|Charles' son Nicholas Biddle|
The Autobiography of Charles Biddle was published in Philadelphia in 1883 by E. Claxton and Company.
Biddle’s two years in Beaufort began when he married Hannah Shepard on November 25, 1778. It is believed that the couple either rented or purchased the Gibble House circa 1772 in the first block of Marsh. It is also believed that Hannah and her parents once lived in what is now known as the Sloo House circa 1768 on Front Street. The following was transcribed from Biddle's autobiography:
"We loaded the schooner, which was called the Three Sisters, in April and I embarked on board her. As there were a number of British cruisers on the coast, I was determined to get into the first port we could make. The first land we made on the coast was near Cape Lookout, and the wind being fair for Beaufort in North Carolina, we entered the harbor. Beaufort is a pleasant little village on the sea-coast. Here it was I first became acquainted with Miss Hannah Shepard, who I afterwards married. Mr. Jacob Shepard, the father of Miss Shepard, had been a respectable merchant of Newbern, and removed here on account of his health. Taking a voyage to Philadelphia, he was seized soon after his return with the smallpox. Notwithstanding he was much beloved by the people here, they dreaded the smallpox so much that they were afraid to go near the house, so that it was difficult for the family to procure the necessaries of life, and impossible to get any one out of the family to nurse him. Mr. Shepard died in a few days extremely regretted by all who knew him. His widow, finding this a very healthy place, concluded to reside here. Her daughter spent her time between an uncle Smith’s near Newbern and her mother.
…After staying some time with my brother, who was very dear to me, I went to Beaufort. A few days after my being there, when at the house of an acquaintance a little way from town, a man came from Beaufort and informed me the Three Sisters was off the Bar. I hurried down and found her standing from the Bar towards a vessel to leeward of her. It surprised every one on the beach; however, the mystery was cleared up at night, for the schooner’s boat came on shore with all her crew. It appeared the vessel to leeward was a cruiser from New York, who had hoisted a signal of distress, and by that infamous contrivance induced the captain of the schooner to go down and speak her. Although I was very much enraged at the captain when he came on shore and informed me how he was taken, yet, when I considered he could have gone to speak her only from motives of humanity, I was reconciled to him. Col. Morgan joining me at this time, we set off for Philadelphia.
…We sailed from the Bar the 22d of September, 1778, in the afternoon; a pleasant breeze and moderate weather. Just before midnight I directed the chief mate to call me and mention aloud there was a ship under our lee bow he believed to be a cruiser. Immediately all hands were called, and I was much pleased to find how readily they went to their quarters. It convinced me they would fight well if brought to action. The marines were commanded by Captain Ward, who had most of them been before in an independent company belonging to the State of North Carolina. Having served the time for which they enlisted they entered with him on board the ship. With fifteen of these men Captain Ward boarded and took a privateer of eight guns and fifty men. It was in the night when she was lying at Cape Lookout. The commander of her, when at Beaufort, said if he had not been surprised in the night, a hundred of them would not have taken her; and that he should be glad to meet Ward when they were upon an equal footing.
…From the appearance of the weather, expecting a gale of wind we stood for Beaufort, and anchored there about twelve o’clock the 16th of November, having been just eight weeks on our voyage. When we were going to salute the town I directed Mr. Sumeral, the chief mate, to draw the wads and unshot the guns. When he told me it was done I gave orders to fire. Hesitating to fire his gun, I went up to him and asked him if he was afraid to fire, and intended to take the match from him, but upon my speaking he fired, and the gun burst into a hundred pieces. A large piece went through the boat, another through the foretop-sail. A splinter of the carriage scratched one side of my face, and the same piece tore the ensign all to pieces. Poor Sumeral had his thigh broken in two places, and many of the crew were slightly wounded. Considering the gun was loaded with grape shot, and the decks full of men, there being many on board from the shore, it was surprising more were not injured. Sumeral lingered a great while before he died, and I believe if we could have procured a good surgeon he would have recovered. He told me he was really afraid to fire the gun; he had tried to draw the wad but could not. Had he mentioned this to me the accident would not have happened.
When I went on shore in the evening, to my very agreeable surprise, I found Miss Shepard. She had just come down from her uncle’s on a visit to her mother. We were engaged to be married as soon as I returned to Newbern, which I did not expect, when I sailed, would be before the beginning of December. The meeting here was entirely accidental; Miss Shepard, hearing of her mother being unwell, had set off the morning of my arrival, and rode fifty miles on horseback that day. The springing of my foremast (which at the time I was very much concerned about, and which in the evening I was much pleased had happened) was the occasion of my being in Beaufort. As it was uncertain when I should be at Newbern, I persuaded Miss Shepard to be married here, and, as there was no marriage settlement to be made, the 25th of November, 1778, we were married, and I can now (January 1812) say with truth, what with truth all married men cannot say, that it was the most happy circumstance of my life, and that she has been everything to me I could wish.
