Transcribed and made available to this website by Diana Spies Pope,
great-great-great-great granddaughter of Samuel Nicholas,
September 2002.



No. 3

Samuel Nicholas
First Officer of American Marines

Herewith is presented the information I have discovered regarding Samuel Nicholas, Philadelphia, who founded the Marine Corps which has honorably endured through one hundred and fifty-seven years.

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The MARINE CORPS GAZETTE of December, 1925, reproduced a portrait of Major Nicholas, and mentioned that his commission, dated November 28, 1775, was in existence and possessed by a descendant, Mr. C. Mitchell, of Glen Ridge, N.Y. The article states, “We know very little of Major Nicholas’ life before the Revolution. He was a Philadelphian, but we do not know the date of his birth, or any other details concerning his private life.” There then follows a very interesting account of his recruiting services, his duty on the Alfred at New Providence, and with the Army at the battles of Trenton and Princeton, his subsequent duty in Philadelphia as a sort of Commandant of Marines and as Muster Master for the Navy until the end of the war. In 1781 Major Nicholas wrote to Congress requesting duty on the America, a 74-gun ship being fitted out, but she was given to France as partial payment of a debt.

At the close of the war, Major Nicholas drops almost out of sight. Apparently he continued to live in Philadelphia, since his immediate descendants are buried there. His wife was a Miss Jenkins, and he left two sons, Samuel, Jr., and Charles Jenkins Nicholas. He was a member of the Patriotic Association of Philadelphia and a charter member of the Pennsylvania Society of Cincinnati. He is said to have died comparatively young, but his burial place is not known. On May 12, 1919, the destroyer Nicholas was named in his honor.”

Collum’s “History of the United States Marine Corps,” 1890, consistently spells his name as Samuel Nichols.

The Leatherneck of November, 1927, also reproduced a pen sketch, evidently copied from the GAZETTE portrait at a slightly different angle, of Major Samuel Nicholas, and deals in a very interesting manner with further data concerning his naval career. It adds the information that he served on the standing committee of the “Pennsylvania Society of Cincinnatorium” from 1785 to 1788. “It is strange indeed that such a heroic and capable figure faded quickly from view. It is the general belief among American historians that he died while comparatively a young man. Unfortunately, Marine Corps officials have never succeeded in finding any record of the death or burial place of the First Marine Officer. The Marine Corps of today is greatly indebted to this gallant Quaker, who, armed in righteousness, established the prestige and the glory, that we are pledge to ‘carry on’.”

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In the spring of 1926 I was assigned to command the 43rd Company, Fifth Marines, at the Sesquicentennial Exposition at League Island Park, South Philadelphia. This unit consisted of three officers and one hundred and eighteen Men. Colonel Cyrus Radford, Depot Quarter-master, and his able assistants, did everything in their power to help us to construct a camp of interest and to our east was built a replica of the old Tun Tavern which used to stand on King (now Water) Street, near Walnut, where the first Marines were organized for the Continental forces in 1775. The interior of this model had no second floor, and served as an art gallery for the exhibition of heroic scenes in Marine Corps history, painted by J. Joseph Capolino.

Across the street from our exhibit was the Army camp, where one thousand officers and soldiers were comfortably billeted. This was named in honor of that great hero Anthony Wayne of Pennsylvania. Not be outdone by the Army in this regard, the Commandant of Marines ordained that our camp be named for Samuel Nicholas, likewise a Pennsylvanian and a leader in the American Revolution.

It was considered desirable to invite to the dedication of Camp Samuel Nicholas one of the lineal male descendants of our founder, and search was made for him. The publicity bureau had on file a copy of the following Communication:

“To the New York Herald Tribune:

“I noticed a letter in your paper yesterday from T. Hubert MacCanley, inquiring as to who was the founder of the Marine Corps.

“I have in my possession a family heirloom which may throw some light on the subject. It is a Commission signed by John Hancock, President of the Congress, and appoints Samuel Nicholas ‘to be Captain of Marines.” It is dated November 28, 1775. Later the Captain became a Major, but that commission has been lost.

“The following excepts are from Chapter 3, Volume 1, of a History of the United States Marine Corps, by Major Edwin N. McClellan, United States Marines, officer in charge, Historical Section:

“ ‘ On November 2, 1775, Congress authorized the Naval Committee to “agree with such officers and seamen as are proper to man and command the four vessels – Alfred, Columbia, Cabot, and Andrea Doria – that had been authorized.” It is known that the Naval Committee agreed on Esek Hopkins as Commander-in-Chief, on November 5, 1775, with Samuel Nicholas as the Captain of Marines for the Alfred and Isaac Craig as Lieutenant of Marines for the Andrea Doria, about the same time. However, Congress confirmed the “agreements” of the two Marine officers with signed commissions long before it confirmed the “agreement” with Hopkins. Nicholas was commissioned November 28, 1775, Craig the next day, and Hopkins not until December 22, 1775.’

“Again ‘The highest ranking officer of Marines serving during the Revolution was Major Samuel Nicholas, who, after active serve with Hopkins’ fleet and in the battles of Trenton (Assanpink) and Princeton, performed duties at the Capital that correspond more or less to those of the Commandant today, and, in addition, acted at various times as muster master for the Navy.’”

Glen Ridge, N.J., November 17, 1925.

