The college was named after Thomas Nelson, Jr. (December 26, 1738 – January 4, 1789), who was an American planter, soldier, and statesman from Yorktown, Virginia. He is regarded as one of the U.S. Founding Fathers, since he signed the Declaration of Independence as a member of the Virginia delegation. He served as Governor of Virginia in 1781. Nelson County, Virginia, and Nelson County, Kentucky, are also named in his honor. The construction of TNCC began in August 1967. Four buildings were planned for construction, and the cornerstone was laid in December 1967. More than 1,200 Students began classes on September 20, 1968, and the first class of students graduated with associate degrees on June 13, 1970.