By 1778, the Continental Navy was in its third year of action in the Revolutionary War. Of all its captains, Nicholas Biddle was the one whose star shone brightest. Only 27, he was already a skilled sailor and respected officer, with enough courage to supply a fleet.
Both his talent and drive were honed by necessity. Biddle came from prestigious stock, but when he was born in Philadelphia in 1750 the family fortune was sinking; his father, William, possessed no business acumen whatsoever. “I had nine children, one at my breast,” his wife, Mary, later recalled, when William informed her that he had ruined them. After he died, Mary was forced to take work in her father’s profession as a surveyor.1