Sir Francis Nicholson

Royal Governor of South Carolina Province 1721 to 1724

On September 20, 1720, the Crown appointed Sir Francis Nicholson as its Provisional Governor of South Carolina, the first governor under Royal rule, although the Lords Proprietors continued their ownership of Carolina. He arrived in Charles Town on May 22, 1721 and took the oaths of office and allegiance on May 29, 1721. He remained in office until 1724 and arrived in London in April of 1725.


Sir Francis Nicholson was born in Yorkshire, England in 1655 and he died in London, England on March 5, 1728.

He had served in the British army, was lieutenant-governor of New York under Edmund Andros, and at the head of the administration in 1687-1689. He was governor of Virginia in 1690-1692 and in 1699-1705, and of Maryland from 1694 to 1699, and during his second term of office in Virginia he established the capital at Williamsburg instead of at Jamestown as before.

He was commander of the forces that captured Port Royal, Nova Scotia on October 2, 1710, and afterward returned to England to urge another attempt at the conquest of Canada, taking with him five Iroquois chiefs, whom he presented to Queen Anne.

After his return to the colonies he commanded an unsuccessful expedition for the conquest of Canada, was appointed governor of Nova Scotia, and served from October 12, 1712, to August, 1717.

He was knighted in 1720, served as Governor of South Carolina, 1721-1724, returned to England in April of 1725, and was made a lieutenant-general.

He was a bold and ambitious man, and had conceived a project for uniting all the Anglo-American colonies, the ostensible object of which was the mutual defense of the British colonists against the encroachment of the French on the north, and the hostile Indians along the frontier.

Nicholson submitted his plan to the King, who heartily approved of it, and recommended the measure to the favorable consideration of the colonial assemblies. Virginia would have nothing to do with the scheme, which so exasperated Nicholson that he recommended that all the American colonies be placed under a viceroy, and that a standing army be maintained among them at their own expense.

His project was not received with favor by Queen Anne and her ministers.

Sir Francis Nicholson was the author of "Journal of an Expedition for the Reduction of Port Royal" (London, 1711). This rare quarto, of which there is but one copy in the New World, was reprinted by the Nova Scotia historical society in 1879, along with "An Apology or Vindication of Francis Nicholson, Governor of South Carolina" (1724).


Sir 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, Francis Nicholson went on to become the governor of Virginia in 1690; in 1694, of Mayland; and back again to Virginia, in 1699, and held the position until 1705.

These times, it is to be remembered, were rough times for the colonists, as the French in 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 Ann'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.

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 Ann - to be responsible for his (Nicholson's) misery and that of his waiting troops.

Nicholson wasted no time, that autumn of 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 March 18, 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 arrived at Boston. 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 24, 1710. After a short siege the French capitulated on October 13. By October 28, Nicholson sailed 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 wrote up his report on his successful victory and sailed for London with dreams of conquering Quebec.

Sufficiently impressed with Nicholson's victory at Port Royal Nova Scotia, the British authorities sent 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 River 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 the 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 Royal Governor of South Carolina, there to remain until his return to England in April of 1725. Nicholson died in London during 1728 and was buried in the parish of St George, Hanover Square.


The colony was divided into North and South Carolina in 1712. In 1715-16 the settlers were attacked by the Yamassee, who had become resentful of exploitation by the Carolina traders. The uprising was finally quelled after much loss of life and property. These attacks further revealed the lack of protection afforded by the proprietors, and in 1719 the colonists rebelled and received Royal protection. The Crown sent Sir Francis Nicholson as provincial Royal Governor in 1720, and South Carolina formally became a Royal Colony in 1729, when the Lords Proprietors finally accepted terms.
The King first sent out the professional governor, Sir Francis Nicholson, of New York, of Virginia, and of Maryland. Nicholson was one of the best governors of the colonial era. Where others enriched themselves at the expense of the people, he reached into his own pocket for funds to foster education and to relieve the distressed.
In May of 1721, the first Royal Governor of South Carolina, Sir Francis Nicholson, arrived, although the Lords Proprietors did not formally surrender the last of their titles until September 29, 1729.

He brought with him a new plan of government, in the form of instructions given to him by advisors to the Crown, which subsequently served as the basis of instructions to all of his successors under Royal authority. This scheme retained the essential forms of government as under the Lords Proprietors, but with some important modifications and provisions which widened the scope of the Crown's prerogatives, yet abridged certain rights and priveleges of the colonists that they had previsously enjoyed with their countrymen back in England. These soon became the source of contentions, but Gov. Nicholson administered them professionally and his wise conduct ingratiated himself with the inhabitants of South Carolina.

He applied himself with great zeal to the settlement of the frontiers and established a fort on the Altamaha as protection against the Spanish, French, and Indians. He successfully concluded treaties with the Cherokees and Creeks, whom he conciliated by protecting their hunting lands from white encroachment.

Gov. Sir Francis Nicholson was an active promoter of the religious and educational interests of the province, and it has been said that he spent his salary in order that churches and public schools should be built in several parishes. During his administration, Charles Town was incorporated as a city on June 23, 1722, with a municipal government established. He returned to England in April of 1725, but is said to have retained the nominal governorship of South Carolina until his death on March 5, 1728.


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