Shortly after my marriage a large sloop anchored near the Bar. We took her to be an English cruiser, and prepared to attack her if she should come near the town. However, at night, the pilot came on shore and brought with him the owner, who, I found, was Mr. William Hodge, an old schoolmate of mine, and who was very much rejoiced to see me. Having been long absent from America, and anxious to get into any port on the continent, and Beaufort being the first port he made, was the reason of his putting in here. Mr. Hodge had been for a long time in France, where he was concerned in a privateer that had taken a packet and some other vessels belonging to the British…Mr. Hodge left the sloop in my charge and went to Philadelphia to consult with his friends what he should do with her. He soon returned and fitted her out to cruise. He wanted me to command her, but as I disapproved of commanding or being concerned in a privateer, he gave the command of her to a young man of the name of Simpson (son of Captain Simpson of Philadelphia) who came with him from Cadiz.
I moved about a month after my marriage to a small house belonging to an uncle of Mrs. Biddle. We went to Newbern during the winter, which we passed very agreeably. We were entertained at Newbern with great hospitality by the families of Jones and Singleton (where we made our homes), by Governor Nash, Mr. Blount, and some other respectable families there. During my stay at Newbern I attended the trial of a cause for my friend Hodge, who was at Philadelphia. It was about the prize brig sent in by the Eclipse. She was claimed by some merchants of Charleston as American property. I employed the Attorney-General, Avery, who had all the trouble of preparing for the case. When the trial was coming on Mr. Avery advised me to speak to Mr. Nash (afterwards Governor), which I did.
…In the spring Mr. Stanley, of Newbern, fitted out a ship and several small vessels, of all which he offered me the consignment if I would take command of the ship, but as I found Mrs. Biddle was very much averse to it, and having no great inclination myself, I was easily persuaded to stay at home. I was afterwards sorry I had not gone, for they made a short voyage, sold their cargoes well, and arrived home to a great market.
One morning in April I was reading in the parlor, when a person looking in at the window, exclaimed, “By G-d, that is Biddle!” Looking up, I perceived it as my old friend, J. Allen. It gave me great pleasure to have this worthy man under my own roof. He had put in to get a supply of provisions, and inquiring who lived in the place, he was greatly surprised when he was informed I was one of the inhabitants. He stayed with me several days, and then went to Wilmington.
…I had marines, who were most of them young men of respectable families, born about Beaufort, very stout, active, and resolute fellows who had been with me in the Cordelia, and would risk their lives for me, and knowing what discipline would do, I felt not the least uneasiness. If Owens had not sent to me, the manner in which I obtained these men would have made me cautious of them. The day before we sailed I had them all called aft, told them if they behaved well and did their duty cheerfully, they should be well treated and have everything that had been promised them, but if I found the least murmuring, or intention of making any disturbance on board the sloop they should be punished in the severest manner; and at the same time I ordered the marines that if any man when called to quarters was the least backwards, or did not do his duty in action, instantly to shoot him. As they knew this would be done it had a wonderful effect. The ordering a drink of grog, they were dismissed; they gave three cheers, and swore they would do their duty faithfully. I believe it very seldom happens that there is a mutiny in a ship, or any disturbance, but the fault is with the officers. If the crew are not ill treated, or, what is equally bad, too much indulged, are given what they are entitled to, and made to do their duty, it will seldom happen that a crew behave ill. From no men was less to be expected than from those I had taken from gaol, yet no men behaved better. When called, they were the first at their quarters; and if we had been brought to action I am convinced they would have fought well. From their behavior I believe they knew I was informed of what they had intended.
We sailed from Beaufort the 10th of August, 1779. The sloop drawing a great deal of water we struck hard upon the Bar, and I expected, as she was very weak in her bottom, she would have been stove. However, we got off without receiving any injury. We had the prize brig and some small vessels in our convoy. Near St. Thomas we fell in, at different times, with two or three small privateers, but none sufficiently strong to engage us. We arrived at St. Thomas without an accident. I sold my cargo to the Royal Danish Company, which at that time was just established. When I came to discharge it, to my great mortification, I found that a good deal of the tobacco was very much damaged, which could not have happened on board the sloop, for she did not leak. The company sent me word that as the tobacco was not merchantable they must return it. I waited on, and told them I was very sorry to find the tobacco not so good as it should be, but that it would be very bad policy in them, as I was the first American from whom they had purchased, to dispute about the cargo, that the Americans would then be afraid to deal with them, whereas if they behaved generously and friendly it would induce them always to give the company a preference. After some consultation they agreed to take it. I never went on the wharf when they were examining the cargo, but it made me ashamed to think what trash I had brought, and if the company had not purchased, it would not have been sold. They behaved extremely well.