The official inauguration of Camp Samuel Nicholas took place on Tuesday, June 29, 1926 at 4:00 P. M. and our most significant guests of honor were the founder’s great, great grandson, Mr. Charles Thomas Mitchell of 60 High Street, Glen Ridge, New Jersey, his wife, née Anna Gantvoort, and two young daughters, Florence Elizabeth and Anne Rosalie Mitchell. Neither son, John Nicholas nor William Gantvoort Mitchell could be present, the latter then being in service with the First Coast Artillery, Panama Canal Zone. In addition to regular Army, Navy, and Marine Corps representatives, there was present Captain Clement Biddle Wood, First Troop, Philadelphia City Cavalry (known locally as the First City Troop), especially invited as commanding officer of that famous military organization that antedates the Marine Corps and has been in continuous and honorable existence since the day it was founded, November 17, 1774.

Mr. Mitchell brought with him, as requested, the original commission of Samuel Nicholas dated November 28, 1775, and it was read aloud to the guests during the reception that followed in Tun Tavern.

After this duty there followed for me a trick at mail guard, a year here and there in Nicaragua, and a return to Philadelphia on recruiting duty. As a member of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, I had access to the sacred books, and determined to see what could be done to find something more about Samuel Nicholas, of whom so little was known. In the documents of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania Gilbert Cope Collection, “Permits for Interments; Friends Burial Grounds, Philadelphia, page 111, from the original papers of the Arch Street Meeting, it was stated that a permit was granted for the interment of Samuel Nicholas on August 27, 1790. The age was recorded as 46 years. In a letter to me dated February 17, 1932, from one of our best Pennsylvania historians, Charles Francis Jenkins, he writes: “He (Samuel Nicholas) was born in Philadelphia in 1744 and died there August 27, 1790. He was a son of Anthony Nicholas.”

The land in which Major Nicholas is buried is the second oldest cemetery in Philadelphia, and contains no headstones. James Logan, who died in 1751, secretary to William Penn, is thought – for example – to lie under the front brick walk. William Penn issued a patent dated 1701, confirming a verbal gift made in 1693 of the ground for burial purposes. It is located at the south-east corner of Arch and Fourth Streets, with entrance on Arch (early Mulberry) Street. The ground was used by The Religious Society of Friends for general burial for over a hundred years and especially during the yellow fever epidemics of 1793 and 1798. As many as 20,000 people are supposed there to be interred. The Meeting House, built of red brick and white trim, beautiful in its simplicity and in good repair, was erected in 1804, and has been used continuously ever since. It is under the care of the Monthly Meeting of Friends of Philadelphia, and is used for Weekly, Monthly, Quarterly, and Yearly Meetings of Friends; the last is held in the spring of each year and represents approximately five thousand Friends who gather from Eastern Pennsylvania, West Jersey, Northern Delaware, and Northeastern Maryland. The grounds are well tended, and a high red brick wall surrounds the whole; a view may be had from the street through iron grilled gates. The congregation is very cordial to strangers, as is typical of Friends the country over, in their meeting houses. This neighborhood of old Philadelphia was a very fashionable residential district in colonial days and contained many mansions of elegance.

Major Nicholas left no will; a letter of administration was granted September 8,1790, to his widow, Mary Nicholas. This is numbered 69 and is at City Hall, Penn Square, Philadelphia, in Book 1, page 232. It was photostated and sent to the Publicity Bureau, as also the commission as captain.

The Philadelphia Directory for 1785, Francis White Editor, page 53, gives:

Nicholas, Samuel, sign of Connostogoe Waggon, Market between Fourth and Fifth Streets.
And on Page 97:
Officers of the Society of Cincinnati

President, Major General Arthur St. Clair
Vice President, Honorable Thomas M’Kean, Esq. LL.D., and Chief Justice of the State of Pennsylvania
Treasurer, Colonel Francis Johnston
Assistant Treasurer, Captain A. G. Claypoole
Secretary, Major W. Jackson
Assistant Secretary, Captain R. Fullerton

Standing Committee for the Year

His Excellency John Dickinson, Esq., late President of the State of Pennsylvania
Brigadier General Richard Humpton
Major S. Nicholas
Major William M’Pherson
Major T. L. Moore
Major M. M’Connell
Reverend William Rogers

The Society meets on the 4th of July annually at the City Tavern and the Committee meets as often as applications are made, at the Conostogoe Waggon, for the purpose of granting relief to the distressed widows, orphans, and members of the Society.

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At the Historical Society of Pennsylvania were found the records of the Society of Cincinnati of Pennsylvania, 1891, in which is reproduced the original parchment scroll on which are signed the names of original members. The first name to head this historic document is that of Sam Nicholas, Major Marines, £75, dis d 81 Philadelphia. Then follows Joshua Barney, Lieutenant in Navy, and third comes Isaac Craig, Major Pennsylvania Artillery – the former Lieutenant Isaac Craig, commissioned November 29, 1775, for service as a Marine on the Andrea Doria.

This was photostated and sent to the Publicity Bureau.

Also listed as member of the Society are the son, Samuel Nicholas, 1802, and the great grandson, Thomas Mitchell, 1891.

