George Nicholas

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George Nicholas


First Professor of Law at Transylvania University
In office
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Member of the Kentucky Constitutional Convention
In office
Preceded by
Succeeded by
United States Attorney for the District of Kentucky
In office
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Member of the Virginia Ratification Convention
In office
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Delegate to the Virginia House of Delegates
In office
1781, 1783, 1786-1788
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Lieutenant Colonel in the Continental Army
In office
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In office
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In office
Preceded by {{{8thofficepreceded}}}
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Personal details
Born c.1754
  Williamsburg, Virginia
Died 25 July, 1799
  Lexington, Kentucky
Resting place Old Episcopal Burial Ground, Third Street, Lexington, Kentucky
Residence(s) Lexington, Kentucky
Danville, Kentucky
Education The College of William & Mary
Alma mater
Profession Lawyer, soldier, politician, professor
Spouse(s) Mary Smith
Relatives Wilson Carey Nicholas (brother)
Known for
Signature [[File:|left|200px]]

George Nicholas (c.1754 – 1799) was born in Williamsburg, Virginia to Robert Carter Nicholas and Anne Cary.[1] Several sources state that Nicholas studied law under George Wythe. It is more likely, however, that he read law under the supervision of his father — an influential colonial lawyer and politician. Nicholas received his law license more than a year before Wythe began lecturing, but may have done some additional reading under Wythe.[2]

After completing his legal studies, Nicholas "enlisted in the patriot cause" upon the outbreak of the Revolutionary War.[3] He rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Continental Army, but was not involved in any "significant engagements" and spent most of his time in Baltimore. [4] While in Baltimore, Nicholas courted and married Mary Smith in 1778. In the early 1780s, the couple and their growing family moved to Charlottesville, Virginia so Nicholas could pursue a more favorable legal practice. Nicholas and his wife eventually had thirteen children.[5]

In 1781, Nicholas was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates for Hanover County. In 1783, and then from 1786 to 1788, Nicholas instead represented Albemarle County in the Virginia House.[6] While serving Albermarle County, Nicholas became fast friends with James Madison.[7] Nicholas was recognizable for his "large, bald head and his great bulk," and apparently Madison "laughed till he cried when someone described Nicholas as a plum pudding with legs to it."[8] Despite his resemblance to holiday desserts, Nicholas was well respected for his sharp mind and political intelligence. In 1788, he successfully advocated the ratification of the federal Constitution as a member of the Virginia Ratification Convention.[9]

Soon afterwards, Nicholas and his family moved to Lexington, Kentucky. Although Nicholas and his family had a home built there, Nicholas' "true home" was his large plantation just outside of Danville, Kentucky. [10] In 1789, President Washington appointed Nicholas as the first United States Attorney for the District of Kentucky.[11] However, Nicholas was a controversial figure and soon stepped down from the role as he could not "accomodate himself fully to the democratic government."[12]

Nicholas was a staunch Federalist, and he successfully advocated for centralizing political authority at the 1792 Kentucky Constitutional Convention. He also strongly supported slavery and the existing system of hierarchical social order. [13] Nicholas served as the chief draftsman of the Kentucky Constitution, and is known as the "Father of the Kentucky Constitution." [14] While in Kentucky, Nicholas continually sought governmental power to defeat the American Indians who "threatened the state."[15]

In 1799, Nicholas was appointed the first professor of law at Transylvania University. However, he died suddenly on July 25, 1799, shortly after the appointment.[16] Nicholas is buried in the Old Episcopal Burial Ground on Lexington's Third Street. After his death, the city of Nicholasville and Nicholas County were named in his honor.[17]

See also


  1. American National Biography Online, s.v. "Nicholas, George," by Andrew Cayton, accessed October 26, 2015.
  2. Thomas Hunter, "The Teaching of George Wythe," in The History of Legal Education in the United States: Commentaries and Primary Sources, edited by Steve Sheppard, (Pasadena, CA: Salem Press, 1999) 1:153, citing Victor Dennis Golladay, "The Nicholas Family of Virginia: 1722-1820" (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Virginia, 1973), 220.
  3. Cayton, "Nicholas, George."
  4. Library of Virginia "George Nicholas (ca. 1754-1799)," accessed November 9, 2015.
  5. Cayton, "Nicholas, George."
  6. Ibid.
  7. "George Nicholas (ca. 1754-1799)."
  8. Cayton, "Nicholas, George."
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. "The Father of the Kentucky Constitution is buried in Lexington," Kaintuckeean, accessed November 2, 2015.
  12. Cayton, "Nicholas, George."
  13. Ibid.
  14. "The Father of the Kentucky Constitution is buried in Lexington."
  15. Cayton, "Nicholas, George."
  16. "George Nicholas (ca. 1754-1799)."
  17. "The Father of the Kentucky Constitution is buried in Lexington."