|Captain Samuel Nicholson (1743 Kent Co., MD -29 Dec 1813 Charlestown, MA)
From: "Historic Families of America" and "The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans: Volume IIV" and "A Naval History of the American Revolution" by Gardner W. Allen.
Samuel Nicholson, son of Joseph and Hannah (Smith-Scott) Nicholson, was born in Maryland in 1743. In France, Samuel Nicholson was directed by Benjamin Franklin, January 26, 1777, "to proceed to Boulogne (France) and there purchase, on as good terms as possible, a cutter suitable for the purpose of being sent to America. . . . Should you miss of one at Boulogne, proceed to Calais and pursue the same directions. If you fail there, pass to Dover or Deal and employ a person there to make the purchase." (Wharton, ii, 254.) In pursuance of these instructions Nicholson got to England before meeting with success. Being in London he wrote to Captain Joseph Hynson, February 9, 1777: "I came to town 12 O' Clock last Night, my Business are of such a nature wont bare puttg to Paper. Shall say nothing more, but expect to see you Immediately. I shall leave Town early the Morrow Morning, therefore begg You will not loose A Minutes time in Coming here, as I have business of Importance for you, wch must be transacted this Day." (Stevens, 9.) A week later Nicholson and Hynson were in Dover together and there evidently purchased a cutter, which was called the DOLPHIN and was to be used as a packet. February 17, Nicholson took command of the DOLPHIN and sailed her over to Calais.
The American Commissioners in Paris now planned to send the REPRISAL, LEXINGTON, and DOLPHIN on a cruise along the shores of the British Isles. George Lupton, one of the Englishmen in France engaged in watching the course of events, wrote May 13 to William Eden of the foreign office in London: "I have at last with some certainty discovered the intended voyage of Nicholson, Weakes & Johnson; they have all sail'd from Nantes and mean if possiable to intercept some of your transports with foreign troops, but in what place or latitude cannot say." (Stevens, 158.) It is probable that the squadron did not sail quite as early as this. The orders for the cruise issued by Wickes, who was senior officer, to Johnson and Nicholson were dated May 23. The ships were not to separate "unless we should be Chased by a Vessel of Superior Force & it should be Necessary so to do for our own preservation." In such an event "you may continue your Cruize through the Irish Channel or to the North West of Ireland, as you may Judge Safest and best, untill you Arrive off the Isles Orkney and there Cruize 5 or 6 Days for the Fleet to Come up & join you. If they do not appear in that time You may make the best of your Way back for Bilboa or St Sebastian & there Refit as fast as possible for Another Cruize, informing the Honourable Commissioners of your Safe Arrival and the Success of your Cruize." Prizes were to be sent into Spanish or French ports, all the prisoners having been taken out. "The Prize Master must not Report or Enter her as Prize, but as An American Vessel from a port that will be most likely to gain Credit according to the Cargo she may have on board . . . Be Very Attentive to your Signals and if you should be taken, you must take Care to Distroy them . . . Take care to have all the Prisoners properly Secured, to prevent their Rising & taking your Vessel, & if you meet a Dutch, French, Dean, Sweed, or Spainish Vessel, when you have a Number of Prisoners on board, I think it would do well to put them on board any of those Vessels, giving as much provision and Water as will serve them into Port. If any of your prizes should be Chased or in danger, they may Run into the first or most Convenient Port they Can reach in France or Spain, prefering Bilboa, St Sebastians, L'Orient, or Nantz. . . . If you take a prize that you think worth Sending to America, you may dispatch her for Some of the Northern Ports in the Massechusets States." (Pap. Cont. Congr., 41, 7, 145.)
The squadron cruised a month, and while they missed the linen ships which they had hoped to capture, several prizes were made in the Irish Sea, and the Dolphin took a Scotch armed brig after a half-hour's engagement. Upon his return to France, Wickes wrote to the Commissioners from St. Malo, June 28, informing them of his "safe arrival at this port yesterday, in company with Capt. Samuel Nicholson of the sloop Dolphin. We parted from Capt. Johnson the day before yesterday, a little to the east of Ushant. Now for the History of our late cruise. We sailed in company with Captains Johnson and Nicholson from St Nazaire May 28th, 1777. The 30th fell in with The FUDRION [Foudroyant, 84,] about 40 leagues to the west of Bellisle, who chased us, fired several guns at the Lexington, but we got clear of her very soon and pursued our course to the No West in order to proceed round into the North Sea." The squadron fell in with several French, Portuguese, and Dutch vessels, and on the 19th of June, off the north of Ireland, they took their first prizes - two brigs and two sloops. During the following week they cruised in the Irish Sea and made fourteen additional captures, comprising two ships, seven brigs, and five other vessels. Of these eighteen prizes eight were sent into port, three were released, and seven were sunk, three of them within sight of the enemy's ports. June 27 "at 6 a. m. saw a large ship off Ushant; stood for her at 10 a.m. [and] discovered her to be a large ship of war standing for us; bore away and made sail from her. She chased us till 9 p. m. and continued firing at us from 4 till 6 at night; she was almost within musket shot and we escaped by heaving our guns overboard and lightening the ship. They pay very little regard to the laws of neutrality, as they chased me and fired as long as they dared stand in, for fear of running ashore." (Hale, i, 122.) One of the prizes, taken in the Irish Sea and released, had been sent into Whitehaven full of prisoners, including a hundred and ten seamen besides a number of women and children. During the exciting chase described by Wickes the DOLPHIN sprung her mast, but also got safely into St. Malo, and the LEXINGTON into Morlaix. Lupton wrote to Eden, July 9: "These three fellows have three of the fastest Sailing Vessell in the employ of the Colonies and its impossiable to take them unless it Blows hard." (Stevens, 179.) The squadron required refitting and the REPRISAL a new battery (Hale, i, 120-124; Almon, v, 174,175; Wharton, ii, 379, 380; Boston Gazette, October 6, 1777; Stevens, 61, 154, 175, 178, 680, 703, 1437, 1521, 1539.)
