Phoebe - Essex - Peacock

The HMS Phoebe and Cherub 
take the USS Essex
By Edwin Wiley

The Capture of USS Essex, or Battle of Valparaiso,  took place off the coast of Valparaíso, on March 28, 1814, between the frigate USS Essex, the sloop USS Essex Junior and the frigate HMS Phoebe and sloop HMS Cherub of the Royal Navy. The  American vessels were captured by the British war ships.

The Essex under David Porter had entered the Delaware in September of 1812, and, after a short stay, was ordered to join Commodore Bainbridge in the Constitution and the Hornet. Accordingly, on October 28, the Essex passed the capes of the Delaware and put to sea, never to return. For some time she ran eastward to get in the track of British merchantmen, but failing in this, ran into Porto Praya on November 27. This was one of the ports the Constitution was supposed to have made, but as she was not there the Essex started for Fernando de Noronha. 

On the afternoon of December 12, when a little south of the equator, the Essex fell in with and captured the British frigate Nocton, of 10 guns and 31 men, with $55,000 in specie bound for Falmouth.f The Nocton was sent to the nearest American port, but on the way she was recaptured by the Belvidera.  The Essex finally reached Fernando de Noronha, but learning that the Constitution and the Hornet had gone to sea, Porter turned southward, resolving to take the Essex around Cape Horn and try his fortune in defending the American whalers and capturing British ships in the Pacific. He met with no exciting experiences until the Cape was reached, when bad weather set in. So terrific were the gales there that the ship seemed doomed to destruction, but she escaped the perils of the deep and on March 5 anchored off the island of Mocha. 

After laying in the necessary supplies of meat', Porter proceeded to Valparaiso, where he arrived March 14 and where he was welcomed as a friend of the new government of Chili. At Valparaiso the Essex tarried just long enough to lay in supplies, and soon sailed to sea.§ Almost immediately after his departure, Porter learned from an American whaler that two other American whalers (the Walker and the Barclay) had been captured off Coquimbo. Accordingly he immediately sailed in that direction and about 8 o'clock on the evening of March 26 sighted a ship flying Spanish colors, which soon struck to the Essex. She proved to be the Peruvian cruiser Neroida (or Nereyda), 15, and, as she admitted having captured two American whalers, her guns, spars, and ammunition were thrown overboard before she was released.* She was then sent to Callao with a letter to the Peruvian viceroy in which Porter denounced the piratical conduct of the cruiser's commander, and demanded that he be punished.

Porter then sailed up the coast in search of whalers, and, the better to accomplish his object, painted and trimmed his ship so that she looked like a Spanish merchantman. J While engaged in this, he chased and captured a vessel which upon being boarded proved to be the Barclay, standing for Callao. 

The two ships then cruised for some time without meeting any others, and Porter on April 17 took his prize to Chatham Island, one of the Galapagos group. On the following day a box was found on Charles Island containing the names of British whalers supposed to be cruising in the vicinity. Assured of capturing something, Porter cruised among the Galapagos, but for almost a fortnight  not a vessel was seen.§ Finally on April 29 three sails were sighted, which when captured proved to be the British whaler Montezuma, loaded with 1,400 barrels of sperm oil the Georgiana, a little vessel pierced for 18 guns and carrying 6; and the Policy, carrying 10 guns, the prizes and their cargoes being valued at about $500,000.  