Hoping to find further information of the family by correspondence with the secretary of the “Pennsylvania Societas Cincinnatorum,” I wrote to Mr. Francis Caldwell, 1108 South 40th Street, Philadelphia, and received the following reply:


Your letter of October 31sr, requesting information concerning Major Samuel Nicholas, has come to hand. I have tried to get data to satisfy your needs, all that I can find out, however, is that Major Nicholas served on the Standing Committee of the State Society of the Cincinnati of Pennsylvania from 1785 to 1788.

I am sorry to be of so little use to you and recommend that you employ Miss Leech, a genealogist, whose address you can get from Mr. Spofford, at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 14300 Locust Street, Philadelphia.

Very sincerely yours,
November 7, 1929
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Searches in the Pennsylvania Packet and Advertiser, and in the Pennsylvania Gazette for August and September, 1790, failed to produce and obituary notices about the late Samuel Nicholas.

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Wills were found at City Hall, Philadelphia, listed as follows:

Samuel Nicholas Date 1709 Book C Page 162 No. 127
Samuel Nicholas Date 1734 Book E Page 306 No. 384
Samuel Nicholas Date 1852 Book 28 Page 332 No. 248

It seemed quite probable that the 1709 will is that of the founder’s grandfather, a lawyer who died in Philadelphia April 19, 1709, leaving a widow, Margaret, daughter of Anthony and Jane Moore. I did not see it, however, not knowing the relationship of the two men, but have since had it photostated, and it actually is the grandfather’s will.

Mr. Charles Thomas Mitchell replied to my enquiry by sending a pedigree made by Thomas Mitchell, Cincinnatus in 1891, great grandson of the founder, to which were added data to include later generations. This correspondent referred me to his cousin, Dr. Elsie Reed Mitchell, 64 Barrow Street, Manhattan, N.Y., and I now quote from their letters;

The only thing I know about his private life is that he served as a super cargo on merchant ships travelling to China. We have a few trifling heirlooms which he brought from there (C.T.M. October 29, 1929).

I have discovered a family tree among my papers which I had entirely forgotten. It was written by my grandfather, John C. Mitchell [rather, from the context by his son, Thomas, Cincinnatus, 1891, L.E.F.] and since I am sure you will return it, am enclosing the original. I also enclose a sketch showing his descendants, though I shall have to refer you to my cousin, Dr. Elsie Mitchell, for the missing names. She is an inveterate traveller, and is usually to be found at some remote quarter of the globe. Her brother, George, who now must be a Cincinnatus since the death of the older brother, Samuel, is building a railroad for a Canadian firm in Central America. His family is in Montreal. (C.T.M. No. 3, 1929.)

I am returning under separate cover the copy of the Gazette and also in the same envelope two photostats (positive and negative) of the Commission. There is no writing or printing on the back, so did not have photos made. (C.T.M. Nov. 6, 1929.)

Sometime after the close of the Revolutionary War Samuel Nicholas was super cargo on one of more of Stephen Girard’s boats plying between Philadelphia and Canton, China. He brought home various souvenirs which are now in possession of myself or other members of the family. There are two reddish wooden chests, one larger and one smaller, with trays which one of the staff of the Pennsylvania Museums told me were the type made on shipboard for the officers on long voyages, especially to the Orient. I have the smaller one. There is a large lacquer box containing four smaller boxes for four card packs, and a long one for mother of pearl counters. All have initials “M.J.N.” – his wife’s and also his daughter’s. There is also a carved ivory fan with the same initials, also some other things not recalled.

His certificate of member ship in the Cincinnati, signed by Washington and Know, is in the possession of my oldest brother Samuel’s daughter Mary in Sedgewick, Colorado. She is married and has three sons.

His emblem of membership in the Cincinnati is at present loaned to the Metropolitan Museum of New York, and is in its “Americana.” It belongs to me. I have also a seal with a crest, a deer’s head with antlers. It is said to be the Nicholas crest, but I was never sure until I met a granddaughter of Samuel Nicholas’ son, Charles Jenkins Nicholas, who had the same from her grandfather.

Another son, William Nicholas, was in the Navy (?) [Chart of Thomas Nicholas says Captain, U.S. Army, L.E.F.] and was drowned off the coast of one of our southern states – no, it was a shipwreck and he died of illness and exposure. I have a small miniature painting of him with a newspaper clipping of 1812 (?) relating to the incident. I am sorry that I cannot verify this, or send impress of the seal, as my things are all packed away.

Samuel Nicholas’ daughter never married. There is a tradition that she was engaged to Washington Irving (who also never married), and I have a letter from W. I. Of introduction to someone in Canada of “Captain Wm. Nicholas” which was evidently never presented.

Religion: Apparently all the Nicholases belonged to the Episcopal Church.

Race: It was always assumed that they were of English descent – the crest would corroborate that perhaps. [Major Nicholas married a Friend and is buried in Meeting L.E. F.)

My cousin, Charles T. Mitchell, has some data about Samuel Nicholas – nothing but names. I have also a paper connected with a will in which some names occur, but nothing definite. There was no tradition of his having had any brothers or sisters. [He had sisters, Mary and Sarah, minors in 1751, as shown by will of his father, Anthony Nicholas, Sr.] I have also a copy in letter form of his commission to raise a company of Marines, apparently made at the same time as the original date 1775. This also is packed up. I am sorry to have anything more definite.

