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James and Mary Ford, eds. Every Day in the Year. 1902.

March 7

On the Death of Captain Nicholas Biddle

By Philip Freneau (1752–1832)

  • Commander of the Randolph Frigate
  • Captain Nicholas Biddle was an American naval commander who figured in the Revolution. He was blown up with his ship, the Randolph, during an action with the British ship Yarmouth, on March 7, 1778.

  • WHAT distant thunders rend the skies,

    What clouds of smoke in volumes rise,

    What means this dreadful roar!

    Is from his base Vesuvius thrown,

    Is sky-topt Atlas tumbled down,

    Or Etna’s self no more!

    Shock after shock torments my ear;

    And lo! two hostile ships appear,

    Red lightnings round them glow:

    The Yarmouth boasts of sixty-four,

    The Randolph thirty-two—no more—

    And will she fight this foe!

    The Randolph soon on Stygian streams

    Shall coast along the land of dreams,

    The islands of the dead!

    But fate, that parts them on the deep,

    Shall save the Briton, still to weep

    His ancient honors fled.

    Say, who commands that dismal blaze,

    Where yonder starry streamer plays;

    Does Mars with Jove engage!

    ’Tis Biddle wings those angry fires,

    Biddle, whose bosom Jove inspires

    With more than mortal rage.

    Tremendous flash! and hark, the ball

    Drives through old Yarmouth, flames and all;

    Her bravest sons expire;

    Did Mars himself approach so nigh,

    Even Mars, without disgrace, might fly

    The Randolph’s fiercer fire.

    The Briton views his mangled crew,

    “And shall we strike to thirty-two,”

    (Said Hector, stained with gore;)

    “Shall Britain’s flag to these descend—

    Rise, and the glorious conflict end,

    Britons, I ask no more!”

    He spoke—they charged their cannon round,

    Again the vaulted heavens resound,

    The Randolph bore it all,

    Then fixed her pointed cannons true—

    Away the unwieldly vengeance flew;

    Britain, the warriors fall.

    The Yarmouth saw, with dire dismay,

    Her wounded hull, shrouds shot away,

    Her boldest heroes dead—

    She saw amidst her floating slain

    The conquering Randolph stem the main—

    She saw, she turned, and fled!

    That hour, blest chief, had she been thine,

    Dear Biddle, had the powers divine

    Been kind as thou wert brave;

    But fate, who doomed thee to expire,

    Prepared an arrow tipped with fire,

    And marked a watery grave,

    And in that hour when conquest came

    Winged at his ship a pointed flame

    That not even he could shun—

    The conquest ceased, the Yarmouth fled,

    The bursting Randolph ruin spread,

    And lost what honor won.