A Blupete Biography Page

Francis Nicholson

Francis Nicholson was a Yorkshireman. When, but a boy, he became a page in the household of the Marquis of Winchester, an appointment which was to give him lifelong connections to people in power. In 1678, he was gazetted an ensign and served in Flanders. In 1686, having risen to being a captain of a company, Nicholson sailed for Boston, there to be the assistant to Sir Edmund Andros, governor-in-chief of the Dominion of New England. In time, the governor sent Nicholson to New York to be its lieutenant-governor; he served in that capacity until 1689. From New York Nicholson went on to become the governor of Virginia in 1690; in 1694, of Maryland; and back again to Virginia, in 1699 and held the position until 1705.1

(These times, it is to be remembered, were rough times for the colonists, as the French at Quebec were constantly stirring up the Indians; who, often under the direct leadership of French officers dressed as their native allies, went on murderous raids along New England's western borders; which, in those days, did not extend beyond the Appalachians.)

It will be seen, under the short biographical note on Vetch, that a plan, hatched by Vetch and receiving Queen Anne's approval, was afoot to capture Quebec by a pincer attack, by land up Lake Champlain and by sea up the St Lawrence. Nicholson, like every British military man in America was caught up in these plans; indeed, Nicholson was to lead the land forces and gather them up at the foot of Lake Champlain and there to wait for the signal that the sea forces had left Boston for the St Lawrence.2 The problem was that the promised ships, troops, guns and supplies from England never arrived. Weeks went by, and then months; Nicholson's forces became "demoralized by fatigue, supply shortages, and disease and streamed homeward." The great plan of 1709 fell to pieces, and -- though it is hard to see what Vetch might have done to prevent its breakup -- Nicholson was to hold Vetch, the man from Edinburgh, the one with the connections with the trading families in both New France and New England, the favorite of Queen Anne - to be responsible for his (Nicholson's) misery and that of his waiting troops.3

Nicholson wasted no time, that autumn, 1709, in getting off to London, there to make representations to his powerful friends. He must have succeeded in placing some blame on Vetch because Nicholson, we see, was commissioned on 18th March, 1710, to be the commander-in-chief of an expedition to recover Nova Scotia for the British crown. Vetch was to join in, but only as a subordinate officer. During April of 1709, Mascarene, Vetch, and Nicholson arrive at Boston (all three presumably coming from England). After a busy summer and a bit of a wait for additional forces from England, an impressive British armada arrived before Port Royal on September 24th, 1710. After a short siege the French capitulated on October 13th. By October 28th Nicholson sails back to Boston leaving behind Vetch who was to hold the fort in his capacity as the first English Governor of Nova Scotia. Upon arriving at Boston, Nicholson writes up his report on his successful victory and sails for London with dreams of conquering Quebec.

Sufficiently impressed with Nicholson's victory at Port Royal, the British authorities send him back to North America with a new set of plans to take Quebec.

The ill-fated expedition of Admiral Walker that went up the St Lawrence in 1711, is another story; sufficient to say, that the great plan of 1711 to put an end to New France failed miserably, and Nicholson's role was much the same as that which he had in the plan of 1709. He was to lead the land campaign up the Lake Champlain route as he did in 1709; and, as it turned out, he had much the same experience. Walker called the sea going attack off, after, through his own ineptitude, he had lost several ships and hundreds of men on the shores of St Lawrence. Before even seeing as much as one French soldier, Walker turned what remained of ships around and sailed for England. Having heard of Walker's disaster, Nicholson, as he had done likewise two years previously, brought his disappointed troops home without having militarily engaged the French.

In October 1712, Nicholson was appointed royal commissioner to audit colonial accounts, in addition to being the governor of Nova Scotia and Placentia. This, it seems, meant additional occasions during which Nicholson was to have contact with Vetch: tempers flared again. Nicholson accused Vetch of maladministration, viz., Vetch, it was charged, was getting a cut of the supply contracts for the garrison at Annapolis Royal from agents: two in particular, John Borland and Thomas Steel. These charges never seemed to have come to a head: they did however entrench the ill feelings that these two men (Nicholson and Vetch) seem to inherently have towards one another.

In 1720, Nicholson was knighted and received his last colonial appointment, as governor of South Carolina, there to remain until his return to England in 1725. Nicholson died in London during 1728 and was buried in the parish of St George, Hanover Square.4


[1] See fn at p. 59 of Calnek. At Virginia a number of the colonists complained of Nicholson's "fiscal maladministration."

[2] Parkman, in his inimitable way, describes the miserable circumstances of Nicholson as he and his troops waited on the trail somewhere between Lake George and Lake Champlain. (A Half Century of Conflict (vol. 1), pp. 136-45.)

[3] Nicholson was described as a "robust, practical brain, capable of broad views and large schemes" a person with "Jacobite leanings." See short footnote on Nicholson which Akins sets forth in his, Selections From The Public Documents, p. 11.)

[4] One of my correspondents has written and referred me to a page -- http://homepages.rootsweb.com/~lpproots/Nicholson/nicholson_family_in_america.htm Apparently, our hero, Francis Nicholson, was "married three times and left numerous progeny." This genealogy page follows the line up from Nicholson's oldest son, Richard Nicholson who was born in London, England in 1690, and died in Baltimore, Maryland in 1742. Richard's son, John was also born in Baltimore, in 1724; he died at Kanawha, Virginia, in 1790. Another son of Richard, was born in 1746 and died on the Ohio River, in 1795. John had three sons: Richard, Joseph Hopper, and Samuel -- and, so on.


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Peter Landry
2012 (2020)