Capt. Nicholas Biddle (Continental Navy)

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Nicholas Biddle

Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Death: Died in Barbados
Cause of death: Rev. War Ship Battle in Barbadoes
Immediate Family:

Son of William Biddle, III and Mary Biddle
Brother of Lydia MacFunn; Edward Biddle; Capt. Charles Biddle and James Biddle

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Capt. Nicholas Biddle (Continental Navy)

Nicholas Biddle (September 10, 1750 – March 17, 1778) was one of the first five captains of the Continental Navy, which was raised by the Americans during the American Revolutionary War.

Early life at sea

Nicholas Biddle was born in Philadelphia. At the age of thirteen, he went on a voyage to the West Indies, during which he was left on a desert island for two months. In 1770, he became a midshipman in the Royal Navy. In 1773, he resigned from the navy in order to join Captain Constantine Phipps on an expedition to the Arctic. While on this trip, he became acquainted with the future Lord Nelson.

Service with the Continentals

Just as the American Revolution threatened to break out, he returned to the colonies and offered his services to the state of Pennsylvania. In August 1775, the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety placed Biddle in command of the armed galley Franklin.

In December 1775, he was commissioned into the Continental Navy and made Captain of the 14-gun brig Andrew Doria. He participated in the expedition against New Providence, and fought in the Continental Navy's action with the Glasgow on April 6, 1776; he was highly critical of the action, noting that the lack of signalling by Commodore Esek Hopkins led to a "helter skelter" action. He captured numerous vessels including British army transports on later cruises.

He participated in a cruise of the Newfoundland Banks that was so successful in the taking of ships, that when he returned to port he had only five sailors left on board his ship; the rest were crewing the prizes.

Last assignment

On June 6, 1776, he was appointed by Continental Congress to command the Randolph, a 32-gun frigate then being built in Philadelphia. She was launched near the close of the year, and sailed early in 1777. In September 1777, Biddle captured HMS True Briton and her three-ship convoy.

On March 7, 1778, off Barbados, the Randolph encountered the British 64-gun ship-of-the-line HMS Yarmouth. Rather than trying to flee from the more heavily armed opponent, the Randolph engaged in battle. An eyewitness reported the frigate held her own in the twenty minute engagement, appearing, "to fire four or five broadsides to the Yarmouth's one." After Biddle was wounded, the Randolph blew up suddenly, killing all but four of the 305 on board including Biddle. The loss of Randolph was a serious blow to the fledgling Continental Navy.

His brother, Edward Biddle, was a staunch advocate for American independence, and his nephew, Nicholas Biddle (1786-1844), was an esteemed banker.

Four ships of the United States Navy have been named for him.


"I fear nothing but what I ought to fear. I am much more afraid of doing a foolish action than of loosing my life. I aim for a character of conduct, as well as courage, and hope never to throw away a vessel and crew merely to convince the world I have courage. No one has dared to impeach it yet. If any should, I will not leave them a moment of doubt." -- Nicholas Biddle, June 1776

Nicholas Biddle was an American Patriot who served bravely in the American Revolutionary War. He was one of the few officers who received professional training before the war while serving as an ensign in the British navy. As one of the first five officers of the Continental Navy, his service was monumental. Although his service was cut short, his efforts had a huge impact on the early development of our Navy.

Nicholas Biddle was born in Philadelphia on September 10, 1750. Throughout his life, he had a passion for sailing and for the sea. Although his family was in the banking business, Nicholas sought to join the merchant service. In January 1766, Nicholas and his brother Charles served as part of a crew aboard a ship that wrecked off the coast of the Yucatan. Left stranded for two weeks while his brother and the other crewmembers left to search for help, Nicholas and a few others survived on an island for two weeks. This experience instilled the courage and bravery that would set the stage for his leadership in the Navy.

A few years later, Nicholas joined the Royal Navy as a midshipman and served under Horatio Nelson. This experience taught him the necessary skills that would elevate his wisdom to lead men in combat as the commander of Continental Navy ships. As tensions grew between the Americans and the British, Nicholas found himself choosing the side of his home land and resigned his commission in the British Navy.

Returning to Philadelphia, his countrymen gave him command of the galley Franklin. While commanding this vessel, Nicholas became one of the first five officers of the Continental Navy when it was officially established on August 1, 1775. During this time, Nicholas spent his service capturing armed merchant ships who threatened the independence of our nation. In December of 1775, he was assigned as commander of the Andrew Doria, which he used to captured numerous armed merchant men. Two of the ships he captured contained 400 British reinforcements which were being transported to America.

He later took command of the Randolph which was manned in part by paroled British prisoners of war. Once at sea, the prisoners attempted to mutiny. However, due to the 27 year old's leadership, Nicholas was able to squelch the mutiny and arrived at it's destination safely. Also, while commanding the Randolph, he captured the HMS True Britton, along with her three ship convoy. He later returned to Charleston and then evaded the British blockade in February 1778.

In March 1778, Captain Nicholas Biddle sailed his last voyage. While sailing off of Barbados, the 32-gun Randolph met the 64-gun British HMS Yarmouth. Being out gunned, Nicholas's superior strategy caused serious damage to the HMS Yarmouth. Shortly after Nicholas was wounded, a fire started in the gun powder magazines, causing the Randolph to explode. The ship sank killing all but 4 sailors who live to tell the tale of the brave fighting that took place on that day.

Because of Nicholas's leadership, courage, and sacrifice, three warships have been named after this great patriot. The first was a coastal torpedo built in 1901 which served in World War I. The second warship was a destroyer, built in 1919, that served through World War II. The third warship was the USS Biddle, built in 1963, that served through the Vietnam War and following conflicts. The USS Biddle was finally decommissioned in 1993.

Captain Nicholas Biddle was a true patriot who captured the American spirit. At the age of 27, he gave his life for his country. His story and honorable service stands as a testament that this country can continue to be a free nation. May we never forget those honored patriots who gave so much for us to be freedom.

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Capt. Nicholas Biddle (Continental Navy)'s Timeline

September 10, 1750
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
March 17, 1778
Age 27