Nicholas, first Commandant of the Marine Corps by tradition as the senior
ranking officer in the Continental Marines, was born in Philadelphia in 1744.
He received as a captain, the first commission issued in the Continental
Naval Service, 18 days after the Continental Congress resolved on 10 November
1775, "That two battalions of Marines be raised consisting of one
Colonel, two Lieutenant-Colonels, two Majors, and other officers, as usual in
other regiments; that they consist of an equal number of Privates with other
battalions; that particular care be taken that no persons be appointed to offices,
or enlisted into said battalions, but such as are good seamen, or so
acquainted with maritime affairs as to be able to serve by sea when required;
that they be enlisted and commissioned to serve for and during the present
war with Great Britain and the Colonies, unless dismissed by order of
Congress; that they be distinguished by the names of the First and Second
Battalion of Marines."
Captain Nicholas no sooner received official confirmation of his appointment
to office than he established recruiting headquarters at Tun's Tavern,
Philadelphia. By January 1776, having recruited a sufficient number of
Marines to man the vessels that comprised the Continental Navy in the waters
of Philadelphia, Capt Nicholas assumed command of Marine Detachment on board the
Alfred. With Commodore Hopkins in command, the Alfred set sail from
Philadelphia on the morning of 4 January 1776. The following month witnessed
the baptismal fire of the Marines.
Lord Dunmore, with the British force under his command, had collected a store
of arms and provisions at New Providence, in the Bahamas, and had done a
great deal of injury along the Colonial coast, particularly the shore of
Virginia. Commodore Hopkins had been ordered to processed to Avaco in the
Bahamas, and from there to operate against the force of Lord Dunmore. Here
the Commodore decided to make an attack on New Providence, capture the
enemy's stores and cripple his supplies. Capt Nicholas was placed in command
of the landing party, which consisted of about 250 Marines and sailors. This,
the first landing party every engaged in by Continential Marines, was a
On 6 April 1776, the Marines participated in the first naval battle between
an American squadron and the British, when His Majesty's Ship Glasgow blundered
across the path of the squadron.
On 25 June 1776, Congress placed Capt Nicholas "at the head of the
Marines with the rank of Major." Accordingly, Commodore Hopkins was
advised to send Maj Nicholas to Philadelphia, with dispatches for the
Continential Congress. With notification of his promotion he was ordered to
report to the Marine Committee. The Committee detached him from the Alfred
and ordered him to remain in the city, "to discipline four companies of
Marines and prepare them for service as Marine guards for the frigates on the
stocks." Having recruited and thoroughly organized four companies, he
requested arms and equipment for them.
In December 1776, he wrote Congress, "The enemy having overrun the
Jerseys, and our army being greatly reduced, I was ordered to march with
three of the companies to be under the command of His Excellency, the
Commander-in-Chief." This was the first example of a battalion of
Marines about to serve as an actual fighting unit under the direct command of
Army authority. The Marines did not, however, engage in the attack on
Trenton, which followed General George Washington's crossing of the Delaware.
They accomplished the most arduous task of ferrying the Continentals across
After the first Battle of Trenton, the battalion of Marines under the command
of Maj Nicholas participated in battle with a detachment of Cornwallis' main
army at Princeton. During the ensuing months Maj Nicholas' battalion served
both as infantry and artillery, participating in several skirmishes.
Following the evacuation of Philadelphia by the British in June 1778, Marine
Barracks were reestablished and recruiting renewed. From then until the close
of the war, Maj Nicholas' duties at Philadelphia were somewhat similar to
those of later Commandants. Moreover, he was actively in charge of
recruiting, and at times acted as Muster Master of the Navy.
