Chronicles of America 

Biography of Francis Nicholson

Born 21 November 1655 at Yorkshire England, Francis Nicholson entered the British army in 1679 at the age of 24. Early in his career he was sent to Tangier of West Africa, where he assisted the British governor as aide and courier. Francis first arrived in America in 1686 where he became a member of the Council of Dominion of New England.

With the exception perhaps of Sir Edmund Andros, whom it had been his fortune to follow in more than one government, General Sir Francis Nicholson had had the largest colonial experience of any person in that service. When James the Second, in 1688, ordered the consolidation of the Northern Colonies under the title of New England, and sent Sir Edmund Andros as Governor- in-chief, Francis Nicholson, then a captain of a company of soldiers sent from England, was made Lieutenant Governor of the Dominion of New York; and when Sir Edmund upon the accession of William and Mary was deposed by the revolt in Massachusetts, and imprisoned, the Royal authority in New York devolved upon him. But his right to govern was questioned, and in the disturbances which followed he does not appear to have acted with firmness or decision. He was a stanch member of the Church of England. Of that there can be no doubt, but it was charged that in the camp of King James he had reverently kneeled at the celebration of the mass, and was now denounced as a papist in the interest of James. He quailed before the people of New York, and upon some show of resistance went off to England in 1689, abandoning the field (American Com. Wealth Series (Roberts), New York, 201-204). He must, however, have successfully vindicated his conduct, for the next year he was sent as Lieutenant Governor to Virginia, under Lord Howard of Effingham, who, preferring to remain in England, drawing his salary there, the government was administered by Nicholson. In Virginia at this time he exhibited excellent qualities as a ruler. He made himself popular with the people, devoted himself to the improvement of trade and the encouragement of manufactures. He instituted public games and offered prizes to such as excelled in riding, running, shooting, wrestling, and broadsword. Most to his honor he entered heartily into the project of the College, organizing a private subscription for the purpose, to which he contributed himself 2500. William and Mary College remains a lasting memorial to his wisdom and generosity. He was relieved of this government in 1692, when Lord Howard was removed and Sir Edmund Andros sent out to Virginia as Governor (Virginia American Com. Series (Cooke), 302). In July, 1694, Nicholson succeeded Sir Lionel Copley as Governor of Maryland. Then he was again the liberal and devoted patron of the church and the zealous friend of education, but exhibited the characteristics for which he became so well known, — hasty in temper, utterly lacking in self-restraint, imperious and arbitrary, in demeanor vain and conceited and often tyrannical. Notwithstanding his devotion to the church he became involved in conflict with Dr. Bray, the Bishop of London's Commissary in Maryland. But with all these faults there were many redeeming qualities which made him popular among those over whom he bore rule, and secured for him the respect and admiration of many of widely differing opinions and beliefs (History, of American Episcopal Church (Bishop Perry), vol. I, 127).

From Maryland he was again sent to Virginia to succeed Andros. His second rule in Virginia lasted seven years, from 1698 to 1705. Here he was the same vain, conceited, passionate, and changeable character, and finally made for himself a most eccentric record, mixing up a love affair with public business, denouncing all who took part in the marriage of a young lady upon whom he had fixed his affections, and threatening to "cut the throats of three men, — the bridegroom, the minister, and the justice who issued the license." This affair was involved in a difference of another kind with Dr. Blair, the Bishop of London's Commissary in Virginia. With this clergyman Andros had also quarreled, and it was supposed that it was through his influence Andros had been removed. But though Nicholson succeeded in dividing the clergy, Commissary Blair again triumphed and secured his removal as he had that of his predecessor Andros. And so it happened that Nicholson, whose purse and pen were ever at the service of the church, by whose munificent benefactions churches were erected and supported all along the coast from Massachusetts to Carolina, was driven from the country by the two commissaries whose names he contemptuously remarked are "monosyllables and begin with B."(History of American Episcopal Church (Bishop Perry), vol. I, 121) From Virginia he went away to fight the French in Acadia (Virginia American Com. Series (Cooke), 308), and became Governor of Nova Scotia, from which he considered himself very unjustly relieved (Collections History of South Carolina, vol. I, 277-286). He was in England in 1713, for in January of that year the Lords Proprietors commissioned him to come to North Carolina to inquire into the disorders then growing out of the dissensions between Hyde, Pollock, and Moseley, and the Indian uprising. But he did not come. Such, indeed, were the sad accounts which reached England, and such the indifference of the Proprietors, that for aught they knew there was not a white man left alive in North Carolina (Hawk's History of North Carolina, vol. II, 553; Colonial Records of North Carolina, vol. II, 9)

With Andros, Nicholson had contributed to the building of the first King's Chapel in Boston. He had been instrumental in founding churches in Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia, besides founding in the latter province the College of William and Mary, and the Church act of South Carolina in 1712 recites that several parochial libraries had been established in the province by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and by the Hon. Francis Nicholson (History of American Episcopal Church (Bishop Perry), vol. I, 186, 217, 230, 307, 311, 323, 600, 601; Statutes of South Carolina, vol. II, 375). As his advice and services had been sought in 1713 for the settlement of affairs in North Carolina, so the Proprietors and the Board of Trade had applied to him for counsel upon the rising of the Yamassees in South Carolina in 1715. He had been knighted and was now Sir Francis Nicholson.

His character reminds us somewhat of that of Chief Justice Nicholas Trott, as well as of that of Colonel William Rhett. He had not the profound learning of Trott, nor did he in America exhibit the brilliant courage of Rhett; but like both he was a devoted churchman. If without himself the learning of Trott, he was a most ardent friend of education; and if without the dauntless courage of Rhett, he was in some respects as reckless. Time had now however cooled his temper, and he was no longer the passionate lover to embroil his government with the affairs of his heart. Such was the man who was selected to inaugurate the Royal government in South Carolina.

In 1720 Nicholson returned to America onboard the Majesty's ship Enterprise as the commissioned governor of the new royal colony South Carolina. Nicholson's first two years were well received by the people of South Carolina, and it wasn't until he attempted to incorporate the town of Charlestown under "An Act for the Good Government of Charles Town" in 1722. This was not well received by the Huguenot families of this town, and 120 of them petitioned the Commons House of Assembly, and the act was repealed in June 1723. In 1725, in poor health, Nicholson requested his own recall to England. On 5 March 1728, Sir. Francis Nicholson passed away and was buried in the parish of St. George, Hanover Square.