While our physical offices are closed until further notice in accordance with Austin's COVID-19 "stay home-work safe" order, the Handbook of Texas will remain available at no-cost for you, your fellow history enthusiasts, and all Texas students currently mandated to study from home. If you have the capacity to help us maintain our online Texas history resources during these uncertain times, please consider making a 100% tax-deductible contribution today. Thank you for your support of TSHA and Texas history. Donate Today »


Aragorn Storm Miller and Laurie E. Jasinski

PLATO, NELSON (1832–1905). Nelson Plato, lawyer, Union officer, newspaper editor, customs official, and state representative, was born in Montgomery County, New York, on September 9, 1832. He was the son of Thomas and Anna (Timmerman) Plato. Plato was raised in Montgomery County and married Charlotte Emma Dayton there in 1861. They had two children. After the outbreak of the Civil War, Plato entered service into the United States Army on October 10, 1861, as a first lieutenant and quartermaster for the Fifty-ninth Regiment, New York Volunteer Infantry. He served in this capacity until June 30, 1862, when he was made a captain and assistant quartermaster, United States Volunteers. Plato was posted in Norfolk, Virginia, during 1864, when he was made a major. He was brevetted a lieutenant colonel on March 13, 1865, for “meritorious service in the Quartermaster’s Department.” That year, he was posted in Corpus Christi, Nueces County, Texas, as part of the postwar Federal occupation. Plato was mustered out of the army in 1866.

As a private citizen he remained in Corpus Christi, where he engaged in a hide and tallow business from 1866 through 1869 and served as customs collector throughout the 1870s. He was mayor of Corpus Christi twice—from June 1868 to May 1870 and from May 1875 to April 1876. In addition he edited the Nueces Valley and Corpus Christi Gazette newspapers in 1868, and 1878 through 1879, respectively. In 1870 Plato, a Democrat, won election as House representative for the Thirtieth District, comprising a large portion of South Texas from Nueces County along the Coastal Bend south to Cameron County and extending west, to the Twelfth Texas Legislature. His tenure was very brief, however. He took his oath on February 10, 1870, but was unseated on February 14. The legislature evaluated “certain cases of contested seats, not arising under the reconstruction laws…” and challenged Plato’s votes in Cameron County. Plato, with no advance warning to collect evidence in support of his case, lost his seat to his opponent when the legislative majority subsequently “threw out the vote of Cameron County.”

In the mid-1880s charges of embezzlement were brought against Plato regarding his job as collector of customs. He was convicted and sentenced to two years imprisonment, but Plato, at that time in San Antonio, received a pardon by telegram from President Grover Cleveland on July 27, 1886. Plato left Texas in the mid-1880s and relocated to Washington, D.C., where he began a law practice. His wife having died in 1881, Plato remarried on December 25, 1889, to Florence B. Mygatt of Iowa City, Iowa. In 1893 the couple moved to Iowa City. Plato died there on May 26, 1905. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.


Randolph B. Campbell, Grass-Roots Reconstruction in Texas, 1865–1880 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Press, 1997). Congressional Serial Set: 63rd Congress, 2d Session, December 1, 1913–October 24, 1914, Senate Reports, Vol C. (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1914). Iowa City Daily Press, May 27, 1905. Legislative Reference Library of Texas: Nelson Plato (http://www.lrl.state.tx.us/legeLeaders/members/memberDisplay.cfm?memberID=4457&searchparams=chamber=~city=~countyID=0~RcountyID=~district=~first=~gender=~last=plato~leaderNote=~leg=~party=~roleDesc=~Committee=), accessed April 23, 2014. Charles W. Ramsdell, Reconstruction in Texas (New York: Columbia University Press, 1910; rpt., Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1970). Rochester (New York) Daily Republican, July 29, 1886.

Aragorn Storm Miller
Laurie E. Jasinski

Image Use Disclaimer

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Aragorn Storm Miller and Laurie E. Jasinski, "PLATO, NELSON," accessed June 02, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fpl12.

Uploaded on April 23, 2014. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
visit the mytsha forums to participate

View these posts and more when you register your free MyTSHA account.

Call for Papers: Texas Center for Working-Class Studies Events, Symposia, and Workshops
Hi all! You may be interested in this call for papers I received from the Texas Center for Working-Class Studies at Collin College...

Katy Jennings' Ride Scholarly Research Request
I'm doing research on Catherine Jennings Lockwood, specifically the incident known as "Katy Jennings' Ride." Her father was Gordon C. Jennings, the oldest man to die at the Alamo...

Texas Constitution of 1836 Co-Author- Elisha Pease? Ask a Historian
The TSHA profile of Elisha Marshall Pease states that he wrote part of the Texas Constitution although he was only a 24 year-old assistant secretary (not elected). I cannot find any other mention of this authorship work by Pease in other credible research about the credited Constution authors...