Was a native of Northampton County, Pennsylvania, and born June 29, 1769. He was educated in the common schools of his native county. He taught school, when a young man, and was regarded as a fine English scholar and a successful teacher. When about forty-six years of age he purchased the tract of land known as Andrew Heltman farm, in Milton Township, being Virginia Military land; and in 1815, came to the township and erected a sort of camp cabin, and cleared and cultivated a small field about it. He had his bread prepared by Mrs. Conrad Kline, who resided some distance east of the present site of Ashland, and camped each day to labor at his new home.
He resided in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, from about the year 1801, where he married Miss Emalie Bonham, and where were born to him seven of his eleven children.
In the spring of 1816, he removed to his cabin with his family. From near New Lisbon, he passed up Beall's trail, the common route, to within about one mile of his cabin, and then cut a path. He resided there a short time, and then exchanged his land for a new homestead, where Scott Nelson now resides, where, by the aid of his neighbors, he erected a new cabin, removed into it, and continued to reside until his decease. When he landed with his family, there were but few settlers in Milton Township. His nearest neighbors are believed to have been: James Kingsal, Frederick Sulcer, Peter Lance, James Kelly, and Abraham Doty.
At the time of his arrival, and for many years afterward, the neighborhood was infested by wolves, which destroyed the sheep, and, when hungry, would frequently attack young calves and pigs. Mrs. Nelson was often compelled to build a fire at night near the pen where she secured the young calves, to keep the wolves from destroying them. Mr. Nelson obtained meal and flour at Beam's mill for a number of years, until mills began to be more numerous.
In 1816, July 6, Milton Township was organized, prior to that time being under the control of Mifflin for civil purposes. The petition was drawn by Robert Nelson, the best scholar and penman in the township, and duly acted upon by the court of common pleas of Richland County, and the request of the petitioners granted. The petition displays considerable ability and readiness of composition, and is an honor to the author. Its history runs thus: "Now it came to pass when men began to multiply on this side of the river westward toward the lake, even the great Lake Erie, and the inhabitants of Milton township, became numerous and strong, that they said one to another, go to, let us separate ourselves from Mifflin township, to which they aforetime had been attached; for why should we be oppressed by our brethren, and costs multiplied on us in carrying us before strangers? Let us select a goodly number from among our brethren, that shall bear rule over us. And they prayed the court in Mansfield, and their request was granted. Milton was organized, and became a free and independent township. This happened in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixteen."
The selfishness of our race is apparent in the foregoing document, in that, while Milton became "free," her jurisdiction continued over Clearcreek four years after the important event narrated by Mr. Nelson.
Upon the erection of Milton, it is believed Robert McBeth was elected the first justice of the peace. Mr. McBeth resided in the territory now composing Clearcreek Township, which circumstance evinced a disposition on the part of the electors of Milton to divide honors with her neighbor.
In 1819 Robert Nelson was elected a justice of the peace, and served until 1822. In 1817, at the spring election, David Crabbs was elected township clerk, and Benjamin Montgomery, Elijah Charles and Robert McBeth, trustees, and David McKinny, fence viewer, and John Ferrell, appraiser of property, and Abel Montgomery and William Houston listers; supervisors, William Houston, Frederick Sulcer, and George Burget; and John Freeborn and Jacob Montgomery, constables; and Jacob Foulk, treasurer.
In 1818 Robert Nelson was elected township clerk, and was re-elected in 1819-20. After the expiration of his term as justice, in 1822, he was re-elected; and was repeatedly elected trustee and constable after that time.
He is said to have been an upright and popular officer, and could have retained office for many years; but had no ambition to seek office and public favor in that direction.
When the congregation of "old Hopewell" organized in 1817, Robert Nelson, Abraham Doty, Daniel McKinny, William Houston, David Pollock, Jacob McClusky, and Abel Montgomery, Samuel Burns, David Burns, William Andrews, Alexander McCrady, and their wives, in Milton township, became members of the new congregation. Robert Nelson and Abraham Doty were elected and ordained elders. Mr. Nelson remained an elder until advanced age caused him to retire. He died August 16, 1844, aged seventy-five years; and his widow survived until May 31, 1862, when she deceased, at the age of eighty years.
Mr. and Mrs. Nelson were the parents of thirteen children: Mary, James, Eliza, Rachel, John, Samuel, Sophia, Nancy, Margaret, Scott, Robert, Jane and Milton, all of whom survived Mr. Nelson, be being the first member of the family that deceased. John and Scott and three sisters remain in Milton, five of the family are dead, and three are in other localities.
Mr. Nelson served in the war of 1812, and his widow received a land warrant for his services. John and Robert, sons of Nelson, served in Mexico in the war of 1846; and Scott Nelson, another son, served in the war of 1861-5 in the South.
Mr. Nelson was an influential and upright citizen. His education and fine judgment qualified him to fill the highest public stations in the county. As a member of the Presbyterian Church he was much respected. Diffident and unselfish, he found more real pleasure in being a quiet farmer than in public display and official promotion. Devoted to his church and the elevation of society, his example, all through life, was in the direction of good order, obedience to law, and the precepts of religion, and when he had run his course, he passed over the dark stream without fear or regret.