The Nelson House, at Yorktown, was built by the first Nelson who came to Virginia and who was known as “Scotch Tom” from his having come from Penrith in Cumberland, near the border of Scotland. This Thomas Nelson was the great merchant who established the prominent family of which his grandson, Thomas Nelson, Jr., and his descendant, Thomas Nelson Page, have been the most distinguished members.
“Scotch Tom” Nelson left two sons and one daughter. One son, William Nelson, was president of the Colonial Council. The other son, Thomas Nelson, was known as Secretary Nelson, from the fact of his being for so many years secretary of the Colony of Virginia. Mary, the daughter of “Scotch Tom,” married Colonel Edmund Berkeley of Barr Elms, in Middle-sex County.
During the siege of Yorktown the Nelson House became the headquarters of Lord Cornwallis. In the course of the bombardment by the Continental forces, Thomas Nelson, Jr., the then owner, noticed that his home had been spared, as he thought, through orders of Washington. He therefore ordered guns trained upon it and five guineas reward to the gunner who should strike it. Cannon balls, now lodged in the brick-work, attest the fine marksmanship of the American artillery.
The subsequent history of the Nelson House is related by Thomas Nelson Page, the novelist. He writes: “The Nelson House remained in the Nelson family, but to the Nelsons peace came with poverty. The governor’s vast estates went for his public debts. He gave the whole of it, and when the question arose in the Virginia Convention as to the confiscation of British claims, he stopped the agitation by rising in his seat and declaiming, `Others may do as they please, but as for me, I am an honest man and, so help me, God, I will pay my debts.’ For many years the owner of the Nelson House lay in an unmarked grave, but his notable descendant put a tombstone above the grave, bearing the inscription, `He gave all for Liberty.’ ”
Commander and Mrs. Blow were the owners of the Nelson House, or York Hall, for a good many years. At the death of Mrs. Blow in 1929 she bequeathed the property to her children with the request that they endow it to be used as a historic shrine, open to the public for a small remuneration, except for two months in the year when the family is in residence.
At the side of the house is a formal garden which was patterned after the old Blow garden in England.