…we made the land a few miles to the southwest of Beaufort. In the afternoon we could plainly see the town. As the wind was ahead and we could not get in that night with the sloop, I was resolved to go ashore in the boat. Notwithstanding Captain Tucker and some other passengers begged me not to attempt it, that I ran a great risk of being lost with all that were in me, finding several of the crew, who lived in Beaufort, as anxious to go as myself, I picked out five that could swim and row well, and put off in a whaleboat. The passengers took leave of me as if they never expected to see me again. As we drew near t he shore, we found there was a dreadful surf. We stood some distance to the southward, to try to find a better place to land, but it was tremendous everywhere. And now I believe every man in the boat secretly wished himself on board the sloop; for my own part, I fervently did, but we were so far to leeward, that had we attempted to reach the vessel, we could not have done it before night, and it was mortifying to think of it. Finding it in vain to stand further to leeward, and night approaching, with dark, cloudy weather, I pretended to see a smooth place abreast of us, and pushed in for the beach. Expecting we should have to swim, when near, I ordered them to lie on their oars, and pull off their jackets, and did the same myself. Just as I had my jacket off, and was taking hold of the oar to steer her, a sea broke with great violence on board, and filled the boat. It was some time before I could recollect myself, when looking around, I could see the people hanging on the boat. I intended at first to swim to them, but seeing a heavy sea coming, I put before it, and was so long under that I never expected to rise. It threw me on the beach, but so much spent that it was with great difficulty I could scramble out of reach of the sea. The boat’s crew staid by her until she reached the shore, one of them so far gone, that it was with much difficulty we could get him out of the surf. We had now seven miles to walk before we came to a house, and were obliged to help the young man who was so much exhausted. When we reached the house they had nothing to cross the sound in but an old canoe. It is from here, I believe, near eight miles to Beaufort. Taking three of the stoutest men with me we embarked, and about two o’clock in the morning reached Beaufort, almost dead with hunger and fatigue. We lost our boat, oars and jackets. At daylight I was awakened by the sloop firing a salute. She had got up with the Bar in the night, and the tide answering, she came in as soon as it was broad daylight.
…On 6th of October, 1779, Mrs. Biddle was delivered of a son, whom I called after my brother Nicholas. [This child died in infancy.]
At this time, being every day liable to an attack, I persuaded the people of the town and neighborhood to build a small fort. We worked at it, and soon made a tolerably good one. There were four six pounders belonging to the United States which we mounted in it. Mr. Ellis, the Continental agent, when he heard these guns were mounted, sent for them; but as I knew they were wanted much more at Beaufort than at Newbern, I refused to let them go until we had orders from the Board of War. Ellis threatened to sue me, but upon my writing to him he thought better of it.
Mr. Hodge having agreed to send the sloop as a flag of truce to New Providence, a great many prisoners were sent from Newbern to go in her. These people, with the English and Irish seamen belonging to our vessels, were frequently making disturbances, and we had one inhabitant of the place as bad as any of them. This man, under pretence of his being afraid of an attack, had a pair of four pounders mounted in his piazza, and frequently in the night, when drunk, would fire them off to the great disturbance of the peaceable people of the town. I spoke to Col. Bell, and told him, as he commanded the militia, he should put a stop to Capt. Gibbon’s firing; that if I had command of the militia, the town should be kept in better order. Bell was a very worthy man, but of too easy a temper to command such a man as Gibbons. He said he did not how what to do with him, he had often talked with, and he had promised to behave better; but when drunk, there was no doing anything with him, he was a perfect madman. He would, however, try again what could be done. The method he took to try again “what could be done,” was to get me appointed captain of the town company of militia. Although this was an appointment by no means agreeable to me, knowing myself not qualified for it, yet after what had passed between Col. Bell and myself, I was determined not to shrink from it, but to do everything in my power to prevent any further disturbance in the town. I therefore accepted the commission, and having mustered the company, most of whom were very orderly men, who were pleased with my being their captain, and who I believe recommended the matter to Bell, I told them that in the exposed situation we were in, it was necessary for preservation that we should live in harmony with each other, that everything in my power should be done to promote the peace of the town, and if any disturbance was made, the person or persons who made it should be punished as far as I could punish them, whoever he or they were.
After enlarging on our situation, I gave them a drink and dismissed them. Soon after I called upon Gibbons, and told him he would oblige me by taking the guns out of his piazza. After some persuasion he agreed to it, but with a very ill grace, and when I left him did not appear satisfied. In the evening, going by his door, he called me in. Believing the man capable of attempting anything, I was upon my guard, and as at that time we were under some apprehension of an attack by the prisoners, I never went anywhere without pocket pistols. When entering the house, I drew one so far out as to let him see it. There was a pair of large pistols on the table, which convinced me he had some bad design, and I was determined if he took up one of them to try for the first fire. His wife (who was a Miss Robinson, a very good young woman, who was frequently in the night obliged to run out of the house, when she always came to my house for protection, which perhaps was one cause of his dislike for me) was sitting by the fire. He ordered her in a surly tone to leave the room. Having no confidence in the man, I then expected we should try our skill, and I wished some person present to see fair play. He was about half drunk, and perceiving that I watched him narrowly, he appeared sullen and confused. After some time he roused himself, and asked me to drink some gin, declaring at the same time he had a regard for me, and as we were the only masters of vessels in the town, we should live in friendship with one another; that he knew I thought myself much above him, but he would sooner die than be treated with contempt by any person whatever. I told him it would give me pleasure to be on good terms with him, that it depended entirely on himself whether we were, or were not; that he had no reason to suppose I considered myself above him, or treated him with contempt. After some further conversation we parted, to all appearance on better terms than we ever had been.
The next day there was a disturbance on board one of the vessels in the harbor. The captain fearing, as he afterwards said, he should be murdered, had secured himself in the cabin, from whence he hailed a coaster lying near him, and begged the master to inform the people on shore of his situation. Upon hearing of it, I took some of the company and went off. When we were near, one of the crew hailed us and swore we should not come on board. I ordered the boat to row alongside, and told the fellow that hailed, if they made any resistance they should have no quarter. When I went on board the crew were mostly drunk. The one who appeared the ringleader, coming up behind me would have struck me with a handspike, and probably killed me, but for a stout young man who caught hold of him and took the handspike from him, declaring at the same time in broad Scotch, that no man on board should hurt Capt. Biddle. Hearing us upon deck, the captain came out of the cabin, when the crew and captain began to accuse each other of behaving ill. Upon inquiring of the young Scotchman, whose name was Smith, I found the captain had not behaved well, and the crew worse. After going into the cabin, and giving my advice and opinion to the captain, speaking to the crew, and taking the fellow who attempted to strike me, and who the captain said was the occasion of all the disturbance, I went ashore.
