Samuel Nicholas

Samuel Nicholas

Infobox Military Person
name= Samuel Nicholas
born= 1744
died= August 27, death year and age|1790|1744
placeofbirth=Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
placeofdeath= Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

caption=1st Commandant of the Marine Corps (1775-1783)
allegiance= Continental Marines
serviceyears= 1775-1783
rank= Major
commands=Commandant of the Marine Corps
battles=Battle of Nassau Battle of Trenton Battle of Princeton

Samuel Nicholas (1744 – August 27, 1790) was the first officer commissioned in the United States Continental Marines (now the United States Marine Corps) and by tradition is considered to be the first Commandant of the Marine Corps.


Nicholas was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1744 to Andrew and Mary Schute Nicholas. His father was a blacksmith and his uncle was Attwood Schute, the Mayor of Philadelphia (1756-1758).

Military service

On November 5, 1775, Nicolas was commissioned a "Captain of Marines" by the Second Continental Congress,Destroyer History Foundation biography.] which was the first commission issued in the Continental Naval Service. [Marine Corps biography.] His commission was confirmed in writing on November 28,cite web
url= |accessdate=2007-03-03
title=Marine Captain Samuel Nicholas commission
Photograph of commission, signed by John Hancock.] 18 days after the Continental Congress resolved on November 10, 1775, "That two battalions of Marines be raised consisting of one Colonel, two Lieutenant-Colonels, two Majors, and other officers, as usual in other regiments; that they consist of an equal number of Privates with other battalions; that particular care be taken that no persons be appointed to offices, or enlisted into said battalions, but such as are good seamen, or so acquainted with maritime affairs as to be able to serve by sea when required; that they be enlisted and commissioned to serve for and during the present war with Great Britain and the Colonies, unless dismissed by order of Congress; that they be distinguished by the names of the First and Second Battalion of Marines." [cite web|accessdate=2007-03-03 |url=
title=Resolution Establishing the Continential Marines
author=Continental Congress
date=November 10, 1775
work=Historical Documents, Orders and Speeches
publisher=History Division, United States Marine Corps

Captain Nicholas no sooner received official confirmation of his appointment to office than he established recruiting headquarters at Tun Tavern, Philadelphia. By January 1776, having recruited a sufficient number of Marines to man the vessels that comprised the Continental Navy in the waters of Philadelphia, Capt. Nicholas assumed command of the Marine Detachment on board the "Alfred". With Commodore Esek Hopkins in command, "Alfred" set sail from Philadelphia on the morning of January 4, 1776. The following month witnessed the baptismal fire of the Marines.

Battle of Nassau

Lord Dunmore, with the British force under his command, had collected a store of arms and provisions at New Providence, in the Bahamas, and had done a great deal of injury along the Colonial coast, particularly the shore of Virginia. Commodore Hopkins had been ordered to proceed to Abaco in the Bahamas, and from there to operate against the force of Lord Dunmore. Here the Commodore decided to make an attack on New Providence, capture the enemy's stores and cripple his supplies. Capt Nicholas was placed in command of the landing party, which consisted of about 250 Marines and sailors. This, the first successful landing engaged in by Continental Marines, led to the capture of Nassau on March 3, 1776 without a fight.

On April 6, 1776, the Marines participated in the first naval battle between an American squadron and the British, when His Majesty's Ship "Glasgow" blundered across the path of the squadron.

Promoted to Major

On June 25, 1776, Congress placed Nicholas "at the head of the Marines with the rank of Major." Accordingly, Commodore Hopkins was advised to send Major Nicholas to Philadelphia, with dispatches for the Continental Congress. With notification of his promotion he was ordered to report to the Marine Committee. The Committee detached him from "Alfred" and ordered him to remain in the city, "to discipline four companies of Marines and prepare them for service as Marine guards for the frigates on the stocks." Having recruited and thoroughly organized four companies, he requested arms and equipment for them.


In December 1776, he wrote Congress, "The enemy having overrun the Jerseys, and our army being greatly reduced, I was ordered to march with three of the companies to be under the command of His Excellency, the Commander-in-Chief." This was the first example of a battalion of Marines about to serve as an actual fighting unit under the direct command of Army authority. The Marines did not, however, engage in the attack on Trenton, which followed General George Washington's crossing of the Delaware River. They accomplished the most arduous task of ferrying the Continentals across the river.

After the first Battle of Trenton, the battalion of Marines under the command of Maj. Nicholas participated in battle with a detachment of Cornwallis's main army at Princeton, New Jersey. During the ensuing months Nicholas's battalion served both as infantry and artillery, participating in several skirmishes.

Following the British evacuation of Philadelphia in June 1778, Marine Barracks were reestablished and recruiting renewed. From then until the close of the war, Nicholas's duties at Philadelphia were somewhat similar to those of later Commandants. Moreover, he was actively in charge of recruiting, and at times acted as Muster Master of the Navy.

On November 20, 1779, he wrote Congress requesting that he be put in charge of the Marine Detachment aboard "America", then in process of construction, but Congress was adamant in its intention that Nicholas remain in Philadelphia.

Return to civilian life

After the disbandment of the Continental Marines and Navy following the end of the American Revolutionary War in 1783, Nicholas returned to civilian life. He died in Philadelphia during an epidemic of yellow fever and is buried in the Friends Graveyard at Arch Street Friends Meeting House.


Three ships in the United States Navy have been named USS "Nicholas" in his honor.

ee also

*History of the United States Marine Corps
*Commandant of the Marine Corps
*List of Historically Important U.S. Marines



*cite web
title=Major Samuel Nicolas, Continental Marines
work=Who's Who in Marine Corps History
publisher=History Division, United States Marine Corps

*cite web|accessdate=2007-03-03
title=Major Samuel Nicolas, Continental Marines (ca. 1744-1790
publisher=Destroyer History Foundation

External links

*cite journal|url= |accessdate=2007-03-03
title=Samuel Nicholas, First Officer of American Marines
author=Major Louis Estell Fagan, II, USMC
journal=Marine Corps Gazette |volume=XVIII |issue=3
date=November 1933

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