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When the Marquis de Chastellux visited Offly, Thomas Nelson, Jr.'s, place in Hanover County, several months after the siege of 1781, the now aged Secretary Nelson was among those of the family there to greet him. The Marquis described the Secretary with great feeling: [1]

After this little digression, [2] which requires some indulgence, I should be at a loss for a transition to an old magistrate, whose white locks, noble figure, and stature, which was above the common size, commanded respect and veneration. Secretary Nelson, to whom this character belongs, owes this title to the place he occupied under the English Government. In Virginia the Secretary, whose office it was to preserve the registers of all public acts, was, by his place, a member of the council, of which the Governor was the chief. Mr. Nelson, who held this office for thirty years, saw the morning of that bright day which began to shine upon his country; he saw too the storms arise which threatened its destruction, though he neither endeavoured to collect, or to foment them.

Too far advanced in age to desire a revolution, too prudent to check this great event, if necessary, and too faithful to his countrymen to separate his interest from theirs, he chose the crisis of this alteration, to retire from public affairs. Thus did he opportunely quit the theatre, when new pieces demanded fresh actors, and took his seat among the spectators, content to offer up his wishes for the success of the Drama, and to applaud those who acted well their part. But in the last campaign, chance produced him on the scene, and made him unfortunately famous. He lived at York, where he had built a very handsome house, from which neither European taste nor luxury was excluded; a chimney-piece and some bass reliefs of very fine marble, exquisitely sculptured, were particularly admired, when fate conducted Lord Cornwallis to this town to be disarmed, as well as his till then victorious troops. Secretary Nelson did not think it necessary to fly from the English, to whom his conduct could not have made him disagreeable, nor have furnished any just motive of suspicion. He was well received by the General, who established his head-quarters in his house, which was built on an eminence, near the most important fortifications, and in the most agreeable situation of the town. It was the first object which struck the sight as you approach the town, but instead of travellers, it soon drew the attention of our bombardiers and cannoniers, and was almost entirely destroyed. Mr. Nelson lived in it at the time our batteries tried their first shot, and killed one of his negroes at a little distance from him; so that Lord Cornwallis was soon obliged to seek another asylum. But what asylum could be found for an old man, deprived of the use of his legs by the gout? But, above all, what asylum could defend him against the cruel anguish a father must feel at being besieged by his own children; for he had two in the American army. So that every shot, whether fired from the town, or from the trenches, might prove equally fatal to him; I was witness to the cruel anxiety of one of these young men, when after the flag was sent to demand his father, he kept his eyes fixed upon the gate of the town, by which it was to come out, and seemed to expect his own sentence in the answer. Lord Cornwallis had too much humanity to refuse a request so just, nor can I recollect, without emotion, the moment in which I saw this old gentleman alight at General Washington's. He was seated, the fit of the gout not having yet left him; and whilst we stood around him, he related to us, with a serene countenance, what had been the effect of our batteries, and how much his house had suffered from the first shot.

The tranquillity which has succeeded these unhappy times, by giving him leisure to reflect upon his losses, has not embittered the recollection; he lives happily in one of his plantations, where, in less than six hours, he can assembly thirty of his children, grand children, nephews, nieces, &c. amounting in all to seventy, the whole inhabiting Virginia. The rapid increase of his own family justifies what he told me of the population in general, of which, from the offices he has held all his life, he must have it in his power to form a very accurate judgment. In 1742 the people subject to pay taxes in the State of Virginia, that is to say, the white males above sixteen, and the male and female blacks of the same age, amounted only to the number of 63,000; by his account they now exceed 160,000. [3]

After passing two days very agreeably with this interesting family, we left them the 12th at ten in the morning, accompanied by the Secretary, and five or six other Nelsons, who conducted us to Little River Bridge, a small creek on the road about five miles from Offly. There we separated.

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Last Updated: 22-Jan-2010