Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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BIDDLE, James, naval officer, born in Philadelphia in 1783; died there, 1 October 1848. He entered the navy as a midshipman in 1800, was on board the frigate "Philadelphia" when she was wrecked off the coast of Tripoli in 1803, and with the rest of the officers and crew was held in captivity during the war with the Barbary states. After his release he was on ordinary duty until the war of 1812, when he was assigned to the sloop-of-war " Wasp," and was present at the capture of the British sloop " Frolic." He was placed in command of the prize, with orders to make for some southern port of the United States; but while the two vessels were hastily repairing damages, a British seventy-four, the "Poictiers," appeared, and, as the two late antagonists could neither fight nor escape, they were both captured. On being exchanged in March 1813, Mr. Biddle was promoted master-commandant and placed in charge of a gun-boat flotilla in the Delaware, but was soon transferred to the "Hornet," then blockaded by the British in the port of New London, Connecticut He escaped with his ship, and shortly afterward sailed for Tristan d'Acunha. When off that island (23 March 1815) he fought and captured the British brig " Penguin," after a sharp engagement of twenty-two minutes at close quarters, during which the "Penguin" was so shattered by the "Hornet's" fire that she had to be scuttled and abandoned. Just at the end of the action Biddle was severely wounded. Having repaired the damages to his ship, he sailed for the Cape of Good Hope, and on 27 April encountered a British line-of-battle ship, which followed the" Hornet "for nearly thirty-six hours, pressing her so closely*often within cannon-range*that Biddle was obliged to throw his guns overboard, only escaping capture by the exercise of good seamanship. He sailed for San Salvador to refit, but when he reached port found that a treaty of peace had been concluded. Reaching New York on 30 July he found that he had been promoted post-captain while at sea. Congress voted him a gold medal, and New York gave him a state dinner, while his native city presented him with a service of plate. He asked for a court of inquiry to investigate the sacrifice of his armament, and the return of the "Hornet," which acquitted him of all blame, and commended the skill that had saved the ship from capture. After the war he was almost continuously on active duty. In 1817 he took possession of Oregon for the United States, and in 1826 represented, the government in negotiating a commercial treaty with Turkey. At his suggestion, while governor of the naval asylum at Philadelphia (1838-'42), Sec. Paulding sent thither unemployed midshipmen for instruction, thus laying the foundation of a naval school. He was flag-officer of the East India squadron in 1845, and negotiated the first treaty with China, afterward landing in Japan. This was his last extended cruise, though he was in command on the Californian coast during the Mexican war.
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