Returning home one very dark night from a neighbor’s with Mrs. Biddle, we met several of the prisoners armed with clubs. Having a servant with a lantern, I knew one we met to have been a lieutenant of the privateer, of the name of Rankin. Calling to him by name, I told him it was time he was in his hammock. In an insolent manner he answered, “Yes it is, and time you were at home.” When we got into the house I found one of my company. He told me he believed the prisoners intended to do some mischief. I sent him with orders to bring as many of the company as he could. We soon mustered about a dozen well armed. We then sallied out, and one of the first men we met was Rankin, who, with a few others, was secured and put in gaol. The rest dispersed. Two days afterwards, in the evening, one of the inhabitants came running into my house much alarmed, and told me a large mob of sailors were collected on the shore and were marching towards my house. I directed him to go up in the town (mine being the first house as you entered from the eastward) and desire all the men he met to get their arms and come to me. As soon as the sailors came about my house I observed at the head of them one Knox, one of the fellows I had taken out of the Newbern gaol to go to St. Thomas’s. Going to him with a pair of pistols in my hands, I inquired what they wanted. He told me they did not intend to injure any person, much less me, but they wanted Lieutenant Rankin, and the others who were put in gaol with him. While I was in the midst of them telling Knox, who was a good-tempered fellow, the consequences of what he was about, as he was considered as an American, Gibbons fired twice. I believe his intention was to have hit me; however he did no injury.
Many of the town company collecting, and seeing me among the seamen, came up and Gibbons with them. The sailors then threw down their clubs and surrendered. As many of them were drunk we concluded it would be best to put them all in gaol for the night and in the morning let them all out but the ringleaders. Among the sailors I was much surprised to find Smith. Inquiring how he came amongst them, he declared he only came with them to try to prevent their doing any mischief, and he begged I would not let him be sent to gaol with such a set of wretches. Having a particular regard for the lad from his behavior before, and believing what he said true, I sent one of the company with him to my house, and desired him to stay there until my return. After seeing the sailors in gaol, and a guard placed over them, I returned home in company with Gibbons, who declared he thought the sailors had made me their prisoner or he should not have fired. But nothing he could now say could do away with the suspicion I entertained with him.
When at home I sent for Smith and found, on conversing with him, he was a sensible, intelligent young man. Inquiring how he came to know me, for he had called me by name the first time I recollected seeing him, he told me he had seen me on shore, and from the likeness to my brother Nicholas inquired who I was. He said the name of Captain Biddle was very dear to him, he never heard it without bringing to remembrance my brother, who had taken him in a ship from Scotland with troops when he commanded Andrea Doria; that my brother took him and another lad, Daniel McCoy, as his cabin boys and treated them with kindness; that Daniel was a fifer, and not wishing to go to sea, my brother had him bound, with his consent, to a house carpenter; that he left the Andrea Doria and went in a merchant vessel and had continued in one ever since until he heard of the loss of the Randolph. He had always been wishing he had continued with my brother, whom he should ever remember as being his best friend. What he mentioned respecting Daniel I knew to be true, and I had no reason to doubt anything he told me. His narrative affected me very much and increased my desire to serve him.
Although greatly fatigued when I lay down, which was about ten o’clock, the thought of Smith had mentioned of my brother—that brother who was so dear to my heart—kept me from sleeping. About eleven o’clock, hearing some person go out of the back part of the house, I called to know who it was. Smith answered me; he told me he had left some things in a boat, and, as all was now quiet, he would go and get them, for he was afraid in the morning they would be stolen. I desired him to make haste back, and half an hour after he was gone, hearing a violent noise at the door, I inquired who was there and what was the matter. A man answered he was “Fuller” (this was one of the company that knew Smith), that he came to inform me Gibbons had shot Smith, who begged to see me. I went immediately to the gaol, without waiting to put on my clothes, and found it was true. I had him taken from the gaol to the nearest house, and sent for an English surgeon who happened to be at Beaufort. It appeared the ball had gone in at his breast and lodged in his back. It was cut out, and the surgeon gave me some hope of his recovery. Poor Smith did not think there was any. Upon inquiring how he came to be in gaol, he told me that returning from the boat to my house he unfortunately met Gibbons, who was going on guard at the gaol. Gibbons inquired where he was going. He told him to my house. Gibbons said he lied, and should go to gaol. He requested Gibbons go with him to my house, which was not a hundred yards away, and he would be convinced that what he told him was true. Gibbons swore he would not disturb me at such an hour, and, being armed, made the poor fellow go with him.
