James Nicholson, Samuel Nicholson, James William Augustus Nicholson -
Biographies edited by Stanley l. Klos
NICHOLSON, James, naval officer, born in Chestertown, Maryland, in 1737; died in New York city, 2 September, 1804. His father, a Scotchman, came from Berwick-on-Tweed, and was given a grant known as Nicholson's Manor, near the passage of the Blue Ridge, Virginia, that is still known as Nicholson's Gap. He held offices of trust under the government. The son was trained to the sea, was at the capture of Havana in 1762, and, after residing in New York in 1763-'71, entered the Revolutionary navy in the
"Defence," a Maryland vessel, in 1775. In this ship, in March, 1776, he recaptured several vessels that had been taken by the British, and in June, 1776, he was appointed to the command of the
"Virginia," of twenty-eight guns. In January, 1777, he succeeded Commander Esek Hopkins as commander-in-chief of the navy, and held that post till its dissolution. A strict blockade of the Chesapeake prevented the
"Virginia " from leaving the bay, and Captain Nicholson and his crew joined the army and took part in the battle of Trent, on. In a subsequent attempt to get to sea. the
"Virginia" struck upon a bar, and was captured, but the captain and most of his crew escaped.
Congress instituted an inquiry into the circumstance, which resulted in Captain Nicholson being acquitted of all blame. He afterward commanded the frigate
"Trumbull," of thirty-eight guns, and on 2 June, 1780, had a severe action of three hours' duration with the
" Wyatt," losing thirty men before the ships parted. In August, 1781, the
" Virginia" was captured off the capes of Delaware by the "Iris" and the
"General Monk," after a gallant resistance, being completely dismantled. Captain Nicholson and his crew were captured, and the former was not exchanged until near the close of the war, and saw no more service. After the war he resided in New York, where in 1801-'4 he was United States commissioner of loans. He had one son and five daughters, one of whom married Albert Gallatin.
--James's brother, Samuel
Nicholson , naval officer, born in Maryland in 1743 ; died in Charlestown, Massachusetts, 29 December, 1813, was a lieutenant with Paul Jones in the battle between the
"Bon Homme Richard" and the "Serapis," and was appointed a captain on 17 September, 1779. Early in 1782 he commanded the frigate
" Dean" of thirty-two guns, in which he cruised successfully, taking, among other prizes, three sloops of war, with an aggregate of forty-four guns. He retained his rank of captain on the reorganization of the navy, 10 June, 1794, and was the first commander of the frigate" Constitution," the building of which he superintended. At the time of Isis death he was at the head of the navy.
--Another brother, John
Nicholson , was commissioned a lieutenant in the Revolutionary navy on 17 August, 1776, and captain, 17 September, 1779.--John's son, William Carmichael, naval officer, born in Maryland in 1800; died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 25 July, 1872. He was commissioned a midshipman from his native state, 18 July, 1812, and was on board the
"President," under Decatur, in the desperate action off Long Island in January. 1815, when that vessel surrendered to the British fleet. He was carried to England and not released till the end of the war. He was commissioned a lieutenant in March, 1821, and served on the frigate
"United States " in the Pacific squadron in 1827. He was on duty at the naval station in 1834, became commander, 8 September, 1841, went out in the sloop "Preble " in the Mediterranean squadron in 1843, served at the naval rendezvous at Boston in 1845-'6, was attached to the receiving-ship at New York in 1847-'8, and commandant at the navy-yard in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1852-'3. He was commissioned as captain, 22 August, 1855, and in the same year acted as fleet-captain of the Pacific squadron. From 1858 till 1861 he had in'charge the steam frigate
" Mississippi" in the East India squadron. In 1861 he was in command of the steam frigate
"Roanoke," and from 1861 to 1866 was on special duty. His commission as
commodore was signed 16 July, 1862. His courage was manifested upon several
occasions, and he was engaged in numerous duels. When the civil war began he was
the commander of the United States marine asylum in Philadelphia.
James William Augustus Nicholson
James William Augustus Nicholson, naval officer, born in Dedham, Massachusetts, 10 March, 1821 ; died in New York city, 28 October, 1887, was the son of Nathaniel Dowse Nicholson (1792-1822), an officer in the navy, who served during the war of 1812 with Great Britain. The son entered the navy, 10 February, 1838, as a midshipman, was promoted lieutenant in 1852, and in 1847-'8 was acting master in the Mexican war. In 1853-'5 he was lieutenant of the sloop "Vandalia," of the Japanese expedition, under Commander Matthew C. Perry. His first command in the civil war was the
"Isaac Smith," in the Port Royal expedition, and he was commended by Admiral Dupont for coolness and courage. In the winter of 1861-'2 he served in Florida, and in the spring of 1862 he was assigned the command of St. Augustine. In February, 1862, he had an engagement with a Confederate flotilla in Savannah river. He was promoted commander in July, and in 1862-'3 was ordnance officer on the New York station. In 1863-'4 he commanded the
"Shamrock" its the South Atlantic blockading squadron before Charleston, and he had in charge the monitor
"Manhattan," under Farragut, at the battle of Mobile Bay He greatly aided in the capture of the Confederateram
"Tennessee," the only shots which penetrated her armor being fired from the 15-inch guns of the
Nicholson afterward attacked Fort Powell at intervals for twelve days, firing 100 shells into it, and bombarded Fort Morgan from 9 till 21 August, when it surrendered. He returned to New York in January, 1865 commanded the steamer
"Mohigan," of the Pacific squadron, in 1865-'6, and in July of the latter year was made captain. In 1871-'2 he commanded the flag-ship
" Lancaster," of the Brazil squadron, and in 1873 he became commodore. He had charge of the New York navy-yard in 1876-'80, and on 1 September, 1881, he was appointed to the command of the European station, being commissioned rear-admiral on 1 October of that year. He was present during the bombardment of Alexandria, Egypt, by the British fleet, on 11 July, 1882, and on the 14th. after the firing had ceased, he landed 100 marines to protect the United States consulate and to assist in restoring order. Throughout the bombardment and subsequently Admiral Nicholson's conduct was prompt, energetic, and efficient, and received general commendation in Europe, as well as in this country.
On 10 March, 1883, he was retired, resigning the European squadron to his
successor. Admiral Baldwin. He received medals, decorations, and thanks from
various European sovereigns. When Admiral Nicholson went on the retired list he was the last representative of a family that had been eminent in the naval history of the United States. Since 1755 eighteen of the name and family have been in the service. Three have worn broad pennants, and a fourth died just as he received an appointment to one.