Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Joseph H. Nicholson
Anne Arundel County Court Clerk, 1845-1851
MSA SC 3520-13418


Joseph Hopper Nicholson, Jr. was born on October 10, 1806.  His parents were both very well known.  His father, Joseph Hopper Nicholson, Sr., was the Chief Judge for the Sixth Judiciary Court, a United States Congressman, and a Judge for the Court of Appeals.  His mother, Rebecca Lloyd Nicholson, was the sister of Governor Edward Lloyd (1809-11) of the Wye Plantation in Talbot County.1Joseph Hopper, Jr was their only son to live to adulthood.  Edward, Joseph Hopper, Elizabeth, and James all died before the age of four; his brother Edward (born after the death of the first Edward) lived until age 16.2

Joseph graduated from Howard University and then began practicing law in Baltimore City.3 He married Eliza Ann Hagner on April 10, 1827.  They had five children:  Joseph Hopper III, Frances Rebecca, Emily Erving, Mary Hagner, and another unidentified child.4  He served as Secretary and Director of the Annapolis and Elkridge Railroad Company, a position which Nicholas H. Green also held.

Nicholson held a variety of political positions throughout his life.  He was first the Clerk of the Maryland Senate and was then appointed the acting Secretary of State under Governor Thomas W. Veazy (1836-39).5  In 1845 he was appointed Clerk of the Court for Anne Arundel County by Governor Thomas G. Pratt 1845-48).  He was appointed to the standard seven-year term, but with the new constitution in 1851 Clerks were to be elected to a six-year term.  Thus an election was held in 1851 for which Nicholson was endorsed by the Maryland Republican.  Nicholson, however, was defeated by "Independent Democrat" Nicholas H. Green by 194 votes.6 Soon after his defeat, he was appointed United States Consul at Tunis by President Millard Fillmore.  Nicholson was later appointed Principal Executive Clerk of United States Senate, a position created for Nicholson which he filled until 1861.7

In 1863, during the heat of the Civil War, emotions were high and convictions were strong.  Several prominent state and local politicians, including former Governor Pratt, Nicholas H. Green, and Nicholson himself, refused to take the newly required oath of allegiance at the polls that election year.  The oath was intended to prove assurance that all who voted were committed to the Union and did not hold any feelings of rebellion against the United States.  Everyone in the group was arrested and sent to Baltimore to see Major General Robert C. Schenck.  All were paroled except for Governor Pratt and Nicholson who both fled south to Fortress Munroe.  Nicholson eventually took the oath and returned home, but Pratt repeatedly refused the oath.  He was later released by the government.8

Nicholson died on June 2, 1872 and his wife Eliza died a few months later.  According to the Annapolis Gazette, Nicholson was well known throughout the state as "an influential politician and vigorous writer."9  "No man had more respect from among the prominent men of Maryland during his time," the Gazette added.10  Indeed, Nicholson was a man of strong conviction, earning him the respect of his peers and important political responsibility on the local, state, and national levels.


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