NIXON, JOHN. (1727–1815). Continental general. Massachusetts. Son of a man who also spelled his name Nickson, he was born at Framingham, Massachusetts, on 1 March 1727. At age eighteen he enlisted in Sir William Pepperrell's Regiment and took part in the attack on Louisburg, Canada, in 1745. He was a lieutenant in the first contingent (7 March 1755) raised in Massachusetts at the start of the final French and Indian War, became a captain six months later (8 September) in Colonel Timothy Ruggles's Regiment, and fought at the battle of Lake George. He spent the winter on the frontier, and the next year was again a captain under Ruggles. After moving over the Framingham town line to Sudbury in 1758, he served as a captain in three more expeditions (1759, 1761, and 1762).
On 19 April 1775 he marched as captain of the minuteman company from Sudbury to the South Bridge at Concord, and there joined in harrying the British back to Boston. Five days later, he was appointed a colonel in the Massachusetts eight-months' army. He led his men across Charlestown Neck to support the redoubt and breastworks at Bunker Hill on 17 June and was seriously wounded in action. He took part in the siege of Boston and the defense of New York City, becoming colonel of the Fourth Continental Regiment on 1 January 1776 and brigadier general on 9 August 1776. His brigade of three Rhode Island and two Massachusetts regiments was assigned to Major General Nathanael Greene's division. It did not take part in the battle of Long Island, but a detachment was heavily engaged at Harlem Heights on 16 September and again at White Plains on 28 October. Nixon's brigade remained in the Hudson Highlands at the start of the New Jersey campaign, but moved south with the column led by Major General Charles Lee. During the Trenton campaign the brigade was down the Delaware River with the forces led by John Cadwalader and saw no action.
Appointed to command the First Massachusetts Brigade (Third, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Regiments) at the start of the 1777 campaign, Nixon and his men were ordered to reinforce the Northern army against the invasion of Burgoyne's army, reaching Fort Edward on 13 July. Major General Philip Schuyler, commander of the Northern Department, was anxious for reinforcement and complained that Nixon had taken four days to cover 46 miles with his brigade of only 575 rank and file fit for duty. Major General Horatio Gates, who replaced Schuyler on 4 August, placed Nixon's brigade on the extreme right of the defensive line atop Bemis Heights, overlooking the Hudson River, and it held this position during the two battles of Saratoga. The brigade led the tardy pursuit, however, and was halted at the Fishkill on 11 October after drawing fire from what Gates suddenly learned was not the enemy's rear guard but his main force. Nixon suffered permanent impairment to an eye and an ear during the fighting when a cannon ball passed close to his head. After escorting the Saratoga prisoners to Cambridge, Nixon spent several months on sick leave, married the widow of a comrade killed at Harlem Heights (Micajah Gleason), sat on the court-martial of Philip Schuyler (October 1778), and on 12 September 1780 resigned because of ill health.
He took no part in public life after the war. About seven years before his death he moved from Sudbury to Middlebury, Vermont, where he died on 24 March 1815.
Merriam, John M. "The Military Record of Brigadier General John Nixon of Massachusetts." Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, New Series, vol. 36 (April 1926): 38-70.
revised by Harold E. Selesky