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July 3, 2014

Local family proud of patriotic roots

SYCAMORE — Independence Day is a federal holiday that celebrates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. Among the 56 signers of the Declaration was Thomas Nelson Jr. of Yorktown, Va., who one Sycamore man says is his fifth great-grandfather.

Johnnie Nelson, 76, along with his wife, Joanne, stopped by The Tifton Gazette office Wednesday with a folder full of information on the history of his family. Their daughter, Beth Nelson Varnadoe, who is a teacher, traced all of the information on their background down about a year or two ago. She got on the Internet and became interested in looking up the Nelson family, Joanne said. Beth went to Virginia in December and found out they're all related to one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Joanne said they were surprised by the news.

"He's been so proud," Joanne said about Johnnie.

Johnnie said his family never knew that they were related to Nelson. His grandfather, John Thomas Nelson, came to Turner County from Dooly County and Hawkinsville. Johnnie said Nelson was the ninth signer of the Declaration of Independence, under John Hancock's signature.

Joanne said Beth gave Johnnie the information on their family background for his Father's Day gift last year. Since receiving this information, she said Johnnie has been reading a lot about Nelson on the Internet.

"We found out that he was a cousin of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson," she said.

As Joanne looked over the detailed family tree, she added, "There was a Thomas Nelson in every generation."

"My granddaddy was named Thomas Nelson," Johnnie noted. He then added, "Thomas Nelson Jr. was not named after his daddy. He was named after his uncle."

He and Joanne recently took a trip to Virginia. Their grandson, who's in the Air Force, paid their way to go. Joanne noted their daughter has a condo there. While in Virginia, they visited Yorktown and Nelson's grave. They also found a book on Nelson, as well as a living cousin named Thomas Nelson.

"It's real interesting the things that we found out about him," Joanne said.

Because of his Parkinson's disease, Johnnie was given a card to freely visit any national park in the United States, along with up to three adults.

In the book ("Patriot Above Profit: A Portrait of Thomas Nelson Jr. Who Supported the American Revolution With His Purse and Sword") that they purchased about Nelson, it states in the preface that Nelson deserves being recognized for his vital role in the American Revolution with the other leaders of his state.

It further states that "Nelson's 50 years on earth could have been spent as a country gentleman of Virginia — enjoying the entertainments of the socially elite, riding to hounds, attending the assembly and serving his church, if the cause of the colonies had not arisen. This dramatic circumstance revealed Nelson as an ardent patriot whose altruism and commitment led him to sacrifice his financial and physical security in the war for independence.

"Family influence and friends' support easily elected him to his first term in the House of Burgesses in 1761. He fulfilled the faith of all freeholders since his constituents re-elected him over a score of years and, in addition, made him a delegate to the Continental Congress, representative to the House of Delegates, Brigadier General of the Virginia militia and wartime governor."

At the end of the preface, it states, "This portrait of Thomas Nelson Jr. reveals a gentleman devoted to family, a man dedicated to duty, a lover of liberty so profound that he belongs among the ranks of the illustrious leaders of the American Revolution."

To contact reporter Latasha Ford, call 382-4321.

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