When Smith was in gaol he told Gibbons that it was very hard a quiet, peaceable man should be put in gaol by him who was continually disturbing the town. Gibbons swore if he repeated what he said he would shoot him, and upon Smith saying what he had said of him was true the cruel ruffian shot him. Business obliging me to go the next day to Newbern, before my departure I called on Smith, who appeared better. I gave directions that he should want for nothing during my absence. He told me he did not expect ever to getup, and that he considered Gibbons as his murderer. When I looked at the young man, and considered the manner in which he had been brought into a situation that if he lived he could hardly expect to be a hearty man, I could not help execrating Gibbons. He heard of what I said of him from a relation of his wife who was present, and, just as I was setting off sent a note informing me he was unwell or he would have called on me, and begged to see me; that he could convince me that he was not only justifiable but right in what he had done. I sent him word that only one message from him would induce me to see him; nothing he could possibly say would alter my opinion; that his conduct was unmanly and brutal; that upon my return from Newbern he or myself must leave Beaufort. After being two days in Newbern I had an account of the death of poor Smith, who went off with great composure. Upon my return to Beaufort I found Mr. Parrot, father of Gibbon’s wife, had managed to get himself and some of the crew of Gibbon’s vessel and a few poor people, who I have no doubt he bribed, to be a jury for the coroner, and had a verdict returned of accidental death. Being determined not to let the matter pass in this manner I had the body taken up, and respectable people put on the jury, who brought in their verdict, willful murder. Gibbons, hearing this and that I was applying for a warrant to apprehend him, went off and did not return to Beaufort. This murder broke up his family and ended in his ruin.
At that time many of the young men who had been to sea with me, with their relations and friends, called upon me to know if I would serve in the Assembly. They wanted to leave out Col. Thompson, who had long been their representative, as he was thought by them not to be so much attached to the Revolution as he should be. I told them that as it was not my intention to go to sea soon, if they elected me, I would serve. A meeting was called for the purpose, and my friends having proposed me, they unanimously agreed to run me, and I was elected by a very large majority. Mrs. Biddle and myself had a very pressing invitation from Mrs. and Mr. Jones, of Newbern, to stay with them during the sitting of the Assembly. Mr. Jones was a native of Pennsylvania, but had been settled for some time in Newbern, as a merchant, Mrs. Jones was born in Carolina; her maiden name was Blackledge, and a more amiable, worthy woman never lived. We were received by them, and treated during our stay with the utmost kindness and hospitality. The evening we got there, Mr. Jones had a number of his friend to sup with him, among others, Mr. ______, the Speaker of the House of Assembly. When Mr. Jones introduced me to him as his friend, who had come to attend the sessions, he asked me what county I was from. This was what I could not tell him, and was obliged to apply to Jones to know. This, as may be supposed, caused a good deal of laughing, not only in the company, but all over the town and with the members of the House, for the Speaker took care to tell the story wherever he went. Living in the town of Beaufort, I thought it was the County of Beaufort that I represented, but the county in which Beaufort is the county town is called Cartaret.
Shortly after the sessions began, there was a report of a British privateer being within the Bar, and doing a good deal of mischief. I was dining with Governor Nash (my lawyer in the case of the prize) when it was first mentioned. I told him if the report was confirmed, I would fit out one of the vessels at the wharf and go down, and endeavor to bring her up. There was at the table a large company, a good many of whom declared they would go with me. Early the next day we had a confirmation of the report. I immediately waited on the Governor and had his directions to fit out a sloop and a schooner. As they did not want much, and we had a good many hands, by four o’clock in the afternoon they were both ready to sail. I then sent a note to each of the gentlemen who had promised to go with me, but they all, except Mr. Spaight (afterwards Governor of North Carolina) and Mr. Blackledge, made excuses. Some were sick, others had a particular business; one of them, who had always behaved like a brute to his wife, sent me word she would not consent to his going. He was the only one I sent a second time to, and that was to inform him that I would call up and endeavor to persuade his wife to let him go. Fearing that I would, and knowing his wife would readily consent to his going anywhere, so that she was rid of him, he rode out of town.
As there were many vessels in port, I went round to them and soon procured as many volunteers as I wanted. In the evening we went down river. Going down at night, I was telling an honest Irish friend, Mr. Michael Falvey, who went with me, about the promises made at the Governor’s table, and mentioning the persons who had declined going after giving their word that they would. From his long residence in Newbern he knew all, particularly the one who had sent word his wife would not let him go, which he laughed very much at, declaring he knew he had several times beat her, and that she detested the sight of him. “Faith,” says he, “I wish a bit of Falvey would have come. What the devil business have you or me upon such an expedition when these people decline. We have nothing to lose by the privateer, let her do what she will. In my opinion we had better go back.” I told him, probably we had better not have embarked, but as we had, we must do what we could to clear the coast of this robber, who otherwise would plunder, and perhaps murder some of the innocent people on the coast. He was not altogether reconciled, but he knew he could not get back. However, as he was a cheerful, good tempered fellow, he soon was satisfied, or at least appeared so. I have generally found the Irish generous, friendly, open, candid, and sincere; warm in their attachments, and active in support of their friends. You will seldom find one that is a coward, or a miser, but most of them make bad husbands; they are too fond of rambling, negligent of their affairs, and their hospitality frequently occasions their drinking when they are not dry. However, I have known many who were the best of husbands, of fathers, and friends.
