History - The First Generation of United States Marshals
Marshal of Pennsylvania: Clement Biddle
The First Marshal of Pennsylvania Clement Biddle was born into a
Philadelphia family on May 10, 1740. Prior to the Revolution, he worked
as a partner in his father John's shipping and importing business. The
troubles with England, however, soon captured his attention. He became
an early patriot for the colonial cause. In 1775, Biddle helped raise a
company of volunteers in
Philadelphia known as the "Quaker Blues." Shortly after the outbreak of
the war, on July 8, 1776, the Second Continental Congress commissioned
Library of Congress
Biddle a deputy quartermaster-general for the Pennsylvania and New York
militia. This office carried the rank of Colonel. While serving in this
Biddle saw action at the battle of Trenton. After the battle,
delegated to him the honor of receiving the swords of the surrendering
Hessian officers. Later, Biddle fought in the battles of Brandywine,
and Monmouth. He and his wife also endured the bleak winter of 1777-
1778 with Washington at Valley Forge.
In November 1776, General Nathaniel Greene appointed Biddle
hisaide-de-camp. The following July, Greene promoted Biddle commissary
in charge of forage, a position he held for three years. In June
1780,Biddle resigned his commission to devote his attention to his
neglected business affairs. However, a little over a year later, in
September 1781, Biddle ended his retirement from the army at the urgent
request of General Greene. He became quartermaster general of the
Pennsylvania militia, once again with the rank of Colonel. He remained
at this post until the end of the war.
Following the Revolution, Biddle returned to his private interests. He
also accepted appointment as Marshal of the Admiralty Courts established
during the war by the Continental Congress. These courts were the
of the federal judiciary system established in 1789. Biddle's duties as
Marshal of the Admiralty Courts closely resembled those he would have as
Marshal of the federal courts. He served court processes, carried
out court orders, arrested suspects-mainly pirates and privateers-and
sold condemned goods at auction.
Other posts held by Biddle before 1789 included quartermaster of the
Pennsylvania militia, notary public, protonotary (chief clerk) of the
Court of Common Pleas for Philadelphia County, and judge of the same
court. In the census of 1790, Biddle listed his occupations as
"Notary, Scrivener, and
Broker." These various jobs made him a wealthy man. In 1786, for
example, he owned almost $3,000 in continental loan certificates.
Biddle enjoyed a close friendship with George Washington. In addition,
he handled Washington's business affairs in Philadelphia. Thus, it is
not surprising that Washington turned to Biddle to fill the office of
Marshal of the Pennsylvania District Court. The new Marshal was 49 when
he received his commission.
Unfortunately, the duties of Marshal proved too much for Biddle. In
November 1792, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson asked him to arrest
two men who had started a riot in Washington County, Pennsylvania.
Jefferson specified that Biddle should make the arrests himself. The
Marshal replied that he would like to go after the two men, but he had
recently had repeated attacks of gout and was also suffering from
"another Complaint which has prevented me from riding any distance on
horseback." Although he did not give any additional details on that
particular affliction, it must have been some ailment that would make
sitting on a bouncing horse uncomfortable. In his stead, Biddle sent his
deputy, Captain Jonas Simonds, to make the arrests.
Shortly before the end of his first term. Biddle wrote the President to
request that he not be reappointed. He explained that he had hoped that
the office of Marshal would be "at some time beneficial to me," but his
hopes had gone unrealized. Instead, "the arrangement of the Judiciary
System was such as would not compensate the Marshal for the great risque
and hazard that would necessarily attend the Execution of their Duties."
Despite this disappointment, Biddle declared that:
I determined, however, to contribute all in my power to the
support of the Government of the United States, to execute the
Office during the period to which you do me the honor to appoint me
and I have endeavored to execute it with fidelity and to merit the
Confidence you were pleased to place in me; but I find that the
Expense attending the Execution has been equal to or greater than
the Endowments of the office and the hazard and Responsibility
attending the same and so great that I can not think myself
justified in continuing to hold the Office.
Consequently, when his term expired, Biddle returned to private life. In
1794, he accompanied the Pennsylvania militia when it marched on the
Whiskey Rebels who had attacked and taken prisoner his successor. During
the remainder of his long life, he assumed no other public duties.
Biddle died at the age of 74 on July 14, 1814.