On her second cruise out, the Decatur captured prize after prize, but was eventually taken by the Surprise and brought to Barbados. Because of his reputation, Nichols was looked upon with high regard and respect. He was a parolee, rather than a prisoner, until the Vestal showed up. The captain, no doubt remembering the humiliation he suffered during the stunt on the Alert, decided to “get even” and took Nichols prisoner.
As an “uncaged lion would have been safer freight,” a special 5-by-7 wooden crate hosted the “Holy Terror.” They kept Nichols for 34 days, and then held him in a Brit prison. His release finally came after negotiations for an exchange.
Nichols returned home and quickly hit the seas once again in the brig Harpy, with which he “successfully preyed on enemy ships and brought in rich cargos.”
Although a lion heart roared in Nichols, according to his contemporaries, he possessed a warm, watery disposition and “was of tender sensibilities, always exhibiting the greatest affection for his mother and his family.” Even at sea, both foes and comrades noted his “great civility, indulgent lenity, and humane usage.” After Nichols captured his ship, Capt. William Drysdale, grateful for the hospitality while imprisoned, extended an invitation to his home, Stepney Green in London, should Nichols ever be in the area.
Benjamin Pierce, in a letter to Col. Thomas Barclay, the commissioner of prisoners, called him “modest and unassuming, yet brave and decided.” Pierce also noted that Nichols “was strictly moral and sincere; as a husband, parent, and neighbor, tender, indulgent, and affable.”
Later appointed as the Port’s Collector of Customs, Nichols purportedly regretted that “his advanced years did not permit him to engage in the service of the country upon the sea.”
Often referred to as “the forgotten war,” the War of 1812 is still alive and thriving at the Custom House Maritime Museum in Newburyport. Take a tour, visit Nichols’ portrait and collections, and learn how America won her nationalism and freedom.
Special thanks to USS Constitution historian Matthew Brenckle for his contribution. He notes, “The War of 1812 established America among world nations as major players and not the poor Colonial cousins!”
Visit Melissa Davenport Berry of Beverly at www.ancestoryarchives.blogspot.com. Monday’s column is available on The Daily News website, newburyportnews.com.