Plato, Nelson (1832–1905)

By: Aragorn Storm Miller and Laurie E. Jasinski

Type: Biography

Published: April 23, 2014

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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 (, 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.


  • Twelfth Legislature (1870-1871)
  • House

Time Periods:

  • Civil War
  • Reconstruction

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

Aragorn Storm Miller and Laurie E. Jasinski, “Plato, Nelson,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 18, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

April 23, 2014

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: