William Nichols (mariner)

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William Nichols (fl. 1758–1780) of Falmouth, Cornwall, was a sea captain in the 18th century. He played a prominent role in one of the greatest marine disasters in Canadian history as measured by loss of Canadian lives. Nichols was the captain and co-owner of the transport vessel, the Duke William, when it sank in the North Atlantic on December 13, 1758.[1] At least 360 Acadians perished.[2] Nichols received international attention when his journal recounting the tragic incident was published in popular print throughout the 19th century in England and America.[3] Several years after the sinking of the Duke William, Nichols also received international attention again when he was taken captive by American patriots during the American Revolution.[4]

Marine career[edit]

Captain of the Duke William[edit]

During the Seven Years' War, Captain Nichols owned and captained the vessel known as the Duke William. In 1758, Nichols was tasked with transporting exiled Acadians to France. While en route to France, the Duke William sank and 362 Acadians perished. One notable passenger on board the Duke William was Noel Doiron described by Nichols in his journal as the "head prisoner".[5]

Captain of the Eagle Packet[edit]

Captain Nichols survived the sinking of the Duke William and went on to own and captain a Falmouth Packet called the "Eagle" during the American Revolution.[6] During the revolution, he was taken prisoner by American patriots.[4] Nichols wrote to George Washington on May 6, 1778 and requested his prompt release through a prisoner exchange with England.[7]

Captain of the Swift Packet[edit]

After his release as a prisoner, Captain Nichols took up residence in Falmouth, Cornwall, England and finished his career making trans-Atlantic crossings in the Swift Packet delivering mail, though illness on occasion made him unable to travel.[8]



  1. ^ "Journal of Captain William Nichols": The Naval Chronicle; Vol. 17, 1807, p. 396
  2. ^ "Letter from Captain William Nichols dated December 16, 1758 says 360 passengers aboard the Duke William": London Magazine; XXVII, p. 655.
  3. ^ The publications included: Frost, John, The Book of Good Examples Drawn from History and Biography, New York, 1846, p. 65; The Saturday Magazine (1821), p. 502; Percey, Reubens, Percey's Anecdotes, New York, 1826, p. 44; Barrington, George Winslow (c. 1880). Remarkable Voyages and Shipwrecks. London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent and Co.
  4. ^ a b Letter to George Washington from Henry Lee Jr. dated November 8, 1777, The Papers of George Washington: Revolutionary War; vol. 12, pp. 168-169.
  5. ^ Frost, J., Frost,(1846). "The Book of Good Examples Drawn from History and Biography", New York: D. Appleton and Company, p.65.
  6. ^ Tony Pawlyn (2003). The Falmouth Packets. Truran Publications. by Tony Pawlyn (Author)
  7. ^ Letter from William Nichols to George Washington dated May 6, 1778: "The Papers of George Washington" Theodore J. Crackel, Editor in Chief.
  8. ^ Letter to Henry Laurens from William Nichols, 1780


  • Journal of Captain William Nichols:[1]
  • Letter from Captain William Nichols dated December 16, 1758 [2]
  • Captain William Nichols Webpage [3]
  • CBC Radio Documentary: "Noel Doiron and the Wreck of the Duke William" [4]
  • Film short on Noel and Marie Doiron: "The Exiles"[5]