64 Barrow Street, New York
January 18, 1932
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Whilst continuing my casual research for some light on our much neglected founder, I decided to have a look at the list of early members of the State in Schuylkill, a club that has continuously existed in the former capital of the United States since 1732. It is said to be the oldest surviving club in the United States, if not in the entire world. John Fanning Watson, famous and accurate antiquarian, who wrote his Annals of Philadelphia in 1842, the 1927 edition, of which I possess, describes it briefly on page 431, volume I, but on page 291, volume III, are supplementary and more detailed notes of Willis P. Hazard:

The Schuylkill Fishing Company

One of the peculiar institutions of Philadelphia, particularly one for the purposes of conviviality and exercises, is the “Schuylkill Fishing Company of the State in Schuylkill,” founded in 1732 by the name of the “The Colony in Schuylkill” by a few of the original settlers, many of them emigrants with Penn to the New World. It has flourished in full vigor in the romantic solitudes of the river, the most ancient and highly respectable social society existing in the United States.

The Colonial Hall in which the meetings of the young colonists were held was on the estate of “Eaglesfield” judiciously selected in a wood on the western bank of the stream, and now in Fairmount Park, between “Solitude”, Penn’s estate [still standing in the Zoological Gardens, L.E.F.] and “Sweetbriar”, the seat of Samuel Breck [now restored and headquarters of the Junior League, just north of Girard Avenue Bridge, L.E.F.] The fine old mansion is now demolished. Here they remained for ninety years, until 1822, when the damming of the river at Fairmount destroyed the perch and rock-fishing, and obliged them to emigrate to tidewater near Rambo’s Rock, opposite Bartram’s celebrated Botanical Gardens [still preserved by a Philadelphia society of ladies, L.E.F.] and situated below Gray’s Ferry bridge. [The present location of the State in Schuylkill is at Essington on the west bank of the Delaware River, not far below Torresdale, L.E.F.]

At a March meeting in 1789, held at Samuel Nicholas’s Inn, sign of the Connostogoe Waggon, north side of Market Street, above Fourth, it is recorded that “Mr. Benjamin Scull, the Prince of Fishermen, produced a trout, which he this day took in Schuylkill of his layout line, that measured fifteen inches.”

Admission to the honor of membership is by no means easy. Candidates for vacancies are soon proposed from many persons waiting for the honor. No gentleman is placed on the roll of probation until eight members signify approval.

Besides those in the City Troop the following served in the Revolution: Major Samuel Nicholas of the Marine Corps; Lieutenant Anthony Morris of the Militia, killed at the Battle of Princeton; Lieutenant Colonel William Bradford; Captains John Graff and John Wharton, of the Militia; Captain Tench Francis of the rifle corps, etc. Several others appeared in the ranks of the Quaker and Silk-Stocking Companies, so designated on account of the wealth or high standing of the spirited gentlemen composing those corps raised in the city, and in other volunteer corps of infantry, at a crisis in affairs when neutrality was treason. In the war of 1812 many served or marched to the field. Below are a few names:

Members of the Schuylkill Fishing Company, Instituted A.D. 1732
1732 1. Thomas Stretch, first governor
20. Hugh Roberts
22. Joseph Wharton [family of Lieutenant-Colonel Franking Wharton, Commandant, U.S.M.C. L.E.F.]
26. James Logan
36. Samuel Mifflin
1748 37. George Gray [great grandfather of Mary Jenkins, wife of Samuel Nicholas, to Philadelphia from Barbados, circa 1691, L.E.F.]
42. Samuel Shoemaker
43. Thomas Wharton, Jr.
44. Thomas Wharton
46. Henry Hanison
47. Samuel Wharton
52. Samuel Morris, Jr. [governor 46 years, d. 1812; Commanded First City Troop in Revolution, as does his descendant, E.B. Morris, today, L.E.F.]
59. William Bingham
1760 82. Samuel Nicholas [founder of Marines, L.E.F.]
85. Clement Biddle [family of Major General William Phillips Biddle, Commandant, U.S.M.C., L.E.F.]
86. Thomas Mifflin
90. Tench Francis
91. Thomas Peters
96. Robert Roberts
97. John Nixon
98. Isaac Hopkins
[Samuel Nicholas died August 27, 1790; it is possible that 138, John Morrell, elected October 11, 1790; 139, Joseph Donnaldson or 140, John Graff, elected October 5, 1791, were selected to replace him, as no further members were admitted until 1796. En passant, of the seven in Germantown on the Committee of subscriptions in 1759 to organize the Germantown Academy: John Christopher Meng, Christopher Sauer, Baltus Reser, Daniel Mackinett, John Jones, Charles Bensell, and Daniel Andt – four of them Reser, Jones, Bensell (listed as Pensyl), and Endt (listed as Ent), were members of the State in Schuylkill, according to the History of the Germantown Academy, 1910, L.E.F.]
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Another reference is made to Samuel Nicholas’ occupation five years before his death on page 345, volume III Watson’s Annals: The following were tavern signs in Philadelphia in 1785:

Connostogoe Waggon (Samuel Nicholas), Market Street above Fourth
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Having learned that our Major Nicholas was on the rolls of the State in Schuylkill, I wrote to Captain Clement Biddle Wood, who had been present to represent the First City Troop at the dedication of Camp Samuel Nicholas, vice president of the Penn Athletic Club, and newly elected member of the State in Schuylkill, to enquire for further details as to the hero of this tale. The reply of Captain Wood is so intelligent and painstaking that it is recorded in full:

June 5, 1931
Major Louis E. Fagan,
First Brigade,
U.S. Marine Corps,
Port au Prince, Haiti
Dear Major Fagan:

I just received your letter of May 15th, in regard to Samuel Nicholas. His membership number in State in Schuylkill was 102 and not 82. The history of Schuylkill Fishing Company (or State in Schuylkill), page 367, gives the following information:

No. 102
Admitted Member
May 1, 1760

SAMUEL NICHOLAS, Born, _____, Died, _________
Buried in Friends’ ground, August 27, 1790. Married Mary Jenkins, of Jenkintown, Pa., in 1778. Member of the Gloucester Fox Hunting Club, 1766. In 1775, commissioned Captain of Marines, and Major in 1776.

