The following is a release from state senator Mark Obenshain:
"On Capitol Square, just west of the Virginia Capitol Building that Thomas Jefferson designed, rises an equestrian statue of George Washington—General Washington motioning onward, flanked by other Virginia patriots: Andrew Lewis, Patrick Henry, George Mason, Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, and Thomas Nelson, Jr.
Of these great Virginians, Nelson is the least known, but his signature graces the Declaration of Independence and his unwavering resolve gives that signature an added flourish.
They pledged their Lives, their Fortunes, and their sacred Honor, and their stoicism in the face of great loss is legendary—but Nelson stands alone as the man who actually gave the order.
Born to an aristocratic family, Nelson stood to lose a great deal by the Revolution. Elected to the House of Burgesses in 1774, he established the Virginia Militia and served as its first commander. He was then elected to the Continental Congress, but in declining health, he returned to Virginia, not for quiet recuperation, but for a return to military service. Again called upon to serve in Congress, his health failed him once more, and he returned to command the Lower Virginia Militia just as the British, under Cornwallis, turned south.
(Nelson may have been the first person to feel rejuvenated upon leaving the nation’s capital, but he would not be the last.)
And so it was that Nelson found himself at Yorktown in 1781, as the war reached its dénouement. In fact, as the Comte de Rochambeau and General Washington swung their troops into position, Nelson found himself a British prisoner, his stately home seized for the use of enemy troops.
Soon, however, Nelson was a free man, returned to the revolutionary ranks under a flag of truce, and—as legend has it—he made his way to the Marquis de Lafayette as the siege escalated.
The British, their backs to the blockaded York River, dug in. Lafayette, seeking where to train his troops’ artillery fire, turned to Nelson for guidance. And it was then that the patriot, now all but forgotten, pointed to a house he knew well: “There, to that house. It is mine … There you will be almost certain to find Lord Cornwallis and the British headquarters.”
According to patriotic lore, Nelson laid wagers with the French artillerymen, offering a reward to the first man in the battery to send a shell through his home.
On Richmond’s Capitol Square, Nelson stands on a pedestal above the allegorical figure “Finance” in recognition of his raising $2 million on his own personal bond to provision the French fleet. Born into wealth, this signer of the Declaration of Independence, leader of the Virginia Militia, and later Governor of Virginia would ultimately die bankrupt.
Few know Thomas Nelson today. Even those of us who walk by his statue every day during session probably give him very little thought. But had he not kept his pledge, Yorktown might have ended very differently.
Today is Independence Day, when we reflect upon our nation’s hard-won freedom. Few of us are called to make great sacrifice for our country, but we all have a responsibility to defend the liberties that were purchased so dear.
As you celebrate the day, I hope that you will take the opportunity to remember the sacrifices that made this nation, as well as those who continue to put their lives on the line to defend our freedom.
Happy Independence Day!"