The day after we left the wharf, early in the morning I had all hands mustered to quarters and exercised them, when to my great surprise I found among the crew that belonged to the vessel before my taking the command of her, my old acquaintance, Henry White, the identical Henry White who ran away from me in Portugal, and whom I afterwards caught attempting to commit a robbery and murder in the Delaware. Going up to him I inquired where he had been since his adventure with the shallop-man. He had a patch on one side of his face, and I believe expected I should not have recollected him, but so strong an impression had his former behavior made on me, that I should have known him in any disguise. He requested to speak to me by myself. When alone, he said he must acknowledge he had been a very bad fellow, that too much indulgence from the most affectionate of parents had been the cause of his behaving so ill, that he had often wished he had followed the advice I gave him when he went with me to Portugal; he had suffered severely for his misconduct, which he begged me not to mention, declaring I should never hear of his acting improperly again, that no man in the vessel would do more to serve me than he would. Although I had not much confidence in what he said, but as mentioning his tricks would injure him, and drive him to the commission of some crime, I told him it depended altogether upon himself; if he behaved well, nothing would be said by me against him, but he must be on his guard, for if I discovered his doing or attempting anything wrong, he should be punished with the utmost severity. I inquired about him of the captain he had been last with, who was then on board. He told me he had been with him for six months, and behaved very well. He was very thankful for my promise, and declared for the future he would do his duty and behave to my satisfaction. In the afternoon we spoke a pilot going up. He told us the privateer was a small sloop, had but six guns and twenty-five men, that she was commanded by a Capt. Slough or Slow, an old privateer’s man, and belonged to New York; that Slough was a very daring refugee. As our sloop sailed heavy I was determined to send her back, and only take the same number of hands in the schooner that the privateer had. Taking no more than twenty-five was very wrong, but it was the wish of Spaight, Blackledge, and some others, and I was determined to indulge them. I picked my men, they were all young, stout, active, and resolute. Notwithstanding all his promises White was not numbered among the picked men. Falvey being anxious to be at Newbern I let him return in the sloop, although it was with reluctance I parted with him. As to White, in case of coming to action, I should have been more apprehensive of him than of an enemy.
After sending back the sloop, we proceeded to the Bar, and cruised near it for several days without gaining any intelligence respecting the privateer. We, however, at last discovered a vessel coming out of Neuse Harbor, that answered the description we had of her. As our vessel was a coaster I intended, if possible, to deceive them, therefore putting some lumber on our guns, of which we had but two, and sending hands below but one man and a boy, we stood on as if bound into the harbor expecting she would run alongside without being prepared. My crew sat about the hatchway, each well prepared for boarding. When we were within half a mile of her, a squall came on and lasted a considerable time. When it cleared away we could see nothing of the privateer. We stood into Neuse Harbor, where we lay that night. A day or two afterwards we went to the Bar, where we understood that Slough being informed that some vessels were fitted out against him, had gone over the Bar. We then returned to Newbern, having been absent about two weeks, during which time we had an agreeable cruise, excepting one day that it blew hard and we had nearly been lost. We received the thanks of the Governor, which was certainly a sufficient reward.
A short time before we left Beaufort to come up to Newbern, Mr. Joseph Biddle, son of my eldest brother James, came to my house. He was a lad his father had sent with me in the Charming Nancy, intending him for the sea. He had gone from Philadelphia in a sloop for Hispaniola, and was taken. On his return, near Cape Hatteras, they put five hands on board, leaving none belonging to the sloop but himself and a boy, and, in fact, he himself was a boy. They had a gale of wind the day after they were taken, which drove them in sight of land, and but for the wind suddenly shifting to the northwest they would have been wrecked. Here they beat for several days, when one cold morning, watching an opportunity when the prize crew were all below but a lad that was at the helm, they secured them down, took possession of the sloop, and bore away for Ocracock, intending to go in there, but at 1 P.M. they fell I with a cruiser. Finding they had no way of escaping but by running on shore they stood in for the land, and a little to the northward of Ocracock, about three o’clock in the afternoon, ran her on shore. The first thing they did was to let out the prisoners, the next the young captain did, was to get his chest, in which he had concealed a sum of money, on shore. In this he was assisted by the inhabitants who had come down the beach when they saw the sloop chased on shore. The privateer stood very near the land, intending probably to board the sloop. She fired a number of shot, one of which went through my nephew’s chest as he and another person were carrying up the beach. This was all the mischief their firing did. In the night it came on to blow hard, and in the morning the sea ran so high that they could not board the sloop, and before night she went to pieces. Being loaded with sugar they saved none of her cargo. What little of the stores and rigging that were saved my nephew sold to the people that assisted him, and who had behaved exceedingly well. He got to New Bern, and having remitted to his owners the proceeds of what he had saved, came to me in Beaufort. I was very glad to have it in my power to do anything for the son of such a brother, particularly for him who had sailed with me, and whom I knew to be a very good youth. To get him the command I took a concern in a fine schooner that had made a voyage in company with me when I went to St. Thomas in the Eclipse. Upon my going up to Newbern to take my seat in the Legislature, I left him to fit her out. Some of those who had been in her before, telling him the foremast was too small, he had a new one made. This was put in green from the wood, and was much too large. The size I did not know until she sailed, or she should not have gone out with it. I went to Beaufort when she was near ready, and was there when she sailed, bound to St. Eustatia. It was a fine pleasant morning, the wind fair and moderate. The crew were all sober men, belonging to the town, all of whom had been with me, either in the Cornelia or Eclipse. They went from before my door in high spirits, expecting to be back in a few weeks, but none of them returned. I suppose, for although the wind was fair, it blew hard in the night. The wind continued fair for several days after they sailed, and we concluded they would have a fine passage. While friends and relations were rejoicing at the continuance of the fair weather, they, I suppose, were all buried in the deep.
