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Wilson Cary Nicholas

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Wilson Cary Nicholas
Wilson Cary Nicholas 2.jpg
Wilson Cary Nicholas, by Gilbert Stuart. 1805.
19th Governor of Virginia
In office
December 1, 1814 – December 1, 1816
Preceded byJames Barbour
Succeeded byJames P. Preston
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 21st district
In office
March 4, 1807 – November 27, 1809
Preceded byThomas M. Randolph, Jr.
Succeeded byDavid S. Garland
United States Senator from Virginia
In office
December 5, 1799 – May 22, 1804
Preceded byHenry Tazewell
Succeeded byAndrew Moore
Member of the Virginia House of Delegates
In office
Personal details
Born(1761-01-31)January 31, 1761
Williamsburg, Colony of Virginia, British America
DiedOctober 10, 1820(1820-10-10) (aged 59)
Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic-Republican
RelationsRobert Carter Nicholas Sr. (Father)
George Nicholas (Brother)
John Nicholas (Brother)
Robert C. Nicholas (Nephew)
Samuel Smith (Brother in law)
Robert Smith (Brother in Law)
Alma materCollege of William and Mary

Wilson Cary Nicholas (January 31, 1761 – October 10, 1820) was an American politician who served in the U.S. Senate from 1799 to 1804 and was the 19th Governor of Virginia from 1814 to 1816.

Early life

Nicholas was born in Williamsburg in the Colony of Virginia on January 31, 1761, and was a son of Robert Carter Nicholas Sr. and Ann Cary. He was educated privately and later attended the College of William and Mary. Nicholas studied law, probably with his father, and possibly with George Wythe. He was admitted to the bar in 1778.

Revolutionary War

Nicholas served as a lieutenant in the Albemarle County Militia during the American Revolution.[1]


Nicholas continued to reside in Albemarle County after the war, where he owned and operated a plantation along the James River which he called Mount Warren.

He was a member of the Virginia House of Delegates from 1784 to 1785 and 1788 to 1789. He was a delegate to the ratifying convention of 1788, which approved the Federal Constitution.

During the deliberations, on June 6, 1788, Nicholas countered Patrick Henry's objection that correcting defects in the new national Constitution by way of the Article V convention would be excessively difficult. Nicholas said, "The conventions which shall be so called will have their deliberations confined to a few points; no local interest to divert their attention; nothing but the necessary alterations. They will have many advantages over the last Convention. No experiments to devise; the general and fundamental regulations being already laid down."[2]

From 1794 to 1800, Nicholas served again in the House of Delegates. He was elected as a Democratic-Republican to the US Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Henry Tazewell and served from December 5, 1799, until May 22, 1804, when he resigned to become collector of the port of Norfolk 1804–1807. He was elected to the US House of Representatives in the Tenth and Eleventh Congresses and served from March 4, 1807, until his resignation on November 27, 1809. He was elected Governor of Virginia in 1814 and served until 1816, when he retired from office.

Nicholas also served as president of the Richmond branch of the Second Bank of the United States. His speculations in western lands put him in serious debt during the Panic of 1819. Having convinced Thomas Jefferson to endorse two of his notes for $10,000 each, he also plunged Jefferson into debt.[3]


He died at Tufton, near Charlottesville, Virginia. Nicholas was interred in the Jefferson burying ground at Monticello, near Charlottesville.


The brothers of Wilson Cary Nicholas included attorneys George Nicholas and John Nicholas. Another brother, Philip Norborne Nicholas (1776-1849) served as Virginia's attorney general from 1800 to 1819.

Nicholas was married to Margaret Smith (1765–1849) of Baltimore. His brother George was married to Margaret's sister, Mary. Margaret and Mary Smith were the sisters of Samuel Smith and Robert Smith.

The children of Wilson Cary Nicholas and Margaret Smith Nicholas included Mary Buchanan, Charlotte G., Jane Hollins, John Smith, and Sidney Smith. Jane Hollins Nicholas (1798–1871) was the wife of Thomas Jefferson's grandson Thomas Jefferson Randolph (1792–1875).


Nicholas County, West Virginia was formed in 1818 and named for him. Also named for him is a residence hall at William and Mary.[4]


  1. ^ The Magazine of Albemarle County History, Volumes 35–36. Albemarle County Historical Society. 1980. p. 143.
  2. ^ Eliot's Debates, vol. 3, p. 102, quoted in Russell L. Caplan, Constitutional Brinksmanship, Amending the Constitution by National Convention (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), p. 139.
  3. ^ Herbert E. Sloan, Principle and Interest: Thomas Jefferson and the Problem of Debt (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2001), p. 219
  4. ^ "William & Mary – Cabell & Nicholas Halls". Retrieved July 2, 2016.

External links

Archival Records

U.S. Senate
Preceded by
Henry Tazewell
 U.S. senator (Class 2) from Virginia
December 5, 1799 – May 22, 1804
Served alongside: Stevens T. Mason, John Taylor, Abraham B. Venable
Succeeded by
Andrew Moore
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Thomas M. Randolph, Jr.
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 21st congressional district

March 4, 1807 – November 27, 1809
Succeeded by
David S. Garland
Political offices
Preceded by
James Barbour
Governor of Virginia
December 1, 1814 – December 1, 1816
Succeeded by
James P. Preston
This page was last edited on 2 July 2020, at 08:59
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