Born at Oakland, one of the Nelson family plantations, in the village of Beaverdam in Hanover County, Virginia to John Page and Elizabeth Burwell Nelson. He was a scion of the prominent Nelson and Page families, each First Families of Virginia. Although he was from once-wealthy lineage, after the American Civil War, which began when he was only 8 years old, his parents and their relatives were largely impoverished during Reconstruction and his teenage years. In 1869, He entered Washington College, known now as Washington and Lee University, in Lexington, Virginia when Robert E. Lee was president of the college. After three years, Page left Washington College before graduation for financial reasons. To earn money for the law degree he desired, Page taught the children of his cousins in Kentucky. From 1873 to 1874, he was enrolled in the law school of the University of Virginia in pursuit of a legal career. At Washington College and thereafter at UVA, Nelson was a member of the prestigious fraternity Delta Psi, AKA St. Anthony Hall.Admitted to the Virginia Bar Association, he practiced as a lawyer in Richmond between 1876 and 1893, and began writing. He was married to Anne Seddon Bruce on July 28, 1886. She died on December 21, 1888 of a throat hemorrhage.He remarried on June 6, 1893, to Florence Lathrop Field, a widowed sister-in-law of retailer Marshall Field. In the same year Page gave up his law practice entirely and moved with his wife to Washington, D.C..There, he kept up his writing, which amounted to eighteen volumes when they were compiled and published in 1912. Page popularized the plantation tradition genre of Southern writing, which told of an idealized version of life before the Civil War, with contented slaves working for beloved masters and their families. His 1887 collection of short stories, In Ole Virginia, is the quintessential work of that genre. Another short-story collection of his is entitled The Burial of the Guns (1894).Under President Woodrow Wilson, Page served as U.S. ambassador to Italy for six years between 1913 and 1919. His book entitled Italy and the World War (1920) is a memoir of his service there.He died in 1922 at Oakland in Hanover County, Virginia.