Tift was born in Groton, Connecticut and moved with his family to Key West, Florida in 1826, and then to Charleston, South Carolina in 1830. In October 1835, Tift moved to Augusta, Georgia. He then moved to Hawkinsville, Georgia in March 1836. In October of that year, Tift founded Albany, Georgia and became justice of the peace. On July 5, 1840, he was elected to the Baker County, Georgia Inferior Court and was re-elected to that post in January 1841.
In 1840, Tift was elected as a colonel of the local unit of the Georgia Militia. In 1841, he was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives and was re-elected to that one-year position in 1847, 1851, and 1852. Tift founded, edited and published the Albany Patriot newspaper from 1845 until 1858.
During the American Civil War, Tift was a captain in the Navy supply department of the Confederate States Navy supply department. After the war ended, he was elected to the 40th United States Congress as a U.S. Representative with the Democratic Party and served from July 25, 1868, until March 3, 1869. He was not permitted to qualify for re-election in 1868 and unsuccessfully contested the election of his replacement, Richard H. Whiteley. After his congressional service, Tift worked in various businesses. He served as a delegate to the State constitutional convention in 1877. He died in Albany on November 21, 1891 and was buried in that city's Oakview Cemetery. Tift County, Georgia, is named in his honor.
- Nelson Tift at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress Retrieved on 2009-05-01
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