Select Nicholson Miscellany

Here are some Nicholson stories and accounts over the years:

Nicholas, Nichols, Nicholls, and Nicholson

The name Nicholas gave rise to the surnames Nicholas, Nichols, Nicholls, and Nicholson.  The incidence of these names varied around the country, as the following distribution from the 1891 census reveals.

Numbers (000's)

North of England
  0.6        2.0    
East of England
The distribution clearly shows the north/south divide between Nicholson and Nichols/Nicholls.  English Nicholsons were most numerous in Yorkshire, then Durham, followed by Lancashire, Northumberland, and Cumberland.  Scottish Nicholsons were 40% Nicholsons and 60% Nicolsons.  The name Nicholas cropped up a lot in Wales (in particular in Glamorgan); and Nicholls in the southwest (notably in Cornwall).

The Nicholson Family Library

Canon Nigel Nicholson worked for over 38 years on his hobby, putting together a comprehensive collection of family trees for the Nicholson family library.  He started this library in 1968 as a one-name family study and information came pouring in from all parts of the world. 

After a time, It was decided to put together what was becoming a vast collection of family trees.  In 1996 Nicholson published the current state of his research in a 500 page leather-bound book.  A second updated edition in two volumes has now been printed.

Volume One contains:
- the Nicolsons/Nicholsons of Scotland
- the Nicholsons of the Borders, Cumberland, Westmoreland, Lancashire and Cheshire
- the Nicholsons of north Cumberland
- the Nicholsons of Ireland.

Volume Two contains:
- the Nicholsons of Northumberland and Durham
- the Nicholsons of Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, and Yorkshire
- the Nicholsons of Lincolnshire and Yorkshire
- the Nicholsons of mid and southern England
- the Nicholsons of South Africa, India, America, Canada, and Argentina.

The Nicholsons of Bedale

Bedale is a gateway village to the Yorkshire Dales.  Robert Nicholson was a curate there in 1692 and a Nicholson family had been farming at Rand Farm from the 1730's.  In the Annals of Bedale there was a reference to an Old John Nicholson who died around 1800.  It went as follows:

"John Nicholson the old huntsman
Did with the beagles go
And William who was his son
Swift after them did follow."

The Nicolsons and Bonnie Prince Charlie

The Skye Nicolsons did not rise as a clan for Bonnie Prince Charlie, but tradtion has maintained that a band of Nicolsons did fight at Culloden in Jacobite ranks:

"It was said that twenty Nicolsons from Skye fought at Culloden and that they all came back unscathed with the exception of a blacksmith who lost a hand."

Their chief, John Nicolson, appears to have assisted in the prince's concealment in a cow byre on his estates.  John's descendants preserved a lock of his hair and the cup out of which he drank on his night in Scorrybreac lands.

Donald Nicolson from Raasay also helped in the prince's escape and was subsequently tortured by Government troops after refusing to reveal his whereabouts. 

Reader Feedback: Duncan Nicolson from Skye

I am trying to find information on the Scots Nicolsons/Nicholsons that came from Skye to North Carolina (Cape Fear) in the early 1800’s.  

My fourth great grandfather Duncan Nicolson (1777 – 1861) was one of those Scots that emigrated sometime before 1809.  I believe that Duncan was not married when he left Scotland as he married Mary Blackman in 1809 in North Carolina.  I only find the children of their union listed in the 1810 US Census.  While Duncan died in Alabama, at least one of his sons, Archibald, moved into Georgia. 

My father, James R., is the last male of this line and still resides in Georgia.  I am the youngest Nicholson of this line.   Duncan is traced to me though Archibald, then John B., then Robert A., then James F. and finally, my father, James Robert. 

I cannot locate any more specific information about those Nicolsons that came from Skye aboard a ship called the Midlothian between 1800 and 1809.  I believe my fourth great grandfather was born in Scorrsbrea, Skye.   I am trying to locate any information about Duncan’s father and mother to attempt to further trace my family tree. 

Warmest regards
Karen Nicholson

A Nicolson Family from Skye, and Back

One Nicolson family were gamekeepers on the Glendale estate in Skye in the 1800's.  Their son John served in the Boer War and stayed on to work in the gold mines of South Africa.  Later he trekked north to Rhodesia where he became a successful prospector and miner and acquired a small farm.

His son Donald inherited this tobacco farm but left Zimbabwe in the 1970's as the troubles there began.  He travelled for a while but then returned to his family roots in Skye, working at a fish farm in Glendale.