He is mentioned in several other parts of the history. Perhaps the most interesting thing from your point of view is that he was one of the founders of the Gloucester Fox Hunting Club, being one of the 27 subscribers who signed an agreement dated October 29, 1766, to subscribe to the kennel of the Fox Hounds. I am enclosing a copy of the agreement with the names of the signers for your convenience. He was also one of those present at the first meeting held on Dec. 13. 1766, at James Massey’s, at which regulations to govern the hunt for the first year were drafted and adopted (History, page 407).

The history mentions him in other places, as follows:

Page 41 - After the campaign of 1779, Governor Morris, Josiah Hewes, James Wharton, Samuel Nicholas, Tench Francis, William Govett, William Gray, R. Roberts, Thomas Peters, James White Benjamin Eyres, Peter Kuhn, and Gustavus Risberg, convened by appointment at his quarters and resolved to reorganize and continue the Fishing Company. Events however frustrated the execution of their wishes for some time.

Page 42 - It was not until March, 1781, a regular meeting or the Governor and council of the new State in Schuylkill was held at St. Ogden’s or Joseph the Ferryman’s Inn.

His Excellency Samuel Morris, Governor
Josiah Hewes
Samuel Nicholas
Tench Francis
Robert Roberts
William Gray
William Govett
Thomas Peters
Peter Kuhn
Gustavus Risberg
Benjamin Scull
Andrew Tybout
James White
Benjamin Eyre
James Wharton (15)

The History also shows that he served in 1782 and 1783 on the Committee to look after the Navy, Castle and dockyard (page 44). He was also present at the meeting on Oct. 11, 1782, at which a revision of the old Code of laws was adopted. This Code changed the name from “Colony in Schuylkill” to “State in Schuylkill” on account of the Revolution ( page 45). At the same meeting the Committee reported that he was one of the Committee to re-establish the State in Schuylkill in 1779 (page 49). Page 51 states:

The March meeting in 1789 was held at Samuel Nicholas’ Inn, sign of the Connostoga Wagon, north side of Market Street, above Fourth, at which the member generally attended.

At some time after 1783 he was Counsellor (one of the officers of State in Schuylkill).

In addition the history mentions that the State in Schuylkill held a meeting at the Widow Nicholas’ Inn, Market Street, on March 14, 1793 (page 53), and on October 9, 1794, and in October, 1795.

Until receipt of your letter I had no idea that the Senior Officer of the Marines during the Revolution was member of the State in Schuylkill, and I have been much interested in looking up references to him in the State in Schuylkill History. I will appreciate it very much if you will send me a copy of your article when it is published in the MARINE CORPS GAZETTE, or advise me when it is published so that I can obtain a copy for myself and for the State in Schuylkill.

Yours sincerely,
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Philada. 29th October, 1766

We the subscribers, being about to provide and keep a kennel of Fox Hounds, do mutually agree with each other in the manner following, viz:

1st. – That each of us do agree to pay into the hands of such persons of the company, as shall be hereafter appointed, the sum of five pounds current money, for the purposes aforesaid.

2nd. – That as soon as sufficient number of gentlemen have subscribed, we will call a general meeting of the company and agree by a majority of voices, to such rules and regulations, as will be most likely to answer the intended purpose.

Benjamin Chew, pr. order
Thomas Lawrence
Enoch Story
Thomas Willing, pr. order
James Wharton
William Parr
Tench Francis
Robert Morris
John Cadwallader
Anthony Morris, Jr.
Zebulon Rudolph
Isaac Wikoff
Joseph Wood
David Potts
John Dickinson
Moor Furman
Charles Willing
Levi Hollingsworth
Thomas Mifflin
Israel Morris, Jr.
David Rhea
John White
Samuel Morris, Jr.
Turbot Francis, pr. order
Richard Bache
Samuel Nicholas
Andrew Hamilton

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It will be seen that Samuel Nicholas enjoyed the friendship of the leading men in the society of Philadelphia throughout his career. The names of the members of the State in Schuylkill and of the Gloucester Fox Hunting Club are significant to anyone who is at all conversant with the history of that city. Chew, Dickinson, Willing, Hollingsworth, Shoemaker, Wharton, Mifflin, Roberts, Morris, Cadwallader, Bache, Hamilton – these are the families that built pre-Revolutionary Philadelphia, making of it the community that was logically chosen as the capital of the infant republic. And these names are still significant in the conservative society of that city today.

Small wonder that Nicholas was fitted for the duties of a marine; with the background of supercargo to China on windjammers, and horsemanship acquired in chasing elusive foxes across the colony of Jersey. It would be rare indeed to find a young gentleman of thirty-two years of age better qualified for the ordeal.

