Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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BIDDLE, Nicholas, naval officer, born in Philadelphia, 10 September 1750; killed in action, 7 March 1778. On 22 December 1775, congress passed a resolution appointing nineteen naval officers, of whom five were captains, Nicholas Biddle, one of these, was assigned to the "Andrea Doria," an armed brig. In October 1776, the number of captains had been increased to twenty-four, and it became necessary to settle the question of rank. A resolution was passed accordingly, and Biddle's name stands fifth on the list. His maritime experience prior to this time had been somewhat extended. When a boy of thirteen he went on a voyage to the West Indies, and was cast away on a desert island, where, with two companions, he remained two months. In 1770 he entered the British navy as a midshipman, such appointments being open to the sons of colonial gentry. Three years afterward, hearing of Captain Phipps's opposed Arctic exploring expedition, he deserted his own vessel and shipped as a seaman on board one of Phipps's vessels, where he met Nelson, the future admiral, a volunteer like himself. Both boys were made coxswains before the voyage was over, and Biddle served through the cruise, but returned to America as soon as revolution threatened. Being now an experienced sailor, he was given an independent command. The " Andrea Doria" mounted fourteen or sixteen guns, and her first cruise was to the Bahamas with a small squadron under Fleet-Captain Hopkins. Biddle participated in the very creditable capture and occupation of New Providence, where a large quantity of munitions of war were seized, and loaded upon the vessels of the squadron for transportation to the United States. Off Montauk point, Long Island, two small British cruisers were captured (4 and 5 April), and on 6 April a large ship, the " Glasgow," was engaged. In this fight, which was indecisive, Biddle took part. The Englishman drew off after having sustained and inflicted much damage, and, being a better sailor than the heavily. laden Americans, made her escape. After refitting in New London, the "Andrea Doria" cruised on the banks of Newfoundland, captured two armed transports filled with soldiers, and made prizes of so many merchantmen that when he returned to the Delaware Biddle retained but five of his original crew, the rest having been placed on board prizes. On 6 June 1776, he was appointed by congress to command the "Randolph," a 32-gun frigate then building in Philadelphia. She was launched near the close of the year, and sailed early in 1777. Some constructional defects were discovered in the ship, and Captain Biddle put into Charleston for repairs. These made, he sailed, and was back again in a few days with four prizes, one of which had an armament of twenty guns. The South Carolinians were so pleased with these successes that they voluntarily equipped four small vessels, which they placed under his command, and the squadron sailed in search of British cruisers supposed to be in the neighborhood. On 7 March they encountered the British 64-gun ship "Yarmouth." Prudence dictated flight from so powerful an antagonist, but she soon overtook and engaged the " Randolph." After a sharp action of twenty minutes at close quarters the latter blew up, and the vessels were so close together that fragments of the wreck, including an American flag rolled up tightly, fell on the " Yarmouth's" deck. The British ship had suffered so severely in the action that she was unable to overtake any other of the American ships. On 12 April while in the same vicinity, she picked up four survivors of the explosion, who reported that Captain Biddle had been severely wounded during the action, and was having his wound dressed on deck when the explosion occurred. The rest of the "Randolph's" crew, 310 in number, perished. It was generally believed that Captain Biddle possessed all the qualities that go to make a great naval commander, and his untimely death, with the simultaneous loss of the first American frigate ever launched, was a serious blow to the infant navy of the revolted colonies.-His brother, Edward, born 1739; died in Baltimore, 5 September 1779, was an officer in the French war of 1756-'63. He became eminent as a lawyer in Reading, Pennsylvania; was a member and speaker of the assembly, and was a delegate to the first congress in 1774-'5. He was one of the foremost advocates of independence.
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