The Nicholsons of Armagh

"Our tradition," Henry Nicholson of Cranagill has written, "is that the first who came over to Ireland was a Rev. William Nicholson, married to a Lady Elizabeth Percy, who arrived in 1589 from Cumberland.  This Rev. William Nicholson was, by tradition, the rector of that portion of the country in which Cran-na-gael — the 'oak-tree of the Gael ' — now corrupted into Cranagill, was situated."

The fortunes of William's family came very near to utter overthrow by M'Guire's rebellion of 1641.  His son's wife and her infant boy were the only two in Cranagill who escaped the common massacre.  With the aid of a faithful servant, they were able to hide behind some brushwood.  Eventually they fell in with a party of loyalist soldiers who escorted them safely to Dromore, whence they made their way across sea to the widow's former home at Whitehaven on the Cumberland coast.  Here they seem to have remained throughout the troubled years that followed the outbreak of the Civil War.

The son William during his sojourn in Cumberland became a Quaker.  In due course he returned to Cranagill and had three sons.  From this issue came the Nicholson linen family of Lisburn and John Nicholson, the "hero of Delhi" at the time of the Indian mutiny.

John Nicholson, The Hero of Delhi

John Nicholson is best known for his role in the Indian Mutiny of 1857, planning and leading the storming of Delhi.  He was but thirty four at the time, yet was already a charismatic and authoritarian figure.

A Hindu guru deified Nicholson as an incarnation of Brahma.  As a result, a sect of Nickalsainis grew up and, although Nicholson in his embarassment had them whipped and imprisoned, they persisted in worshipping him.

One famous story recounted by Charles Allen in Soldier Sahibs is of a night during the Mutiny when Nicholson strode into the British mess tent at Jullunder, coughed to attract the attention of the officers, then said: "I am sorry, gentlemen, to have kept you waiting for your dinner, but I have been hanging your cooks."   He had been told that they had been poisoning the soup.  When he force-fed the soup to a monkey and it expired on the spot, Nicholson immediately strung up the cooks on a nearby tree without any semblance of a trial.

He died of his wounds nine days after recapturing Delhi.  That ony added to the lustre of his achievement. He became the Victorian "Hero of Delhi," inspiring books, ballads, and a generation of young men to join the army.

The Governor Who Was Jilted in Love

Francis Nicholson has been called one of the best Governors Virginia ever had.  It was he who oversaw the transfer of the capital from Jamestown to Williamsburgh and and it was he who was instrumental in the creation of William and Mary College.  But he was also described as "depraved, dissolute, and ungodly, a wildly immoerate and disordered man." 

This bad side came out in his pursuit of Lucy Burwell as his wife.

In the spring of 1699, seventeen year old Lucy Burwel, the daughter of a well-established planter, caught the eye of Virginia's 44 year old Governor, Francis Nicholson.  He was immediately smitten.  He regaled her with letters that were addressed to his "virtuous pretty charming innocent dove, the only center of my constant love." 

But Lucy was indifferent.  That drove Nicholson crazy.  For more than two years he reacted with temper tantrums and threats at reports that Lucy was being courted by younger rivals.  When he learned that she loved someone else, he threatened to slit the throat of "the bridegroom, the minister, and the justice who issued the license," threats that were repeated when her engagement was announced in 1703.

However, the Burwells had powerful friends, including Sir Robert Walpole back in England.  They petitioned for his recall on the grounds of his behavior and he was forced to relinquish his position and leave Virginia in early 1705.      

Judge Nicholson's Role in American History

Joseph Hopper Nicholson was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives who, although painfully ill, was carried into Congress to cast the deciding vote for Thomas Jefferson in his battle with Aaron Burr over the Presidency.  Nicholson's vote for Jefferson resulted in a tie between Jefferson and Burr in the Maryland delegation and, therefore, insufficient state's votes to elect a candidate. 

Nicholson persisted in voting for Thomas Jefferson for President through 36 ballots until the Federalist members of the Maryland delegation gave up their fight for Aaron Burr.  If Nicholson had been prevented by illness from voting in an equally divided Maryland Congressional delegation, Burr would have been elected President on the first ballot and the whole course of American history might have turned out quite differently. 

Later, Judge Nicholson became Chief Judge of the Sixth Judicial Circuit (then comprising Baltimore and Harford counties) and a judge of the Court of Appeals.  It was Judge Nicholson who suggested the music for the Star-Spangled Banner and had it published.  The original copy of the poem was in the Nicholson family for 93 years.

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