In his youth fox hunting formed the field exercise of some of the wealthy citizens. There was kennel of hounds kept by a man named Butler, for the company. Its situation was then out of town (the northern limit of Philadelphia was Vine St.) on the brow of the hill north of Callowhill near Second St. As population increased, the game decreased, so much so that the establishment had to remove directly across the Delaware River to Gloucester, so as to make their hunts in the Jersey pines. At the same time the company provided for their old huntsman Butler by setting him up, in 1756, with the first public stage for New York. The new kennel was situated near the Gloucester ferry slip, and Samuel Morris was for years the life and head of the club. This is just below modern Camden, founded by Jacob Cooper in 1773, and for years after the Revolution an obscure village.

Horse races were early introduced, and almost from their beginning were held out “Race Street” – so popularly called because of its being the street directly leading out to the race course, cleared for the purpose through forest trees. All genteel horses were pacers; a trotter was deemed a base breed.

Captain Graydon, in his Memoirs, says racing was a great passion in his young days. The race horses, in 1760, were kept at the Widow Nicholas’ stables, which extended down Fourth Street, two-thirds of the way to Chestnut Street, from the rear of her tavern then at the corner of High [Market] Street. This must have been founder’s widowed mother, Mrs. Anthony Nicholas.

To revert to the Gloucester Fox Hunting Club – the membership was composed of Philadelphians and residents of Gloucester County, New Jersey. They frequently visited Woodbury, and lodged their hounds in a stable back of the academy. The club originated from accidental causes. The reciprocities of social intercourse between wealthy city dwellers and those of landed property in the blessed retirement of a country life, laid the foundations of an association of the most delightful character, for society of any degree of elegance was then comparatively limited.

The sportsmen convened in 1766 at the Philadelphia Coffee House, W.E. corner of Front and Market Streets. It was agreed to hunt twice each week, with intermediate days if ordered; but in the course of a year one day a week proved sufficient. In 1769 Samuel Morris permitted his negro slave Natt to serve the club, and his pay furnished him with clothing and eventually purchased his freedom. He was then regularly installed as Knight of the Whip, and became master and commander of all the hounds. This venerable gray-haired African sportsman was allowed £50 per year, a house, a horse, and Jack Still as assistant.

The established hunting uniform in 1774 was a dark brown cloth coatee with lapelled dragoon pockets, white buttons and frocked sleeves, buff waistcoat and breeches, and a black velvet cap. The pack numbered sixteen couple of fleet hounds.

Perhaps the marine’s uniform during the Revolution was influenced somewhat by the hunt club’s livery. At any rate, the outbreak of hostilities suspended any further fox hunting until October, 1780, when a meeting was held at the City Coffee House, with Captain Morris presiding. He claimed 3£,553 as due him, and £187 was collected from each one of nineteen members and $500 from certain “privileged hunters”. These sums were in Continental currency, £6 specie being equal to £187 10s.

Amongst Samuel Nicholas’ friends who later joined were: Joseph Penrose, Nathaniel Lewis, Joseph Pemberton, Alvaro d’Ornellas, Stephen Moylan, that famous Irishman would dragoons were a scourge to the English in the Revolution, Tench Tilghman, Samuel Caldwell, Samuel Howell, John Lardner, Benjamin Tilghman, Samuel Harrison, Isaac Cox, John Dunlap, Thomas Bond, jr., John Wistar.

So soon as the war ended, the club again flourished, and Captain Samuel Morris, already governor of the State in Schuylkill, was annually rechosen president, and so remained head of both organizations until his death. To this day, he is invariably toasted at every social gathering of the State in Schuylkill.

In 1800 there were forty members; in 1818 the master spirit, Captain Charles Ross, died, and the Gloucester Fox Hunting Club was no more. The pack was unkennelled and dispersed, old Jonas Cattell, the guide and whipper-in, and Cupid, the ebony huntsman, sought other employment. The distribution of these fine hounds, chiefly amongst the sporting farmers of West Jersey, has to this day left its mark in their numerous progeny roaming New Jersey.

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The first Nicholas ancestor of whom I have found record is Samuel Nicholas, Esq., a lawyer and intimate friend of John Cadwallader, on of Philadelphia’s first schoolmasters and of Welsh extraction. Samuel died in 1709, – his will is dated “Reign of 7th/yr. Queen Anne,” – and he left a Quaker widow, Margaret, daughter of Anthony and Jane Moore. One of his two sons, apparently the younger, was Anthony Nicholas, who married two sisters successively, Rebecca and Mary Shute, whose brother, Atwood Shute, was lieutenant in Captain Charles Willing’s company of the Associated Regiments in 1748, Mayor of Philadelphia from 1757-58, and who in 1761 was on the committee to supervise the building of St. Peter’s Church at 3rd and Pine Streets, where Washington worshipped in later years when it housed the post-Revolution Protestant-Episcopal Church, successor to the Church of England in America. The latter of Anthony’s wives, Mary, was the widow Cowman at the time of this second venture for them both, and bore her husband two daughters and one son, Samuel, the subject of this sketch, born 1744 at Philadelphia. As we have learned, he was an able seaman, a skilled horseman, a convivial bon-vivant, and a thorn in the side of his Majesty George III’s brave henchmen in America. He married a Friend, Mary, one of nine children born to Dr. Charles Jenkins, of Jenkintown, PA (whose father Stephen was a Welshman) and his wife Mary, daughter of Joseph Gray and Mary Hastings, all of Philadelphia. Another daughter, Sarah Jenkins, married General Josiah Harmer of the Revolution and subsequent Indian wars in Ohio, who descendants flourish to this day, some of whom I know.

