Back to former Virginia governors
Wilson Cary Nicholas

Gov. Wilson Cary Nicholas

  • December 11, 1814 - December 11, 1816
  • Democratic-Republican
  • January 31, 1761
  • October 10, 1820
  • Virginia
  • College of William and Mary
  • Married Margaret Smith; two children
  • Succeeded
  • Representative, Senator
  • Army


WILSON CARY NICHOLAS was born in Williamsburg, Virginia. He withdrew from the College of William and Mary to join the Revolutionary Army, becoming commanding officer of Washington’s Life Guard until the company disbanded in 1783. He was a member of the Virginia House of Delegates from 1784 to 1789 and again from 1794 to 1800. He was elected to the U.S. Senate to fill a vacancy caused by the death of Henry Tazewell, serving from 1799 to 1804, after which he resigned to become Collector of the Ports of Norfolk and Portsmouth, a post that he held from 1804 to 1807. He became a member of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1807 but resigned due to ill health. He retired from public life until his election by the state legislature for two one-year terms as governor. During his gubernatorial administration, Nicholas sought settlement for expenses that Virginia had incurred during the War of 1812, and the state legislature adopted his position that the proceeds be applied to education. With Nicholas’s support, the legislature also created the President and Directors of Public Works, the forerunner of the Virginia Corporation Commission. After leaving office, Nicholas served for a short time as President of the Richmond Branch of the Bank of the United States before his health failed. He was buried in the Jefferson burial ground at Monticello.


Garraty, John A. and Carnes, Mark C., eds.  American National Biography, Vol. 2. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Library of Congress, Manuscript Division. Papers of Wilson Cary Nicholas, 1765-1831.  Control Number DCLCMM7334678-A. Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

Library of Virginia, Virginia Governor, Executive Papers (1814-1816: Nicholas).  Accession 41612. State Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond, VA  23219.

Library of Virginia. Wilson Cary Nicholas. Papers, 1800-1816.  Accession 24693. Personal Papers Collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond, VA  23219.

Malone, Dumas, ed. Dictionary of American Biography, Volume XIII. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1943.

The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. 5. New York: James T. White & Company.

Sobel, Robert, and John Raimo, eds. Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, Vol. 4. Westport, CT: Meckler Books, 1978. 4 vols

Tyler, Lyon Gardiner. Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography, Vol. II. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1998.

Virginia Biographical Dictionary, Volume 1. St. Clair Shores, MI: Somerset Publishers, Inc.

Recent Virginia Governors