Wilson Cary Nicholas

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Wilson Cary Nicholas
Wilson Cary Nicholas 2.jpg
Wilson Cary Nicholas, by Gilbert Stuart. 1805.
United States Senator
from Virginia
In office
December 5, 1799 – May 22, 1804
Preceded by Henry Tazewell
Succeeded by Andrew Moore
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 21st district
In office
March 4, 1807 – November 27, 1809
Preceded by Thomas M. Randolph, Jr.
Succeeded by David S. Garland
19th Governor of Virginia
In office
December 1, 1814 – December 1, 1816
Preceded by James Barbour
Succeeded by James P. Preston
Personal details
Born (1761-01-31)January 31, 1761
Williamsburg, Virginia
Died October 10, 1820(1820-10-10) (aged 59)
Charlottesville, Virginia
Political party Democratic-Republican
Relations Brother of George Nicholas
Uncle of Robert C. Nicholas
Alma mater College 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.


Nicholas was born in Williamsburg, Virginia and later attended the College of William and Mary.

Revolutionary War service

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


After the war, he was a member of the Virginia House of Delegates 1784-1789 and a delegate to the ratifying convention of 1788 which approved the Federal Constitution.

During the deliberations, on June 6, 1788, Nicholas countered Patrick's Henry's objection that correcting defects in the new national Constitution by way of the Article V convention would be excessively difficult. Said Nicholas: "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."[2]

During the years 1794-1800, Nicholas served again in the State house of delegates. He was elected as a Democratic-Republican to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Henry Tazewell and served from December 5, 1799, until May 22, 1804, when he resigned to become collector of the port of Norfolk 1804-1807. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in the Tenth and Eleventh Congresses and served from March 4, 1807, until his resignation November 27, 1809. Nicholas was chosen to be Governor of Virginia and served in that position 1814-1817.

Nicholas also served as president of the Richmond branch of the Second Bank of the United States. His speculations in western lands put him in serious debt during the Panic of 1819. Having convinced Thomas Jefferson to endorse two of his notes for $10,000 each, he also plunged Jefferson into debt.[3]


He died at Tufton, near Charlottesville, Virginia. Nicholas was interred in the Jefferson burying ground at Monticello, near Charlottesville.


Wilson Cary Nicholas married Margaret Smith (1765-1849) of Baltimore. His brother George was married to Margaret's sister Mary. Margaret and Mary Smith were the sisters of Samuel Smith and Robert Smith.

The children of Wilson Cary Nicholas and Margaret Smith 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).


Nicholas County, West Virginia was formed in 1843 and named for him.


  1. The Magazine of Albemarle County History, Volumes 35-36. Albemarle County Historical Society. 1980. p. 143.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 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.
  3. Herbert E. Sloan, Principle and Interest: Thomas Jefferson and the Problem of Debt (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2001), p. 219

External links

Archival Records
United States 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
United States 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