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Essex, the,

A frigate of 860 tons, rated at thirty-two guns, but actually carried forty-six; built in Salem, Mass., in 1799. On June 26, 1812, under command of Capt. David Porter, she left Sandy Hook, N. J., on a cruise, with a flag at her masthead bearing the significant words, “free-trade and sailors' rights.” He soon captured several English merchant vesels, making trophy bonfires of most of them on the ocean, and their crews his prisoners. After cruising southward several weeks in disguise, capturing a prize now and then, he turned northward, and chased a fleet of English transports bearing 1,000 troops to Halifax, convoyed by a frigate and a bomb-vessel. He captured one of the transports, and a few days afterwards (Aug. 13) fell in with the British armed ship Alert, Capt. T. L. P. Langhorne, mounting twenty 18-pounder carronades and six smaller guns. the Essex was disguised as a merchantman. the Alert followed her for some time, and at length opened fire with three cheers from her people. Porter caused his ports to be knocked out in an instant, when his guns responded with terrible effect. It was a complete surprise. the Alert was so badly injured and her people were so panic-stricken that the conflict was short. In spite of the efforts of the officers, the men of the Alert ran below for safety. She was surrendered in a sinking condition. She was the first British naval vessel captured in the war. Nobody was killed on either vessel.

When Commodore Bainbridge was about to sail from Boston with the Constitution and Hornet, orders were sent to Captain Porter, of the Essex, then lying in the Delaware, to cruise in the track of the West Indiamen, and at a specified time to rendezvous at certain ports, when, if he should not fall in with the flag-ship of the squadron, he would be at liberty to follow the dictates of his own judgment. Having failed to find the Con-stitution at any appointed rendezvous, and having provided himself with funds by taking $55,000 from a British packet, Porter made sail for the Pacific Ocean around Cape Horn. While in these waters, Porter seized twelve armed British whale-ships, with an aggregate of 302 men and 107 guns. These were what he entered the Pacific Ocean for. He armed some of them, and at one time he had a fleet of nine vessels. He sent [263] paroled prisoners to Rio de Janeiro, and cargoes of whale-oil to the United States. On Sept. 15, 1813, while among the Galapagos Islands, he fell in with a British whaling-vessel armed with twelve guns and manned by thirty-nine men. He captured her, and found her laden with beef, pork, bread, wood, and water, articles which Porter stood greatly in need of at that time. The exploits of the Essex in the Pacific produced great excitement in the British navy, and the government sent out the frigate Phoebe, with one or two consorts, to attempt her capture. Porter heard of this from an officer who was sent into the harbor of Valparaiso, Chile, with prizes. He also learned that the Chilean authorities were becoming more friendly to the English than to the Americans. In consequence of this information, Porter resolved to go to the Marquesas Islands, refit his vessel, and return to the United States. He had captured almost every English whale-ship known to be off the coasts of Peru and Chile, and had deprived the enemy of property to the amount of $2,500,000 and 360 seamen. He had also released the American whalers from peril, and inspired the Peruvians and Chileans with the most profound respect for the American navy. Among the Marquesas Islands (at Nooaheevah) Porter became involved in hostilities with the warring natives. He had allowed his men great indulgence in port, and some of them formed strong attachments to the native women. They were so dissatisfied when he left that they became almost mutinous. He had kept his men from going on shore for three days before he weighed anchor. “The girls,” says Porter in his Journal, “lined the beach from morning until night, and every moment importuned me to take the taboos off the men, and laughingly expressed their grief by dipping their fingers into the sea and touching their eyes, so as to let the salt-water trickle down their cheeks.”

When the Essex was thoroughly fitted for her long voyage and for encountering enemies, she sailed (Dec. 12) with her prizes from Nooaheevah Island (which he had named Madison), and on Feb. 3, 1814, entered the harbor of Valparaiso. One of the captured vessels, which he had armed and named Essex Junior, cruised off the harbor as a scout, to give warning of the approach of any man-of-war. Very soon two English men-of-war were reported in the offing. They sailed into the harbor, and proved to be the Phoebe, thirty-six guns, Captain Hillyar, and her consort, the Cherub, twenty-two guns, Captain Tucker. The former mounted thirty long 18-pounders, sixteen 32-pounder carronades, and one howitzer; also six 3-pounders in her tops. Her crew consisted of 320 men

Essex fighting Phoebe and Cherub.

[264] and boys. the Cherub mounted eighteen 32-pounder carronades below, with eight 24-pounder carronades and two long nines above, making a total of twenty-eight guns. Her crew numbered 180. the Essex at that time could muster only 225, and the Essex Junior only sixty. the Essex had forty 32-pounder carronades and

The Essex and her prizes in Massachusetts Bay, Nooaheevah.

six long 12-pounders; and the Essex Junior had only ten 18-pounder carronades and ten short sixes. The British vessels blockaded Porter's ships. At length he determined to escape. The sails of his vessels were spread for the purpose (March 28, 1814), and both vessels started for the open sea, when a squall partially disabled the flagship, and both took shelter in a bay. There they were attacked by the Phoebe and Cherub, and one of the most desperate and sanguinary battles of the war ensued. When at last the Essex was a helpless wreck and on fire, and his magazine was threatened—when every officer but one was slain or disabled; when, of the 225 brave men who went into the fight on board of her, only seventy-five effective ones remained—Porter hauled down his flag. So ended the long and brilliant cruise of the Essex. Her gallant commander wrote to the Secretary of War from Valparaiso, “We have been ufortunate, but not disgraced.” He and his companions were sent home in the Essex Junior, which was made a cartel-ship, and Porter was honored as the hero of the Pacific. Municipal honors were lavished upon him, and several State legislatures and the national Congress gave him thanks.

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David Porter (12)
Essex (2)
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T. L. P. Langhorne (1)
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