The American Commissioners in Paris endeavored to carry out the instructions of Congress, which called for ships of the line and other vessels to be built, purchased, or hired in France, but met with difficulties. The French government positively refused to sell or loan eight ships of the line, on the ground that they could not be spared from their navy, as the possibility of trouble with England made any reduction of their defensive force inadmissible at that time. This was a great disappointment, as it had been confidently believed that the British blockade of the American coast could be successfully broken by these heavy ships together with the thirteen Continental frigates, all of which it was hoped would soon be at sea. The project was formed of procuring three ships in Sweden, of fifty or sixty guns each, but no move appears to have been made to carry it through. In addition to purchasing and fitting out the DOLPHIN and SURPRISE, whose service was very temporary, and the REVENGE, the commissioners provided for three larger vessels during the year 1777. A frigate was built at Nantes, of five hundred and fifty tons and designed to carry twenty-four twelve-pounders, eight fours, and two sixes. This vessel was called the DEANE, and when finished was commanded by Captain Samuel Nicholson. In 1782, under the command of Captain Nicholson, the frigate DEANE was successful in taking many prizes from the enemy. The DEANE eventually returned to the Atlantic Coast of America where Samuel Nicholson sailed in a squadron together with the TRUMBULL captained by his olde brother, James Nicholson. At one point, Samuel Nicholson took a leave of absence from the DEANE and returned to Philadelphia. In his absence, temporary command of the DEANE was given to his younger brother, John Nicholson. Again under the command of Captain Samuel Nicholson, the DEANE sailed again in the spring of 1782. After the return of the DEANE from her cruise, Captain Nicholson was relieved of his command, for what reason is not clear; he was tried by a court martial in September, 1783, and honorably acquitted.
When the United States Navy was reorganized in June, 1794, he was retained as captain and was the first commander of the frigate CONSTITUTION ("Old Ironsides") which was built after his design. Later, he was Commandant of the Charlestown, Massachusetts, Navy Yard and died at that post December 29, 1813, being then the senior officer of the Navy. Samuel Nicholson is buried in the crypt of the Old North Church in Boston.
Captain Samuel Nicholson's Recruiting Advertisement for the U.S. Frigate Constitution
To all able-bodied and patriotic Seamen, who are willing to serve their Country, and Support its Cause:
The President of the United States, having ordered the Captain and Commander of the good Frigate Constitution, of 44 guns, now riding in the harbor of Boston, to employ the most vigorous exertions to put said ship, as speedily as possible, in a situation to sail at the shortest command.
Notice is hereby given, That a HOUSE OF RENDEZVOUS is opened at the sign of the Federal Eagle, kept by Mrs. BROADERS, in Fore-street; - where ONE HUNDRED and FIFTY able Seamen, and NINETY-FIVE ordinary Seamen, will have an opportunity of entering into the service of their country for One Year, unless sooner discharged by the President of the United States. --To all able bodied Seamen, the sum of SEVENTEEN DOLLARS; and to all ORDINARY SEAMEN the sum of TEN DOLLARS per month, will be given; and two months advance will be paid by the Recruiting Officer, if necessary.
None will be allowed to enter this honorable service, but such as are well organized, healthy and robust; and free from scorbutic and consumptive affections.
A glorious opportunity now presents to the brave and hardy Seamen of New-England, to enter the service of their country--to avenge its wrongs--and to protect its rights on the ocean. Those brave Lads, are now invited to repair to the FLAG of the Constitution now flying at the above rendezvous; where they shall be kindly received, handsomely entertained, and may enter into immediate pay.
Commander, United States Frigate Constitution.
At the above rendezvous Lt. Clark of the Mariners, will enlist three Sargeants, three Corporals, one Armourer, one Drummer, one Fifer, and fifty privates to compose a company of the Ship Constitution. None can be enlisted who are not five feet, six inches high.
Boston, Massachusetts, May 12.
|The residence for the commanding officer of the Charlestown Navy Yard, Captain Samuel Nicholson, was finished in 1805. This grand and spacious house is located on the top of a small hill overlooking the Navy Yard with a panoramic view of Boston Harbor and Boston's skyline.
Nicholson was the first captain of the USS Constitution (Old Ironsides) in 1797.
The Commandants house is one of the oldest buildings in the Charlestown Navy Yard and has served as both a private home and public place for more than 170 years.