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Monday, November 11, 2013

A Veteran Quaker

Interesting piece in the November 1933 edition of The Marine Corps Gazette on the first Commandant and difficulties finding historical information about him:

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’.

Took a lot of sleuthing, but eventually his grave site was located:

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.

Then the author found a little sketch of his life before leading the Marines

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.

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...

I have to wonder if Nicholas fell out with the Friends as General Nathanael Greene did.  The latter doesn't appear to be buried in a cemetery associated with Quakers, in contrast to the former, so perhaps he might have been "put out from under the care" of his Meeting and reconciled?  Regardless, it illustrates the folly of making any assumptions about a person based on their religious birthright...


November 11, 2013 | Permalink


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