Francis T. Nicholls

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Francis T. Nicholls
Francis T. Nicholls.jpg
28th Governor of Louisiana
In office
May 20, 1888 – May 10, 1892
Lieutenant James Jeffries
Preceded by Samuel D. McEnery
Succeeded by Murphy J. Foster
In office
April 24, 1877 – January 14, 1880
Lieutenant Louis A. Wiltz
Preceded by Stephen B. Packard
Succeeded by Louis A. Wiltz
Personal details
Born (1834-08-20)August 20, 1834
Donaldsonville, Louisiana
Died January 4, 1912(1912-01-04) (aged 77)
near Thibodaux, Louisiana
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Caroline Zilpha Guion
Alma mater University of Louisiana (later named Tulane University)
Religion Episcopalian
Military service
Allegiance  United States Army
 Confederate States Army
Years of service 1855–1856 (USA)
1861–1865 (CSA)
Rank Union army 2nd lt rank insignia.jpg 2nd Lieutenant (USA)
Confederate States of America General-collar.svg Brigadier General (CSA)
Unit 2nd U.S. Artillery
8th Louisiana Infantry (CSA)
Commands 15th Louisiana Infantry (CSA)
Nicholls' Brigade
Battles/wars Third Seminole War
American Civil War

Francis Redding Tillou Nicholls (August 20, 1834 – January 4, 1912) was an American attorney, politician, judge, and a brigadier general in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War. He served two terms as the 28th Governor of Louisiana, first from 1876 to 1880 and then from 1888 to 1892.

Nicholls and such fellow Democrats as Richard Coke of neighboring Texas and Wade Hampton of South Carolina were called "Redeemer" governors because their elections, coupled with the accession to the White House of moderate Republican President Rutherford B. Hayes, essentially ended the power of Radical Republicans during Reconstruction. As things developed, the "Redeemers" imposed a one-party system on the defeated South which lasted for nearly a century.

Early life and career

Nicholls was born in Donaldsonville, Louisiana, the seat of Ascension Parish, the seventh son of Thomas Clark Nicholls (himself a seventh son) and Louisa Hannah (Drake) Nicholls, a sister of the poet Joseph Rodman Drake and sister-in-law of Francis Redding Tillou. His paternal grandfather was Cornish American Edward Church Nicholls.[1] He attended Jefferson Academy in New Orleans and graduated in 1855 from the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. Initially assigned as a second lieutenant in the 2nd U.S. Artillery Regiment, he served in the third war against the Seminoles in Florida, but resigned his commission after a year and returned home.

He then attended the University of Louisiana (subsequently Tulane University) in New Orleans. He practiced law in Napoleonville, the seat of Assumption Parish, until the start of the Civil War.

Two weeks after the surrender of Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, Nicholls wed the former Caroline Zilpha Guion, the daughter of George Seth Guion and the former Caroline Lucretia Winder. The couple had one son, Francis Welman Nicholls (born 1863), and six daughters, Caroline (born 1865), Louisa (born 1868), Harriet (born 1870), Virginia (born 1873), Margaret (born 1875), and Elizabeth (born 1877).

Civil War

Nicholls joined the Confederate Army in 1861 as a captain in the 8th Louisiana Infantry Regiment and participated in the First Battle of Bull Run and in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign in Virginia, where he lost his left arm. In July 1862 he became colonel of the just formed 15th Louisiana Infantry. On October 14, 1862, Nicholls was promoted to the rank of brigadier general and given command of a brigade of Louisiana infantry. During the Battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia, in May 1863, a shell ripped off Nicholls' left foot. According to James Whitcomb Brougher, Sr., in Life and Laughter, (p.89) he lost an eye at Richmond.

Disabled and unfit for further field command, he was transferred to the Trans-Mississippi Department to direct the Volunteer and Conscript Bureau until the end of the war.


After the war, Nicholls returned to his law practice. In 1876, he ran for governor against the Republican Stephen B. Packard. The outcome was disputed, and both men claimed victory. Nicholls garnered a majority of 9,000,000e Republican-controlled State Returning Board cited irregularities and declared Packard the winner. As part of the Compromise of 1877 to resolve the disputed presidential election of 1876, President Hayes recognized the Democrat Nicholls as the winner.[2]

During his first term, he battled political corruption, which was epitomized by Samuel James, the operator of the convict lease system, state Treasurer Edward A. Burke, and Lieutenant Governor Louis A. Wiltz, who supported the corrupt Louisiana Lottery.

Nicholls chaired the Louisiana Constitutional Convention of 1879, and returned the state capital from New Orleans to Baton Rouge. He also accepted an appointment from President Grover Cleveland to the Board of Visitors for the U.S. Military Academy.

After his tenure as governor closed, Nicholls became Chief Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court in 1892, a post which he held until 1911. He also grew sugar cane and other crops on his Ridgefield Plantation near Thibodaux, the seat of Lafourche Parish. He died at Ridgefield. Francis and Caroline Nicholls, Thomas Clark Nicholls, and other family members are interred in St. John's Episcopal Church and Cemetery in Thibodaux.


From 1913 to about 1950, there was a vocational school at 3649 Laurel Street in New Orleans named for Nicholls. It opened as the Francis T. Nicholls Industrial School for Girls, and offered secondary vocational training, concentrating on apparel manufacturing. The school was later renamed Nicholls Vocational School for Girls, and even later Nicholls Evening Vocational School.[3]

In 1940, a new public high school, Francis T. Nicholls High School, was opened at 3820 St. Claude Avenue in New Orleans. In the late 1990s the high school was renamed for former slave and abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass. It is now a charter school, part of the KIPP Family Schools and known as KIPP Renaissance High School. During the 1960s, the school was integrated and black students fought to change the team names from The Rebels" and the mascot from the Confederate flag to the current Bobcat.[4]

There is a "Governor Nicholls Street" in New Orleans. Where it meets the Mississippi River near the downriver end of the French Quarter, there is a Governor Nicholls Street Wharf. Atop the wharf shed there, the United States Coast Guard built a manned control tower with a red and green traffic signal to control vessel traffic rounding Algiers Point.[5] When speaking to the controller via marine VHF radio, mariners address him or her familiarly as "Governor Nick."

Nicholls State University, founded in 1948, is a public university located in Thibodaux, Louisiana. Nicholls is part of the University of Louisiana System. Originally called Francis T. Nicholls Junior College, the university is named for Francis T. Nicholls.

See also


  1. Rowse, A.L. The Cousin Jacks, The Cornish in America
  2. Appletons' Annual Cyclopaedia and Register of Important Events. D. Appleton and company. 1878.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Blake Pontchartrain, New Orleans Know-It-All". Gambit Weekly. 2006-02-14. Retrieved 2006-04-29.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Etheridge, Frank (2005-07-05). "Derailing Plessy Park". Gambit Weekly. Retrieved 2006-04-29.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Vessel Traffic Service Lower Mississippi River". EPA: Federal Register. April 26, 2000. Retrieved 2006-04-29.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • "Francis Tillou Nicholls," A Dictionary of Louisiana Biography, Vol. 2 (1988), p. 603.
  • Garnie W. McGinty, "Francis Tillou Redding Nicholls," North Louisiana History, Vol. 15, No. 1 (Winter 1984), pp. 30–39

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Stephen B. Packard
Governor of Louisiana
1877 - 1880
Succeeded by
Louis A. Wiltz
Preceded by
Samuel D. McEnery
Governor of Louisiana
1888 - 1892
Succeeded by
Murphy J. Foster