About a month after the sailing of this schooner, another son of my brother James (William) came to my house. He was a very different lad from his brother—he was stout, active, and strong. He valued himself upon his strength, and being of a fiery temper, I found he had been in a good many scrapes. The war having prevented my brother from settling him to any business, he had contracted an acquaintance with some young officers, with whom he had been guilty of an imprudent act, which his father threatening to punish him for, he set off from Reading [PA] with some young Carolina officers, and came with them to Newbern, and from thence to me at Beaufort. He very ingenuously confessed to me that he had behaved improperly, and was much affected when I spoke to him about leaving his parents in the manner he had done, when he must have been well assured, had he requested it, they would have consented to his coming to me, and furnished him with everything necessary for his journey, and as there was nothing dishonorable in his conduct, would soon have forgiven him. The officers with whom he had travelled were anxious he should have joined their regiment, and had he wished it, I would have endeavored to have procured him an ensigncy, but he preferred the sea, which I thought much the best for him; for in any country I considered the arm as a poor employment, and in no country worse than ours. Had our army been in want of officers, I should, from regard to my country, have advised him to have gone into it, but we were in want of privates. William sang remarkably well, which I believe was one cause of his getting into bad habits. I have known several very promising young men ruined by their singing well. Their company will always be courted, and if not very careful of themselves, they will become dissipated and worthless.
Having at this time a concern in a sloop nearly ready to sail, commanded by Capt. Hunter, who was married in, and belonged to, Philadelphia, William wished to go to her, and knowing Hunter to be a very sober, careful man, and a good seaman, I consented. They were bound to Curacao, and were to go from thence to Philadelphia, where I expected to meet her. But nothing was ever heard of the vessel or crew after she sailed from Beaufort.
The very slight manner in which our small vessels were built at that time, particularly in the Southern States, occasioned the loss of many lives. Many of the vessels that were sent to sea were not sufficiently secured to sail with safety in a river.
Before the sessions ended, Mrs. Biddle went to her Aunt Smith’s, on Swift Creek, about four miles from Newbern, to spend some days with her. While she was there, Mr. Smith sent every evening a servant with a horse, to the ferry on Neuse River, to wait for me. One evening before we landed, it began to thunder, and a gust coming on, the servant not perceiving me in the ferry-boat, and supposing, as it was late, I would not cross at night, set off with his horse. As he was in sight when we landed, I ran after him about a mile, when the rain coming on, he galloped off as fast as he could. Finding it to no purpose to continue the chase, I gave it over, and walked towards the plantation. The running had put me in a great heat and profuse perspiration, but the heavy rain soon cooled me. When about a mile and a half from Mr. Smith’s, there is a path that takes off to it, and shortens the distance considerably. The path I took, and continued on for some time, but before I could reach the gate, it came on very dark, with repeated and heavy claps of thunder, and the rain fell in torrents. After wandering about a considerable time, finding myself groping about to no purpose, I sat down under a large tree, laying my hanger down at a distance, fearing it would attract the lightening. In this disagreeable situation I remained from half past eight until near three in the morning, when the rain ceasing, and the moon, which had risen a little before, shining out, I got up and looking round me, perceived the gate that led to Mr. Smith’s house close to me, the branches of the tree I had been sitting under all night spreading over it. Sitting with my back to the gate prevented my seeing it when it lightened. The gate was not a hundred yards from the house. During the night the old proverb was brought to mind, that “the farthest way round was the shortest way home,” and I made up my mind to be very cautious of taking short cuts. Had I continued in the great road, I should have got to the house before nine o’clock, with only a wet skin; which, if a person is well rubbed and dried, I believe to be as wholesome, or perhaps more so, than any cold bath. An old friend of mine, who is a remarkably healthy man, will frequently put on old clothes, and walk in the rain until he gets wet to the skin. I have known him walk in his yard when it rained hard, without his hat, from which he thought he received great benefit.
Being naturally active (so much so that it was a remark of my friends, that they could never get me to sit for half an hour), sitting so long as we did in the Legislature was a most disagreeable thing to me, and what made it much more so that it otherwise would have been, was the frequent disputes between the members from the western and those from the eastern parts of the State. This I believe to be the case in all the States in the Union. Those from the westward look upon the people in any of the commercial town, as little better than swindlers; while those of the east consider the western members as a pack of savages. In their debates, instead of using the language of persuasion, which should always be done in a Legislature, they were continually abusing each other. A stranger hearing the debates would never have supposed they were sent there to serve the State. Before we adjourned, we agreed to emit a very large sum of paper money; and so much of it was in circulation before I left Newbern that I was obliged to give two dollars of this money for one Continental dollar. Every person of reflection must at this time have been convinced that the paper money would cease passing very soon. A good old Tory, that lived near Newbern, and whom I frequently jested about his attachment to England, a country he had never seen, and knew very little about, told me, when he adjourned, that this was the best time he ever knew, for he could get a dollar for an English half-penny. I never felt the least angry with any of these people for their attachment to Great Britain; on political subjects every man has a right to enjoy his own opinion, and provided he does no mischief, should not be disturbed. A number of people at this time, afraid of being drafted in the militia, pretended to be Quakers, and joined the Meeting. As this was likely to be attended with serious consequences, we were obliged to pout a stop to it, by suffering none to be excused that did not belong to the Meeting before the war. Several about Beaufort had been received into the Meeting that were the most profligate fellows in the country. In Virginia, I believe, the Quakers were not excused from militia duty, and even in Philadelphia I have seen some of them dragged up with the troops; but it answered no good purpose, for nothing that could be done to them would make them learn the manual exercise, much more make them fight. It is very cruel to force such men to the field.
