Colony will have a claim of the same sort. However we shall neglect no step that will serve Virginia." In fact, the Congress did support the Virginia delegation in this matter. Later the same day, Congress voted to assume the expenses of two Virginia battalions retroactively to 1 November 1775, and about six weeks later, three further batallions from the Old Dominion were placed on Continental pay.

After discussing his plans to "to get leave of absence for a few Weeks, that I may settle my family & my affairs," Nelson expresses a sardonic resolution to see United Colonies freed from Great Britain. "[O]ur affairs are in such a train now, that if we can but be supplied with Arms & Ammunition, I do not doubt of success in this glorious undertaking. Independance, Confederation & foreign alliance are as formidable to some of the Congress, I fear to a majority, as an apparition to a weak enervated Woman. These subjects have been but gently touch'd upon. Would you think that we have some among us, who still expect honorable proposals from administration? By Heavens I am an infidel in politicks, for I do not believe were you to bid a thousand pound per scruple for Honor at the Court of Britain that you would get as many as would amount to an ounce. If Terms should be propos'd they will savor so much of Despotism that America cannot accept them.

"We are carrying on a War & no War, they seize our property wherever they find it, either by Land or by Sea & we hesitate to retaliate, because we have a few friends in England who have Ships. Away with such squeamishness say I, but I cannot do as I would wish." The Mother Country, Nelson continues, wants even to strip the colonies of their religous freedoms: "What think you of the Right Revd Fathers in God the Bishops? One of them refus'd to ordain a young Gentleman, who went from America, because he was a rebellious American, so that unless we will submit to Parliamentary oppression, we shall not have the gospel of Christ preach'd among us. As a Member of the Church of England I am sorry for it, but let every Man worship God under his own Fig Tree."

His anger and frustration evidently spent, Nelson concludes on a decidely domestic note: "Mrs. Nelson has been gone so long that I have forgotten the length of her foot, but Mr. Young tells me he has a Shoe of Mrs Pages." Nelson does not sign the letter but instead closes "Adieu Dr Page."

Nelson departed Philadelphia about 23 February; when he resumed his seat in Congress on 9 June, he found that the mood of Congress was tending towards his own staunch perspective.

The JAMES S. COPLEY LIBRARY: MAGNIFICENT AMERICAN HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS: FIRST SELECTION

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New York