Porter then transferred the guns from the Policy to the Georgiana and placed Lieutenant John Downes and a crew of 41 men aboard. t The squadron then numbered four vessels and on May 29, 1813, with the aid of his prizes, Porter captured the British letter of marque Atlantic, 8 18 pounders. Hardly had this capture been effected when another sail was sighted and soon after captured; she proved to be the British letter of marque Greenwich, 10, laden with naval stores.t The fleet thus consisted of the Essex, 46, the Georgiana, 16, the Greenwich, 10, the Atlantic, 6, and the Montezuma, 2, with the unarmed vessels Barclay and Policy, carrying in all nearly 340 men and 80 prisoners. The prisoners had become so great an encumbrance that on June 19 Porter anchored in the river Tumbez, where the prisoners were sent ashore.§ Meanwhile Downes, in the Georgiana, had gone on an independent cruise, and in a short time had captured the Catherine, 8, the Rose, 8, and the Hector, 11, carrying in all 27 guns and 75 men As Dowries, too, was overburdened with prisoners, he converted the Rose into a cartel, sent her to St. Helena, and then sailed for Tumbez, where he arrived on June 24th.
As a reward for this conduct, Porter raised the Atlantic to a 20-gun ship, renamed her the Essex Junior, and gave Downes command, with the rank of master-commander.J On June 30 the reorganized squadron set sail and soon after the ships parted company, the Essex Junior being sent to escort the Policy, Barclay, Hector, Catherine, and Montezuma to Valparaiso and to cruise until September, while the Essex, Greenwich, and Georgiana sailed westward toward the Galapagos. When off Banks Bay the three latter vessels sighted three sail which were captured after a short fight. The Essex captured the Charlton, a 10-gun ship; the Georgiana went after the second, the New Zealander, 8, but the third, instead of attempting to escape stood for the Greenwich. After a few broadsides, however, she was forced to strike and was found to be the Seringapatam of 14 guns and 40 men.  

The Charlton was then stripped of her armament and sent with the prisoners to Rio de Janeiro; and on July 25 the Georgiana, which now had a full cargo of oil valued at $100,000, was sent home to the United States. The guns of the New Zealander were transferred to the Seringapatam, thus making her a 22-gun ship * After a long and fruitless cruise, Porter put into Banks Bay on August 22 where he left the prizes. Two days later, disguising the Essex as a merchant ship, he set sail alone. On September 15 he sighted a ship, which after a long chase he captured. She proved to be the British letter of marque Sir Andrew Hammond, 12 guns and 36 men.

Porter then returned to Banks Bay, where he was joined by the Essex Junior, bringing word that some British frigates had been sent in search of him. He therefore determined to take his entire fleetj to the Marquesas Islands, about 3,000 miles away. The squadron sailed three weeks over the southern seas, and on October 23 the islands were sighted.|| Porter took possession of the island of Nukahiva (or Nouaheevah) in the name of the United States, naming it Madison Island, in honor of the President. There he remained several weeks refitting the Essex and amusing himself and his crew by interfering in local politics. The savage Typees endeavored to expel Porter and his men, but the native tribesmen were no match for the seamen who completely defeated them and burned a number of their villages. That he should have brought away his whole crew after so much relaxation without desertion was surprising. For a time the men were in a state of mutiny, but they did not desert,t and on December 12 the Essex, accompanied by the Essex Junior, sailed for the coast of Chili, leaving the prizes in charge of Lieutenant John M. Gamble and 21 men.

After cruising on the coast of Chili without success, Porter reached Valparaiso on February 3, where he learned that the 36-gun frigate Phoebe, Captain James Hillyar, was on the coast searching for him. The Phoebe had been sent from England in March of 1813 with secret orders to destroy the American fur establishment on the Columbia River; but when she reached Rio de Janeiro she heard of the doings of the Essex and, taking the Cherub, 18, went around the Horn in search of the American frigate. Porter knew nothing of the Cherub, and, as he had no desire to avoid a battle with the Phoebe, waited quietly at Valparaiso while the Essex Junior cruised around on the lookout.* Porter was not compelled to wait long, for early on the morning of February 8 the Essex Junior signaled that two ships were in sight. f They proved to be the Phoebe and Cherub. The Phoebe was about 144 feet long and 38 feet wide, whereas the Essex was 139 feet long and 37 feet wide; the Phoebe carried a crew of 300 — 45 more than the crew of the Essex: the latter carried 17 32 pound carronades and 6 long 12 pounders on her broadside, whereas the Phoebe carried only 8 carronades and had 13 long 18-pounders, 1 long 12-pounder, and 1 9-pounder. Thus, while Porter could overpower the Phoebe at short range, the latter's 13 long range 18-pounders would enable her completely to destroy the Essex without receiving a shot in return.

