Samuel Nicholas was born in Philadelphia, Pa., in 1744 and received his commission as Captain of Marines from the Continental Congress 28 November 1775, the earliest existing commission issued in the Continental Naval Service. He joined Continental Ship Alfred as Marine Officer at her commissioning 3 December. On 3 March 1776 he commanded the first amphibious landing of American Marines when the Continental Fleet under Esek Hopkins attacked New Providence in the Bahamas. Leading a party of 200 marines and 50 sailors, Nicholas won Fort Montague, Government House, and Nassau. The capture of New Providence brought badly needed cannon and ammunition to the hard-pressed Continental Army. Promoted to Major 6 June 1776, Nicholas trained Marines for duty at sea and in the field with Washington, becoming virtually Commandant of Marines, although such a title did not then exist. He died in Philadelphia 27 August 1790.
(DD–311; dp. 1,190; l. 314’5”; b. 31’8”; dr. 9’3”; s. 35 k.;m cpl. 95; a. 4 4 4”, 1 3”, 12 21 “ tt.; cl. Clemson)
The first Nicholas (DD–311) was laid down 11 January 1919 by Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corp., San Francisco, Calif.; launched 1 May 1919; sponsored by Miss Edith Barry; and commissioned at Mare Island Navy Yard 23 November 1920, Lt. Comdr. H. B. Kelly in command.
Assigned to Reserve Destroyer Divisions, Pacific Fleet, Nicholas departed Mare Island 17 December 1920 for San Diego, arriving on the 20th and remaining principally in that area with a reduced complement through 1922. The destroyer sailed 6 February 1923 as part of Destroyer Squadron 11 for combined fleet operations in the Canal Zone. Arriving Balboa twenty days later following exercises en route, the warship engaged in tactical and strategic maneuvers through the end of March and returned to San Diego 11 April. From 25 June to 31 August, Nicholas and DesRon 11 cruised the coast of Washington, putting in to Tacoma, Port Angeles, and Seattle and serving as escort to President Warren Harding in Henderson on his arrival at Seattle 27 July. She then participated in squadron maneuvers through the end of August with Battleship Division 3, putting in to San Francisco on the 31st.
Nicholas sailed for her homeport at 0830, 8 September, in company with most of DesRon 11 under Captain E. H. Waton, Delphy leading the way. Engaged in a high speed engineering run down the Pacific Coast, the squadron changed course 95’ at 2100 to make the approach to Santa Barbara Channel. At 2105, Delphy stranded on the rocks of Point Pedernales, known to sailors as Honda, or the Devil’s Jaw. Though warning signals were sent up by the flagship, the sheltering configuration of the coast line prevented their recognition by the remaining ships of DesRon 11 and in the ensuing confusion, six other destroyers, S. P. Lee, Young, Woodbury, Fuller, Chauncey, and Nicholas ran aground also. Nicholas’ skipper, Lt. Comdr. Herbert Roesch, did his utmost to prevent the loss of the destroyer as the heavy seas broke over her and Honda’s rocks pushed into her hull, but the ship was taken by currents and drifted slowly astern, coming to a stop stern high on a clump of rocks with a 25’ list to starboard.
Throughout the night, the four-stackers’ crews strove valiantly in the face of Honda’s heavy odds, but in the morning as the waves mounted and Nicholas’ situation became critical, the Captain ordered “Abandon Ship!” Accomplished without loss of life, the order brought the entire crew ashore safely. The discipline and performance of duty was so outstanding that of the seven destroyers, only 23 lives were lost to the treacherous sea. Considered out of commission 26 October 1923, Nicholas was struck from the Navy List with her six squadron mates 20 November. After a number of abortive bids, the destroyer was finally sold 19 October 1925 to Robert J. Smith of Oakland, Calif. Though some equipment was salvaged from the wrecked ship her hull was left to the mercy of the sea in the “graveyard of the Pacific.”