This union of Major Samuel Nicholas and Mary Jenkins was blessed with three sons and two daughters: (1) Samuel 3d, (2) Charles Jenkins, (3) William, (4) Sarah, and (5) Mary Jenkins. Charles Jenkins Nicholas married Alice Ann Hoffman, of Philadelphia, whose only son, Ogden Hoffman Nicholas, died an infant; the only known daughter, Matilda, is now represented by Mr. J.R. Molony, of Berkeley, California.

William Nicholas entered the Sixth U.S. Infantry in 1808 as second lieutenant, and as first lieutenant resigned in 1811. As soon as the War of 1812 broke, he again entered the army, and was commissioned captain of the Second U.S. Artillery, being transferred to Corps Artillery in 1814. In 1813 he was captured, and imprisoned at Montreal, Canada. Exchanged, he continued in service until his honourable discharge, June 15, 1815. Later he engaged in business in Philadelphia, and in 1816 made a commercial voyage on the schooner Paul Jones, captain Stotesbury, to the West Indies. In the Bight of Léogrance, Haiti, the vessel was wrecked in a storm, and all on deck were washed overboard. Captain Nicholas, in the cabin at the time, escaped to the deck through the skylight. After drifting for three days and nights, they grounded near Mole St. Nicholas, in the north-west part of Henri Christophe’s Kingdom, and at this desolate spot those who had survived drowning slowly died of fever – all save the mate and one sailor, who returned to New York in the brig Bee. Thus tragically perished Captain William Nicholas, aged 33 years and unmarried, November, 1816. The Gazette, Philadelphia, February 13, 1817, records the details, taken from a letter written to Samuel Nicholas by his brother Charles Jenkins Nicholas. Copies of both are at Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, as well as a letter written by Washington Irving to David Ogden, Esq., Montreal, dated 1813, asking that “all the services and attentions which you consider due to a Gentleman of worth and honourable standing, and a particular friend of mine” be shown to Captain William Nicholas. Mr. Ogden was a relative of Alice Ann Hoffman, above mentioned.

Sarah Nicholas married Peter Hagner, Esq., a gentleman of considerable prominence, and died without issue; Mr. Hagner then married Miss Randall of Annapolis, from whom is descended Dr. Francis Randall Hagner, M.D., of Washington, D.C.

Mary Jenkins Nicholas, a famous beauty; died unmarried; family tradition relates that she was betrothed to the famous New York author, Washing Irving, who was an intimate friend of the Nicholas family.

Samuel Nicholas, third of the name in America, oldest son of Major Samuel Nicholas, U.S. Marines, and Mary Jenkins, succeeded to his father’s membership as a Cincinnatus in 1802. He married Maria Redman, one of the belles of Philadelphia society, and by her had two sons and one daughter: Samuel 4th, who died unmarried aged 24 years; Charles Jenkins 2nd, who died unmarried in 1881, and Rebecca, born 1814, who married, 1839, John Cowell Mitchell, Esq., born 1817, of “Elmwood” now in West Philadelphia, son of Thomas Mitchell, Esq. and Maria Matilda Cowell, (daughter of John Cowell, provost of Princeton College and Mary Cash), and grandson of Benjamin Mitchell, Esq. Native of Ireland. All were lawyers in Philadelphia.

It is from the marriage of Rebecca Nicholas and John Cowell Mitchell that the senior line of Major Nicholas descends. In 1838 Mr. Mitchell, aged twenty-one years, was admitted to the bar for practice of law. Four sons and two daughters were born: Samuel Nicholas (1840-1846); Stephen Tyng (1850-1850); Maria (1842-1876) unmarried; Julianna Miller (1849-1923) unmarried; and those who survived and had issue: Thomas ( 1845-1909) and John Nicholas (1847-1934). The younger of these two brothers, Dr. John Nicholas Mitchell, M.D., studied the classic at Pennsylvania and medicine and surgery at Hahnemann, and practiced his profession in Philadelphia. He married twice; first Florence Lovina Thomas, daughter of Dr. Amos Russell Thomas, M.D. founder and dean of the new Hahnemann College of Philadelphia, and Elizabeth Bacon, of Watertown, N.Y. By this marriage there is one son: Charles Thomas Mitchell, of whom presently. By his second marriage with Anne Rosalie Leonard, of Philadelphia, there was no issue.

The older of the two surviving brothers was Captain Thomas Mitchell, Pennsylvania, 1865, who read the law in the offices of Henry Wharton, and later became a Federal judge in Denver, Colorado. He was an intimate friend of Judge Benjamin Brewster and Lewis Cochran Cassidy, Attorney General of Pennsylvania, and was elected the third Cincinnatus in 1891. During the Civil War he served as second lieutenant, 198th Pennsylvania Volunteers, and later was captain on General Chamberlain’s staff, being cited for gallantry in action. He married Lucy Breck Reed, daughter of Samuel Payne Reed, of Cane Island, Beaufort, S.C. (son of Samuel Reed of Boston, of S.C. and Eliza Manory Dopson of S.C.), and Eliza Breck, daughter of George Breck and Catherine Israel, of Bristol, Pa. The Breck family was famed for its culture, wealth, and charm. George’s brother, Samuel, of Sweetbriar Mansion (now standing in West Fairmount Park, Philadelphia), was the intimate friend of many of the most distinguished men of his day, and both were sons of Samuel Breck and Hannah Andrews, who came from Boston and settled in Philadelphia. By this marriage there were three sons and one daughter: Samuel Nicholas (1873-1925); George Breck, born 1875; John Austie (1876-1902) educated at Illinois as an architect and unmarried; and Elsie Reed, born 1871.