At this time several of my old friends and acquaintances passed through Newbern on their way to join the army in South Carolina, among others Major John Stewart (who was known in the army by the appellation of Crazy Jack Stewart) and Major Lucas. Stewart was a native of Maryland, son of a respectable ship builder on West River, who had spared no expense in his education. He was in Smallwood’s Battalion at Elizabethtown when I was there in Dickinson’s Regiment. It was here we became first acquainted. He afterwards distinguished himself at the Battle of Long Island and at the storming of Stony Point. He told me that at the attack of this place they were directed where to enter by the fire of the British, and that if the British had not fired a shot the fort would never have been taken. He was a stout, handsome man. A tailor who lived at this time in Newbern had given great offence to many of the inhabitants by his insolent behavior. As he was a strong man he thought he could say anything with impunity. Stewart sent his servant to this man with some cloth to make a coat. The tailor, who had before measured him, sent word there was not enough. Stewart sent the servant back to inform him that he had a coat made in Philadelphia with less. The tailor told him to tell Major Stewart he did not believe him. I was dining with Stewart when the servant delivered this insolent message. “Go back, William,” says Stewart, with great calmness, “and tell him as soon as I have dined I will call and horsewhip him.” After dinner, taking a horsewhip in his hand, he walked down, perfectly cool, to the tailor’s, and, hauling him out of the house, with one hand held him, and with the other whipped him until he roared like a bull, to the great diversion of a number of people that his cries had assembled, not one of whom offered to interfere. After he had tired himself, he left the poor tailor, advising him in future to behave with more complaisance to the officers of the army, a piece of advice I believe he took care to observe. He intended to have sued Stewart, but, as some of his acquaintances told him if he took out a writ against Stewart, he would certainly shoot him; he thought it best to drop it. I admired Stewart much. When speaking he had more the air and manner of an Indian warrior than a person I ever met with. His speeches at this time were made to induce the people here to assist their brethren of South Carolina. This young man (he was not more than twenty-five years of age), after being in all the considerable actions fought this war in America, in a frolic in South Carolina rode down a hill that it was thought impossible he could have done, without killing both himself and his horse, without receiving the least injury. On the day after, he was riding slowly on a level piece of ground and good road, when his horse stumbled and he fell with such violence that he fractured his skull and died instantly. He often told me he hoped never to live to be an old man.
Although very anxious to be in Pennsylvania, to see my relations and friends there, particularly my mother, who wrote in the most pressing manner for me to visit her, I thought it improper to go without taking my chance of being drafted in the militia ordered out to join the Continental army. I therefore went to Beaufort and drew with the captains of Col. Bell’s regiment, determined, if the lot fell on me, to go wherever we should be ordered. Our names were all put in a hat, and the first drawn were to march with the men drafted from the regiment. Fortunately my name was not among the first drawn, and now having nothing to prevent my setting off, I took leave of my friends at Beaufort, and about the last of May left for Newbern. Mrs. Biddle and myself were in a chair. Our child we left in the care of its grandmother. We had two servants, one of whom rode in a good chair, the other upon a good saddle horse, so that we could change occasionally, and this is a very good way of traveling. If we had been in a carriage we should have been plagued crossing the creeks, where the bridges are frequently carried away. About a mile from the town, hearing a noise behind, I looked round and found it was made by a little sister of Mrs. Biddle, about eight years of age, who was crying and running after us. She was almost fainting when she came up. She declared she could not part with her sister; it would be the death of her to take her from her sister. As we intended to stay a few days at her Aunt Smith’s, I thought it best to take her with us, and indeed we could not do otherwise. We took her in the chair, and sent a servant back to inform her mother. At Newbern, among others, I called on Governor Nash to take leave of him. When I was going away he put into my hands a paper which he said would probably be of some service to me on my journey. This I found a certificate, which is now by me. The following is a copy of it:
State of North Carolina,
I do hereby certify to all whom it may concern that the bearer hereof, Charles Biddle, Esquire, hath upon all occasions during the present war distinguished himself for his bravery and attachment to the cause of America; and having occasion to go to Philadelphia, I do by these presents recommend him to the notice and protection of the citizens of the United States. Given under my hand and private seal at Newbern, this 31st day of May, Anno Domini 1780.
This was saying too much, and what I did not expect from Governor Nash, as we had not been on very good terms after the trial of the Eclipse prize cause.
On the first of June, 1780 we left Newbern for Pennsylvania, intending to return in five or six months; however, we have not yet, June, 1802, made up our minds when we shall return..."