His grandfather and namesake, Thomas “Scotch Tom” Nelson was one of the first men to settle in the Yorktown area. And the family was prominent in local and regional politics. Young Thomas traveled to England for his formal education. He went to Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1760 he graduated and returned to the family home.One year later, 1761 he was elected to the House of Burgesses, Colonial Virginia’s legislative house in Williamsburg, Virginia. His time in the Capital wasn’t all business, in 1762 he met and married Lucy Grymes, niece of one of the richest and most powerful men in the Colony, Peyton Randolph. He and Lucy had 11 children in their 27 year marriage. (One son, Hugh Nelson, served in the US Congress.)
In 1774, after hearing about the Boston Tea Party, he [Thomas] performed an act against the British Tea Tax by boarding a merchant ship, Virginia, which was anchored near his home, and dumped several chests of tea into the York River. [Geni.com]
He was a member of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, from 1775 to 1777. A supporter of the independence cause, he was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
In May of 1777 he suffered the first of a series of strokes and returned to Yorktown. He also suffered “periodic bouts of asthma”[Geni.com] but remained active in politics.
He also became a General in the Virginia Militia. He and his 3,000 Militiamen were part of George Washington’s Army during the siege of Yorktown. Cornwallis, the British commander had taken Nelson’s home for one of his head quarters. The
American artillerymen refused to fire on the house, in respect to General Nelson. Nelson then aimed … a cannon at his own home, and ordered the men to fire at his house…. [Ibid]
He offered a bounty of five guineas to the first American gunner to hit the house. The house, now a part of the Colonial National Historical Park system, still shows “evidence of damage from cannon fire.” [National Park Service]
In 1781 he succeeded Thomas Jefferson as Governor Virginia. He retired to his “son’s estate, ‘Mont Air,’ Hanover County, Va., and died there on January 4, 1789” [Congress.gov Biographical Dictionary of the United States Congress] He was buried in Yorktown, in Grace Churchyard.