Alexander Lockhart Nelson (1827-1910)

This collection serves as a comprehensive look at Alexander Lockhart Nelson. Born in 1827 in Augusta County Virginia to a Scotch-Presbyterian ancestry, Nelson was raised in Virginia and on July 5, 1855 married Miss Elizabeth Harvey Moore of Lexington, Virginia. Together they raised a family of three daughters and one son: Bessie Nelson (who later married Mr. Albert W. Gaines of Chattanooga, TN), Julia Nelson (later married Mr. Walter S. Forrester of Anchorage, KY), Frank A. Nelson, and Miss Evelyn Moore Nelson. In addition to raising a family, Nelson was a fully member of the Lexington community, serving as a Deacon at the Presbyterian Church, the same church in which Stonewall Jackson was a prior Deacon, and was later elevated to the Office of the Elder.

Nelson’s involvement with Washington and Lee started early; in 1846 he enrolled as a sophomore, graduating three years later with a BA. Becoming an assistant teacher upon his graduation, Nelson remained a staple of the mathematics department at Washington and Lee University until he was awarded Professor Emeritus in 1906. He spent all of these years at the University, aside from 5 years (1849-1854) he spent at the University of Virginia advancing his degree and teaching. Nelson, upon his retirement, was the longest serving faculty member of administrator by 32 years.

Nelson was one of four faculty on staff when Robert E. Lee arrived to take over the Presidency, Nelson had a unique and previously undiscovered perspective on Lee, and that is delved into in this exhibit. Here before Lee arrived, and present long after he had left, Nelson saw the full development of Lee’s changes and the lasting development of Lee’s true transformation of the University.

As an interesting local side note, the Nelson family home is now the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity house. Built in 1890 by Alexander M. Nelson, Alexander Lockhart Nelson’s father, it was the first house on this property, as the land sat empty before 1890. The land was part of a large plot originally owned by Colonel John T.L. Preston, who was influential in founding Virginia Military Institute and was a Rector of Washington College.

Serving an active and full life in the community, Nelson died in 1910 at the age of 73. He passed on the porch of his home on Preston Street, and is buried in the Stonewall Jackson Cemetery in Lexington.

The aim of this collection is to expand on the given background of Nelson, and highlight specific portions of his life. The collection has been divided into four main sections of information – his connection to Washington and Lee, his perspective on and relationship with Robert E. Lee, his contributions to mathematics (both at the University and theoretical), as well as a brief look into his personal life. This expansion of understanding is accomplished through the compilation and evaluation of these primary sources. Nelson was an invaluable member of the Washington and Lee community, and his both span of years as well as presence at a dynamic point in the institution’s history affords him attention.

Please click on the individual images for further, more specific, information.


Elizabeth Wolf, Thomas Camden