Nicholas Biddle



Occupation 1

naval officer


Revolutionary War; Andrea Doria


NA/Mid-Atlantic region


Maritime Republic (1751-1815)








Naval officer, entered the merchant service at the age of thirteen on the Ann and Almack. His service on this British trader proved Biddle to be a courageous and determined seaman. During a voyage to the Caribbean the ship was lost at sea, and Biddle, along with other crew members, survived for two months on a desert island before being rescued by a Spanish sloop. Upon returning to Philadelphia, Biddle enlisted in the British Royal Navy in 1770 with the rank of midshipman. He later applied for service on a 1773 expedition to the Arctic Circle led by Captain Phipps, Lord Musgrave, but was turned down because of his youth. Determined to join the expedition, Biddle resigned from the navy and joined the cruise as an ordinary seaman. His messmate during this voyage was midshipman Horatio Nelson.

Biddle left the Royal Navy shortly after the Boston Tea Party as relations between Great Britain and her American colonies deteriorated. In 1775 he enlisted in the Continental navy and, due to his experience, received the rank of captain. The government of Pennsylvania assigned him to command the galley Franklin with orders to defend the Delaware coastline, but he soon tired of the post's inactivity and requested a transfer. To his delight, the navy assigned him command of the Andrea Doria under the direction of the united colonies' naval commander-in-chief, Esek Hopkins. In the spring of 1776 Hopkins's fleet set out to raid British shipping along the Virginia coast. The fleet instead used the opportunity to capture Forts Montague and Nassau in the Bahamas, despite the fact that the operation was, at best, a misinterpretation of orders. Hopkins then led the fleet to Rhode Island, where his poor leadership resulted in serious damage to the flotilla. This cruise led to Hopkins's eventual court-martial and censure, but it also led to recognition of Biddle as a superior naval officer. He continued to raid British shipping in the North Atlantic, and during an engagement off the coast of Newfoundland he captured two armed transports with a complement of over 400 Highlanders en route to Boston.

By April 1776 the Marine Committee of the Continental Congress had commissioned thirteen frigates, but only ten had been launched. Biddle received command of the first of these warships, the 32-gun Randolph, in October. The career of the Randolph began inauspiciously when, shortly after leaving port in February 1777, the main mast sheared away during a violent storm. Biddle's own inspection of the mast proved that it was rotten, having been warehoused for eighteen years. Repairs were made in Charleston, after which Biddle set sail for targets of opportunity in the West Indies. Only two weeks out, Biddle captured the twenty-gun True Briton, along with three accompanying merchantmen. The British navy enclosed the Randolph in Charleston from December 1777 through January 1778, but Biddle used the delay to secure funds and vessels from South Carolina for a new expedition

Biddle's final cruise began in February 1778, when the Randolph and four smaller warships left Charleston outfitted with volunteers from the First South Carolina Continental Infantry. Upon discovering that the British blockade ships had withdrawn, Biddle swung his contingent toward the West Indies. On 7 March, sixty leagues east of Barbados, theRandolph met the 64-gun British ship of the line Yarmouth, commanded by Captain Nicholas Vincent. Biddle refused to show his ship's colors until the British frigate drew within hailing distance and demanded identification. Biddle responded, "This is the Continental frigate Randolph!" Instantly, the American ensign was raised in conjunction with a volley from the Randolph's six- and twelve-pound guns. The Yarmouth, taken by surprise, was slow to respond. Biddle's tightly organized and well-trained crews fired three times faster than their opponent. The firepower of the Yarmouth proved to be superior, however, when, after a twenty-minute engagement, the Randolph disintegrated in a tremendous explosion resulting from a shot that landed in her forward magazine. Records indicate Biddle's powder may have been unusually volatile because it had been exposed to moisture while the ship was careened to scrape her bow in Charleston. Biddle died at his post, still issuing orders from a chair, as the ship's surgeon examined the wounds he had received from heavy enemy fire.

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Image Id: 258

Record ID: 89