Monday, February 28, 2011

Thomas Nelson

  • Name: Thomas Nelson
  • Born: July 16, 1762 Orange County, North Carolina
  • Died: July 20, 1846 Mount Vernon, Illinois
  • Related through: Dan's grandmother Elvira Wilde Langford

Our Nelson line goes back to the early 17th century through Edmond, Thomas, Abraham and Thomas Sr., when the first Thomas moved his family into North Carolina with a group of Scotch-Irish settlers from Pennsylvania. His son, Abraham, born about 1732, helped survey the city of Winston-Salem when it was founded in 1677. Both men and their wives, whose names are unknown, are buried in a strip of jungle on the Nelson cemetery near Hillsborough N.C., surrounded by the graves of 20 or30 other family members. Their weathered headstones remain intact with a few inscribed letters still readable.

The names of Abraham’s nine children, all born in Orange County, North Carolina between 1758 and 1775, are given in the last will and testament of his oldest son, James. From information found in old deeds and other court records, it is known that Thomas, the sixth child, born in July 1767, married Martha “Patsy” Williams. At that time it was customary for couples to put up a 500 pound bond, (money, not weight) in order to get a marriage license. Another custom was for couples with limited means, who could not raise so much money, to be married by common consent.

Such was the case with Tomas and Martha. Soon after the birth of their first son, Martha, who already had a daughter by an earlier marriage, became discouraged and decided to leave her new husband and take the children with her. Since they were not legally married, she rationalized; he had no real claim to the baby. Thomas was of a different mind, and considered their vows to be sacred and binding.

When Martha was ready to leave, he refused to give up his son, and a bitter argument ensued. She took him to court and Thomas was ordered to give her the baby, but in defiance of the court, he took baby James deep into the southern jungle and left him in care of his two most trusted Negro slaves. Consequently, their story is recorded in the Orange Co. records of 1794.

As Thomas was well respected and honored by his neighbors and friends in the court, he was never prosecuted. In May, 1796, after he and Martha had settled their difficulties, they were married by bond and the law was satisfied.

(A genealogist, who explored the court records, was impressed by Thomas’ love for his little son, and made this comment: “The amazing thing about this incident was the way Thomas fought to keep his baby. Most men would have been glad to be rid of the responsibility. In fact, this is the only case of its kind, I have seen. Thomas must have been a wonderful man.)

Thomas left his mark on Monroe County. His name can be found in the 1818 Census and other public records. An example of interest is his appearance in the Court of Justice, April 20, 1818, to claim his legal reward for the wolves he had killed – at $2.00 a scalp. He was noted for his superior marksmanship with a rifle and could out-shoot most Indians with his bow and arrow. He prided himself on the amount of timber he could cut in a day.

We know very little about the Williams family, other than Martha had a sister named Penny, and a brother Price. Thomas and Martha had four more sons, Abraham, Hyrum, Edmond and Thomas Jr. born in North Carolina. In 1808, when their daughter Martha arrived, they were in Bedford Co. Tennessee, and by 1817, had moved into Monroe County, Illinois where Thomas filed on a quarter section of land.

After their children were all married and leading lives of their own, Thomas and Patsy, retired to Mt. Vernon, Jefferson Country, Illinois where they are thought to have lived out their remaining years.

The lives of Thomas and Patsy’s children closely coincided with the early beginnings of the Mormon Church. At least three of their children were early Mormon converts during the Missouri/Nauvoo period.

Taken from Their Roots were Long and Deep pages 202-205. Thanks to Lucy Alice Neves for providing this history on her family history blog.


  1. I am the great, great grandson of Hiram Louis Nelson and would like to find out if Thomas was his father and Abraham his grandfather. Thanks for you good work. Darwin Nelson

  2. I am a descendant of Thomas's son, Edmond Nelson through his son Thomas Billington, I would love to share information and stories. Thank you for your blog! Ruth Baker

  3. Your site is so interesting ----- looking to find out more about the family of Thomas Nelson of Orange Co., N C. Did he have a son Wm.? "My" Wm. was in Laurens Co., S C by 1783, listed as a planter from Orange Co. Thanks for letting me browse. Ann C Davis

  4. My husband is a descendant of Edmond and Thomas. Do you know if there is any documentation on the origins of Abraham's father, Tomas?