Samuel Nicholas Mitchell, oldest son of the above, married Louise Pinkney, daughter to Charles Coatesworthy Pinckney and Mary Elizabeth Boardman of Chicago, resided in Denver, Colorado, with his family of three daughters, and died without male issue. His rights to the Cincinnati passed to his younger surviving brother, George Breck Mitchell born in Germantown, Pa, 1875, Civil Engineer at the Colorado School of Mines, who has spent his life in general engineering construction work in both North and South America, and at the age of 58 years is settled in Montreal, Province of Quebec, Canada, where he is director and general superintendent of the Atlas Construction Company, Ltd. He married Elizabeth Margaret Naomi Lewis, daughter of the late Francis John Lewis, an English banker who settled in Montreal. By this marriage there are three daughters and no sons: Naomi Breck Mitchell, born 1905, married to Hubert James Housemayner Du Boulay, eldest sons of a physician of Chandlersford, England, and Elsie Marjorie and Norma Lloyd, young ladies who have but recently made their debut in society.

Neither Samuel Nicholas Mitchell nor his brother George Breck Mitchell, above mentioned, has availed himself of the honour of becoming a Cincinnatus; failing male issue from the latter, the right to membership from Major Samuel Nicholas will pass at his death to his only first cousin of the surname Mitchell, Charles Thomas Mitchell, born Philadelphia 1878, Pennsylvania 1899, Yale Scientific 1901, Freiberg, Saxony 1903, a well-known engineer in Manhattan, who resides at 60 High Street, Glen Ridge, N.J. He is the son of Dr. John Nicholas Mitchell, M.D. above mentioned. In 1904 he married Anna Gantvoort, daughter of Gerrit Jan Gantvoort and Maria Anna Clasina Arends, both of Amsterdam, Holland. By her there are two sons and two daughters: John Nicholas Mitchell, 2nd, born 1905; William Gantvoort Mitchell, born 1906, who as a youngster served an honourable enlistment in the First U.S. Coast Artillery at Panama, and is now living in Evansville, Wisconsin, married to Harriet Brooks, daughter of the late Charles Summer Brooks and Minnie Bement Thomas, both of that city; Florence Elizabeth Mitchell, born 1912; and Anna Rosalie Mitchell, born 1913 – both unmarried.

It is most satisfactory to note that this senior line from the founder of the Marine Corps is still represented by people of culture, intellect, and splendid character, representative of the highest type of Americanism. Perhaps the most famous member of the living generations is Dr. Elsie Reed Mitchell, M.D., only sister of George Breck Mitchell, head of the family. She resides at 50 Barrow St., Greenwich Village, Manhattan, when not abroad in remote parts of the world. Born at Denver in 1871, she defied her father’s wishes and studied medicine and surgery, which she practiced with pronounced success for more than thirty years, seven of which were spent in many parts of India. During the World War, Dr. Mitchell volunteered her services to the Allies, and spent many months in dangerous sectors, where her skill and courage were conspicuous. At the end of this war, Dr. Mitchell served with the Near East Relief, after which she went to Siberia, under Soviet regime, to do surgical and welfare work in the desolate coal mines of that bleak country. Later she travelled in Mongolia and along the basin of the Volga River.

In 1929 Miss Mitchell and Miss Wilson wrote Vagabonding at Fifty, a book of part of her adventures published by Coward, McCann, N.Y. Dr. Mitchell, now sixty-two years of age, is more active than the average woman in her early thirties. She knows Russia as few Americans do, and is personna grata in that country. She is a charming hostess, as the writer can gratefully testify, and possesses a delightful sense of humour and a modest spirit, which have gained for her a host of friends at home and abroad. It is by her and her first cousin, Charles Thomas Mitchell, that much of the data — too complete for inclusion here — have been so generously given for the information of the Marine Corps. Dr. Mitchell has permitted the writer to photostat an original letter dated 1779, signed Joseph Pennell, directing Major Samuel Nicholas to raise a company of Marines; another dated 1781, signed Robert Morris, appointing Major Nicholas a member of a Court Martial Board; and the certificate of membership of her father, Judge Thomas Mitchell, in the Societas Cincinnatorum in 1891. Copies of these are at Headquarters, U.S.M.C.

A bust of Major Nicholas was unveiled at Port au Prince, Haiti, on November 28, 1933, the 157th anniversary of his first commission as a Captain of Marines, by Hugh Mercer Fagan, aged twelve, great great, great, great grandson of Brigadier General Hugh Mercer, friend of Nicholas, who fell mortally wounded at Princeton. The First Marine Brigade in Haiti has recently presented this fine statue to Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, at Washington, D.C. Photographs of it are at the congressional Library, and at the Publicity Bureau, U.S.M.C., Philadelphia.