Joseph Hopper Nicholson was from one of the most influential and oldest families on Maryland’s Eastern Shore at Centreville, whose linelage dates back to 17th century Maryland. Born on May 15, 1770 in Chestertown, Queen Annes County, Maryland he graduated from Chestertown [Washington] College in 1787 and served in the Maryland House of Delgates (1796-1798), U.S. House of Representatives(1799-1806). In 1804 he conducted the impeachment hearings of Associated Chief Justice 0f the U.S. Supreme Court, Samuel Chase of Maryland. Two years later he introduced a House bill that became known as the “Nicholson Resolution” that became the first of several Non-Importation Acts that resulted in the unpopular Embargo Act of 1807. He resigned in 1806 to become the Chief Judge of the Maryland’s Court of Appeals in Baltimore, holding this post until his death.
On May 16, 1812 at Baltimore’s Old Fountain Inn, fifty delegates of the Democratic-Republican Party, with Judge Nicholson presiding as chairman, met to present several resolutions in a memorial to the President James Madison on the momentous decision that the nation was now affixed upon – a declaration of war with England. Foremost of the delegates was Hezekiah Niles, the influential editor of the Niles’ Weekly Register, who reported the evening’s proceedings arguing that England “… forcibly impresses our seamen, and detains them inhumanely in an odorous servitude – she obstructs our commerce in every channel…she had murdered our citizens within our own waters…” Such were the sentiments of the delegates many of whom were connected by livelihood to the popular “free trade and sailor’ rights” issues, one of several that led the U.S. to declare war upon England on June 18, 1812.
Judge Nicholson was a well known and eloquent orator rose to address the gathering:
“…We have assembled here to-night, for the purpose of determining whether we will give it our support in the might struggle into which [our country ] is about to enter …Is there an American sword that will not leap from its scabbard to avenge the wrongs and contumely treatment under which we have suffered? No, my countrymen, it is impossible. Let us act with one heart, and with one hand; let us show to an admiring world, that however we may differ among ourselves about some of our internal concerns, yet in the great cause of our country, the American people are animated by one soul and by one spirit…”
In May 1814, he organized a U.S. Volunteer militia artillery company known as the Baltimore Fencibles, whose muster rolls included mercantile merchants, ship-owners and bankers. In May 1814 with an invasion of the Chesapeake eminent, Nicholson informed the U.S. Naval Secretary “We should have to fight hereafter, not for ‘free trade and sailors’ rights,’ not for the conquest of the Canadas, but for our national existence.” During the bombardment of Fort McHenry they manned the guns within Fort McHenry. After the war he conbtinued on the judicial bench until his death in Baltimore on March 4, 1817. He was buried at Wye House, home of the Lloyds of Maryland in Talbot County, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
Source: “Joseph Hopper Nicholson: Citizen-Soldier of Maryland,” by Scott S. Sheads (Maryland Historical Magazine, vol. 98, No. 2, 2003).