|Judge and U.S. Representative Joseph Hopper Nicholson (1770 Kent Co., MD - 1817 Baltimore, MD)
Joseph Hopper Nicholson, the son of Joseph Nicholson, Jr. and Elizabeth (Hopper) Nicholson was born in Chestertown, Maryland, May 15, 1770. In 1793, he married Rebecca Lloyd of Wye. He completed preparatory studies, studied law and was admitted to the bar and practiced. He was a member of the State House of Delegates 1796-1798 and was elected as a Republican to the U.S. House of Representatives of the Sixth and the three succeeding Congresses, serving from March 4, 1799, until his resignation on March 1, 1806. He was one of the managers appointed by the House of Representatives in January 1804 to conduct the impeachment proceedings against John Pickering, Judge of the United States District Court for New Hampshire, and in December of the same year against Samuel Chase, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Judge Nicholson served as Chief Justice of the Sixth Judicial District of Maryland and Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals from March 26, 1806, until his death. He also was responsible for organizing the new county of Talbot County.
During the War of 1812, Judge Nicholson raised and equipped, at his own expense, a company of artillery and then offered their services for the defense of Baltimore where he and his Artillery Fencibles rendered distinguished services during the bombardment of Fort McHenry. Judge Nicholson died at his home in Baltimore County, Md., March 4,1817. He is interred in the family cemetery on the Lloyd estate, known as "Wye House," near Easton, Talbot County, Md.
Judge Joseph Hopper Nicholson is notable for two other contributions to the history of the United States. He was largely responsible for the election of Thomas Jefferson as President. The presidential vote was: Jefferson, 73; Burr, 73; John Adams, 65; C. C. Pinckney, 64; Jay, 1. There being a tie between the leading candidates, the election was thrown into the House of Representatives, which assembled on the 11th of February, 1801, to make choice between Burr and Jefferson. Joseph Hopper Nicholson, a member of the Maryland delegation, was very ill and thought to be dying and, initially was not present. Learning that the Maryland delegation was leaning by one vote to Burr, Rep. Nicholson, against his doctor's wishes, had himself carried on his bed through a driving snow storm and placed in one of the committee rooms of the house, with his wife at his side, administering medicines and stimulants night and day. From his bed, he voted for Jefferson which resulted in a tie vote in the Maryland delegation. On each subsequent vote the ballot box was brought to the bed side and his feeble hand deposited the powerful bit of paper. Day after day, the balloting went on until thirty-five ballots had been cast. By that time, it was clear that no break could be made in the Jefferson columns and it was impossible to elect Burr. When the thirty-sixth ballot was cast, the Federalists of Maryland, Delaware and South Carolina threw
blanks and the Federalists of Vermont stayed away, leaving their Republican brothers to vote those States for Jefferson. By this slender chance, Jefferson was elected President and Burr Vice-President. Without, Joseph Hooper Nicholson's votes, Burr would have been elected President.
But Judge Nicholson's role in history was not finished. He was a brother-in-law of Francis Scott Key by marriage. His wife was the sister of Francis Scott Key's wife. During the War of 1812, when a friend, Dr. Beanes, a physician of Upper Marlborough, MD, was taken aboard British Admiral Cockburn's squadron for interfering with ground troops, Key and J. S. Skinner, carrying a note from President Madison, went to the fleet under a flag of truce to ask for Beanes' release. Cockburn consented, but as the fleet was about to sail up the Patapsco to bombard Fort McHenry in Baltimore harbor, he detained them, first on the HMS SURPRISE and then on a supply ship. Key witnessed the bombardment which began at 7 AM, September 13, 1814 and lasted for 25 hours. During the bombardment, Key wrote a stanza on the back of an envelope. Next day at Indian Queen Inn, Baltimore, Key wrote out the poem and gave it to his brother-in-law, Judge Joseph Hopper Nicholson. Nicholson suggested the tune, "Anacreon in Heaven" and had the poem printed on broadsides, of which two survive. On September 20, it appeared in the Baltimore American. Later, Key made three copies. One is in the Library of Congress and one is in the Pennsylvanica Historical Society. The copy that Key wrote at his hotel on September 14, 1814, remained in the Nicholson family for 93 years. In 1907, it was sold to Henry Walters of Baltimore. In 1934, it was bought in New York from the Walters estate by Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, for $26,400. The Walters Art Gallery in 1953 sold the manuscript to the Maryland Historical Society for the same price.