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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.
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.