Tree-ring cross-dates of 46 glacially killed trees show that the tidewater Nellie Juan Glacier, Alaska, advanced seaward during the 16th and 17th centuries AD. Ice-scarred trees at the late-Holocene end moraine indicate that the terminus was at its recent maximum from 1842 to 1893. Historical observations and photographs show that subsequent slow retreat changed to rapid iceberg-calving retreat after 1935, and that the tidewater terminus had withdrawn about 3.3 km from the late-Holocene maximum by 1992. Comparison with paleoclimate records from nearby land-terminating glaciers and an 850 year tree-ring-width chronology indicates that the timing of the 19th-century maximum stand of Nellie Juan Glacier was controlled by changes in summer temperature and radiation. However, rapid iceberg-calving retreat did not begin until 40 years of slow retreat had brought the tidewater terminus back from the terminal moraine shoal. Therefore, both the dimensions of the terminal moraine shoal and the magnitude and duration of climate change were important in initiating rapid retreat of this tidewater glacier system.