On 20 November 1779, he wrote Congress requesting that he be put in charge of
the Marine Detachment on board the America, then in process of construction,
but Congress was adamant in its intention that Maj Nicholas remain in
After the disbandment of the Continental Marines and Navy following the end
of the Revolutionary War in 1783, Maj Nicholas returned to civilian life. He
died in Philadelphia on 27 August 1790, and was buried there in the Society
of Friends Cemetery.
commissioning, Nicholas has deployed to the Persian Gulf, Mediterranean Sea
and North Sea, as well as participating in maritime interdiction operations
and various fleet exercises. During her first four years as a commissioned
vessel, she earned three Battle Efficiency "E" awards, and the
Battenberg Cup as the best ship in the Atlantic Fleet. She earned the Top
Ship award from Commander Battle Force Sixth Fleet during her first
deployment to the Mediterranean.
During her first years, Nicholas was part of Destroyer Squadron Six in
Charleston, South Carolina. Her sister ships in DESRON SIX included USS
Taylor and USS O'Bannon, which harkened back to the World War II Fletcher
class Nicholas, Taylor, and O’Bannon. These ships had such distinguished
records in World War II, especially in the Solomons Island campaign, that
Admiral Halsey ordered all three ships present with USS Missouri at the
Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay.
In July 1987, Nicholas, together with DESRON SIX sister ship USS Deyo,
deployed with the USS Iowa Battleship Battlegroup to the Mediterranean Sea
and Persian Gulf. She earned her first Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal.
When hostilities with Iraq broke out during the Gulf War on 17 January 1991,
Nicholas was serving in the extreme Northern Persian Gulf as an advance
Combat Search and Rescue platform, more than 70 miles forward of the nearest
allied warship. During the first few weeks of the war she distinguished
herself in action by attacking Iraqi positions off the coast of Kuwait,
capturing the first of 23 Iraqi prisoners of war, sinking or damaging seven
Iraqi patrol boats, destroying eight drifting mines and successfully rescuing
a downed USAF F-16 pilot from the waters off the Kuwaiti coast. Nicholas also
escorted the battleships USS Missouri and USS Wisconsin during naval gunfire
support operations near Khafji off the coast of the Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
In her 1993 six-month deployment, Nicholas conducted operations in the Red
Sea, Mediterranean Sea, Ionian Sea and Adriatic Sea. This deployment was in
support of the United Nations sanctions against the governments of Iraq and
the Former Republic of Yugoslavia. During these operations, she safely
conducted over 170 boardings of merchant vessels to inspect for illegal cargo
In 1995, Nicholas deployed to the Adriatic and was assigned to the Standing
NATO Force Atlantic, again operating in support of United Nations resolutions
in Operation Sharp Guard. She intercepted over 120 vessels in enforcing
sanctions against the Former Republic of Yugoslavia. Additionally Nicholas
located and rescued 16 Albanian citizens from a capsized fishing boat.
The 2001 deployment took Nicholas to the Mediterranean Sea and Persian Gulf.
While in the Mediterranean, she conducted numerous boardings in support of
United Nations sanctions. On 11 September, Nicholas sortied on an emergency
basis from Valletta, Malta and conducted sustained underway operations until
returning to her home port of Norfolk, Virginia six months later.
The year 2003 saw another deployment for Nicholas. During this historic
deployment she hosted COMNAVEURCENT, Ambassadors and many high ranking
dignitaries in St. Petersburg, Russia. Later she became the first warship to
enter Neum, Bosnia since 1917, and the first U.S. warship ever. While there,
Nicholas hosted the Bosnian Tri-Presidency and numerous government, and military
Nicholas operated as the sole US warship in the Mediterranean Sea for her six
month deployment and acted as a surrogate for the Argentina ship Sarandi,
enhancing international relations and building new alliances. She
participated in multiple exercises and operations and achieved historic
distinction when she tracked and assisted in the interception of a merchant
ship loaded with nuclear centrifuges bound for Libya. US Government officials
directly linked the interception of this vessel to the abandonment of Libya’s
nuclear weapons program.
Nicholas has earned the Combat Action Ribbon, Southwest Asia Service Medal
(with three bronze stars), Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, the NATO Medal,
Kuwait Liberation Medal, Armed Forces Service Medal, Sea Service Ribbon (with
seven bronze stars), Meritorious Unit Commendation, a Coast Guard Meritorious
Unit Commendation (with O for Law Enforcement), and six Battle Efficiency
"E" awards as top ship in her squadron.