Sir Francis Nicholson

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Sir Francis Nicholson

Sir Francis Nicholson (1655-1728) was colonial governor of a number of colonies: New York, Virginia, Maryland, Nova Scotia, and South Carolina.

Francis Nicholson was born on Nov. 12, 1655, in Yorkshire, England. Entering the army in 1679, he spent several years as courier and aide to the governor of Tangier in West Africa. In 1686 he went to America, where he became a member of the Council of the Dominion of New England. In 1688 he was appointed lieutenant governor of New York.

Nicholson went to Virginia in 1690 to govern in the name of the absentee governor. He industriously studied frontier problems, encouraged postal service, and aided the Reverend James Blair in establishing the College of William and Mary. In 1692 he returned to England.

Returning to the Colonies as governor of Maryland in 1694, Nicholson was so active in church affairs and education that one exaggerated report claimed he was responsible for founding 2 universities and 28 churches. His early popularity waned, and the last years of his administration were marked by bitter personal quarrels.

Nicholson returned to Virginia as governor in 1698. His violent temper and dictatorial methods estranged him from many of the colony's leaders. He was active in suppressing piracy, in moving the capital from Jamestown to Williamsburg, and in improving the efficiency of government operations. His political enemies forced his recall in 1705. In 1706 Nicholson was elected a member of the Royal Society. Now a colonel, he volunteered in 1709 to accompany an attack on Canada. His energetic activities led the northern governors to urge that he command the expedition, but the plan collapsed when troops from England failed to arrive.

At the request of Massachusetts, Nicholson, now a brigadier general, was given command of the expedition that resulted in the bloodless victory at Port Royal, Nova Scotia. Named governor of Nova Scotia in 1713, Nicholson devoted little time to the province but busied himself inquiring into colonial finance, smuggling, prize money, and educational affairs. His blunt methods irritated other officials. After the accession of George I, he returned to England, where he acted as something of an unofficial consultant to the Board of Trade.

In 1720 Nicholson returned to America as governor of the new royal colony South Carolina. His administration had much to recommend it, but he alienated Charleston merchants who petitioned for his recall because he failed to oppose the issuing of paper money. In poor health, he requested his own recall in 1725. He died on March 5, 1728.

Further Reading

There is no full-length biography of Nicholson. For information on his life and for historical background see Charles M. Andrews, The Colonial Period of American History (4 vols., 1934-1938), and Wesley Frank Craven, The Colonies in Transition, 1660-1713 (1968). □

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Sir Francis Nicholson

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