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An Irish-born author, merchant, and military officer who served in a variety of military and civilian capacities throughout his long life. Nicola's most significant connection to George Washington derived from his supposed authorship of a letter in which he seemed to advocate that the general assume the title of American monarch.
Born to Huguenot parents in Ireland in 1717, little else is known concerning the early life of Lewis Nicola. It is likely that he received at least a secondary education before acquiring a commission as an ensign in the British Army in 1740. Nicola served in the War of Austrian Succession and in the Seven Years' War.
Upon the termination of hostilities in the latter, as well as in response to difficult economic circumstances in Ireland, Nicola emigrated to Philadelphia and became a merchant. By 1767, his business ventures had met with some success and he had diversified his concerns to include a lending library of some 300 volumes. Nicola also became involved it the intellectual and social circles of the city, becoming a member of the American Philosophical Society.
As colonial troubles with Great Britain increased, Nicola took a firm stance against British tax policies. As the protests evolved into open rebellion, Nicola's previous military experience resulted in offers of several significant posts in the city of Philadelphia. On December 2, 1776, he was appointed town major of the city.
With a British attack on Philadelphia apparently imminent, Nicola worked diligently to strengthen the city's defenses. During the same year, he authored the manual A Treatise of Military Exercise Calculated for the Use of Americans. The work was meant to serve as a guide for officers already in possession of some experience in the art of war. On June 20, 1777, Nicola was authorized to raise a Corps of Invalids (a group of disabled veterans), which was to serve as a reserve force and as a training school for young gentlemen.
In May of 1782, Nicola penned a letter in which he purportedly suggested that Washington assume the mantle of monarch. The proposal came at a very sensitive period in the struggle for independence, as the economic consequences of the war were making themselves felt. When it came to developing and implementing solutions to the problems facing the republic, the Continental Congress appeared important in the eyes of many.
Washington responded by categorically rejecting the notion. While Nicola was advocating for strong leadership, it is doubtful that he actually was calling upon Washington to become king. With the coming of peace, the Corps of Invalids was disbanded. Lewis Nicola continued to hold a number of public positions until his retirement from public service at the age of eighty-one.
Assistant Professor of History
Moraine Valley Community College
Haggard, Robert F. "The Nicola Affair: Lewis Nicola, George Washington, and American Military Discontent during the Revolutionary War." Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 146, no. 2 (June 2002).
Nicola, Lewis. A Treatise of Military Exercise Calculated for the Use of Americans. Ed. James McIntyre. West Chester, OH: The Nafziger Collection, 2009.