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As it was too small to carry them all off, they drew lots to determine who should remain, and young Biddle was among the number. He, and his three companions, suffered extreme hardships for want of provisions and good water; and, although various efforts were made for their relief, it was nearly two months before they succeeded.
Such a scene of dangers and sufferings in the commencement of his career, would have discouraged a youth of ordinary enterprise and perseverance. On him it produced no such effect. The coolness and promptitude with which he acted, in the midst of perils that alarmed the oldest seamen, gave a sure presage of the force of his character, and after he had returned home, he made several European voyages, in which he acquired a thorough knowledge of seamanship
In the year 1770, when a war between Great Britain and Spain was expected, in consequence of the dispute relative to Falkland's Island, he went to London, in order to enter into the British navy. He took with him letters of recommendation from Thomas Willing, Esquire, to his brother-in-law captain Sterling, on board of whose ship he served for some time as a midshipman. The dispute with Spain being accommodated, he intended to leave the navy, but was persuaded by captain Sterling to remain in the service, promising that he would use all his interest to get him promoted. His ardent mind, however, could not rest satisfied with the inactivity of his situation, which he was impatient to change for one more suited to his disposition.
In the year 1773, a voyage of discovery was undertaken, at the request of the Royal Society, in order to ascertain how far navigation was practicable towards the North Pole, to advance the discovery of a north-west passage into the south seas, and to make such astronomical observations as might prove serviceable to navigation.
Two vessels, the Race Horse and Carcase, were fitted out for the expedition, the command of which was given to captain Phipps, afterwards lord Mulgrave. The peculiar dangers to which such an undertaking was exposed, induced the government to take extraordinary precautions in fitting out, and preparing the vessels, and selecting the crews, and a positive order was issued that no boys should be received on board. '
To the bold and enterprising spirit of young Biddle, such an expedition had great attractions.
Extremely anxious to join it, he endeavoured to • procure captain Sterling's permission for that pur
pose, but he was unwilling to part with him, and would not consent to let him go. The temptation was, however, irresistible. He resolved to go, and laying aside his uniform, he entered on board the Carcase before the mast. When he first went on board, he was observed by a seaman who had known him before and was very much attached to him. The honest fellow, thinking that he must have been degraded and turned before the mast in disgrace, was greatly affected at seeing him, but he was equally surprised and pleased when he learned the true cause of the young officer's disguise, and he kept his secret as he was requested to do. Impelled by the same spirit, young Horatio, afterwards lord Nelson, had solicited and obtained permission to enter on board the same vessel. These youthful adventurers are both said to have been appointed cockswains, a station always assigned to the most active and trusty seamen. The particulars of this expedition are well known to the public. These intrepid navigators penetrated as far as the latitude of eighty-one degrees and thirty-nine minutes, and they were, at one time, enclosed with mountains of ice, and their vessels rendered almost immoveable for five days, at the hazard of instant destruction. Captain Biddle
kept a journal of his voyage, which was afterwards lost with him. • The commencement of the revolution gave a new turn to his pursuits, and he repaired without delay, to the standard of his country. When a rupture between England and America appeared inevitable, he returned to Philadelphia, and soon after his arrival, he was appointed to the command of the Camden galley, fitted for the defence of the Delaware. He found this too inactive a service, and when the fleet was preparing, under commodore Hopkins, for an expedition against New Providence, he applied for a command in the fleet, and was immediately appointed commander of the Andrew Doria, a brig of 14 guns and 130 men. Paul Jones who was then a lieutenant, and was going on the expedition, was distinguished by captainBiddle, and introduced to his friends as an officer of merit.
Before he sailed from the capes of Delaware, ani incident occurred, which marked his personal intrepidity. Hearing that two deserters from bisvessel were at Lewistown in prison, an officer wassent on shore for them, but he returned with information that the two men, with some others, had armed themselves, barricadoed the door, and swore they would not be taken: that the militia of the town had been sent for, but were afraid to open the door, the prisoners threatening to shoot the first man who entered. Captain Biddle immediately went to the prison, accompanied by a midshipman, and calling to one of the deserters whose name was Green, a stout, resolute fellow, ordered him to open the door; he replied that he would not, and if he attempted to enter, he would shoot him. He then ordered the door to be forced, and entering singly with a pistol in each hand, he called to Green, who was prepared to fire, and said, “ Now Green, if you do not take good aim, you are a dead man"
Daunted by his manner, their resolution failed, and the militia coming in, secured them. They afterwards declared to the officer who furnishes this account, that it was captain Biddle's look and manner which had awed them into submission, for tliat they had determined to kill him as soon as he came into the room.
Writing from the capes to his brother, the late judge Biddle, he says, “I know not what may be our fate: bë it, however, what it may, you may rest assured, I will never cause a blush in the cheeks of my friends or countrymen." Soon after they sailed, the small-pox broke out and raged with great violence in the fleet, which was manned chiefly by New England seamen. The humanity of captain Biddle, always prompt and active, was employed on this occasion to alleviate the general distress, by all the means in his power. His own crew, which was from Philadelphia, being secure against the distemper, he took on board great numbers of the sick from the other vessels. Every part of his vessel was crowded, the longboat was fitted for their accommodation, and he gave up his own cot to a young midshipman, on whom he bestowed the greatest attention till his death. In the mean while he slept himself upon the lockers, refusing the repeated solicitations of his officers, to accept their births. On their arrival at New Providence, it surrendered without opposition. The crew of the Andrew Doria, from their crowded situation, became sick, and before she left Providence, there were not men enough capable of doing duty to man the boats; captain Biddle visited them every day, and ordered every necessary refreshment, but they continued sickly until they arrived at New London.
After refitting at New London, captain Biddle received orders to proceed off the banks of Newloundland, in order to intercept the transports and storeships bound to Boston. Before he reached the banks, he captured two ships from Scotland, with 400 highland troops on board, destined for Boston. At this time the Andrew Doria had not 100 men. Lieutenant Josiah, a brave and excellent officer, was put on board one of the prizes, with all the highland officers, and ordered to make the first port. Unfortunately, about ten days afterwards, he was taken by the Cerberus frigate, and, on pretence of his being an Englishman, he was ordered to do duty, and extremely ill used. Captain Biddle hearing of the ill treatment of lieutenant Josiah, wrote to the admiral at New York, that, however disagreeable it was to him, he would treat a young man of family, believed to be a son of lord Craston, who was then his prisoner, in the manner they treated lieutenant Josiah.
He also applied to his own government in behalf of this injured officer, and by the proceedings of congress, on the 7th of August, 1776, it appears, “that a letter from captain Nicholas Biddle to the marine committee, was laid before congress and read: whereupon, Resolved, That general Washington be directed to propose an exchange of lieutenant Josiah, for a lieutenant of the navy of Great Britain: that the general remonstrate to lord Howė on the cruel treatment lieutenant Josiah has met with, of which the congress have received undoubted information." Lieutenant Josiah was exchanged, after an imprisonment of ten months. After the capture of the ships with the highlanders, such was captain Biddle's activity and success in taking prizes, that when he arrived in the Delaware, he had but five of the crew with which he sailed from New London, the rest having been distributed among the captured ves. sels, and their places supplied by men who had entered from the prizes. He had a great number of prisoners, so that, for some days before he got in, he never left the deck.