During the next two days the two British ships lay at anchor about half a mile away, then went to sea, and during the next month strictly blockaded the port. The Essex attempted by various maneuvres to bring the Phoebe into action without the Cherub, but, as the British captain, acting under orders—though in any case most sensibly*—would not risk a combat single-handed in which he must have been beaten, he endeavored by every means to lure the Essex into an engagement with both his vessels.  One dark night, Porter, having observed that the Cherub occupied the same place for several nights before, sent out a boat expedition to capture her, but this failed, for on reaching the spot the crew of the Cherub was found to be at their quarters fully armed, evidently expecting such an attack.

For more than a month Porter submitted to the blockade, but, learning that several other frigates were searching for him and hoping by the superior sailing qualities of his ship to make his escape, he had about made up his mind to run the blockade when on March 28, in a heavy gale, the Essex parted her port cable. As her starboard anchor would not hold, Porter determined then and there to make the attempt to escape. Unfortunately, in doubling the headland which enclosed the harbor, a violent squall carried away the main topmast together with several of the men.t There was now no alternative but to regain the port or to fight both the enemy's ships under the additional disadvantage of being crippled. He decided upon the former alternative. David Farragut, then a midshipman on the Essex, said many years after that Porter's decision was wrong, since being greatly superior in sailing qualities, the Essex should have borne up and run before the wind, her chance of out sailing the Phoebe or of separating her from the Cherub being better than that of regaining the anchorage.J The wind, however, made it impossible to get back to the common anchorage, the Essex ran close into a small bay about three quarters of a mile to leeward of the battery on the east of the harbor and let go her anchor within pistol-shot of the shore.

Supposing that the British would respect the neutrality of the piace, Porter considered himself secure and began to repair the damages he had sustained. Hardly had he anchored, however, when the Phoebe and the Cherub bore down and soon showed Porter the real danger of his situation.* With all possible dispatch Porter got his ship ready for action and endeavored to get a spring on his cable, but failed and a few minutes before 4 o'clock the attack was begun.

At first the Phoebe took a position nearly astern of the Essex, while the Cherub lay off her starboard bow; the latter, however, found herself exposed to a hot fire and soon changed her position and with her consort kept up a raking fire under the stern of the Essex.% The American frigate could not bring her broadside to bear on the enemy, but was compelled to rely on 3 long 12-pounders which were run out of the stern ports.

 These were served with such vigor and skill that at 4.30 the Phoebe was compelled to haul off to repair damages.t It was evident the Hillyar meant to take his time and to risk nothing in the attack; his antagonist was in his power and his only concern was to reduce her to a wreck with as little loss to himself as possible.! After repairing damages, the action was renewed. The Phoebe anchored and began firing her broadsides of long impounders into the quarter of the Essex, while the Cherub kept under way and threw solid shot from her bow guns. Scarcely one of Porter's long guns could be brought to bear upon the two ships nor were his carronades powerful enough to reach the British vessels; as a result, the British ships cut down the crew of the Essex with their plunging fire and disabled her guns almost at their pleasure. The carnage was so frightful that three entire crews fell, around one gun during the action.§ Finding it impossible to bring his guns to bear on the enemy, Porter attempted to run his vessel ashore and set her on fire, but when within musket-shot of the shore the wind shifted, paying the ship's head broad off and leaving her exposed to a raking fire worse than she had experienced before.* The Phoebe kept her distance, throwing three 18-pound shot into the Essex every five to ten minutes, until the American frigate was cut to pieces and rendered helpless. Still Porter held out, hoping to lay the Essex alongside the cautious Phoebe. An anchor was let go and the head of the vessel was brought around so that Porter could give the Phoebe a broadside. This badly crippled the Phoebe, which began to drift away with the tide. 

Porter now was hopeful of success, but suddenly his hawser parted and the Essex, an almost helpless wreck, aimlessly floated toward her antagonist^ Twice she took fire, part of her powder exploded, % she had been hulled at almost every shot, and finally the colors were hauled down, though the British did not cease firing until 10 minutes later (6.20).

The Essex lost 58 killed and 66 wounded, but including the drowned and missing she lost 152 out of her crew of 255. Hillyar claimed to have had 119 unwounded prisoners, while Porter declared that there were only 75 unwounded prisoners (capable of doing duty). The British loss was only 5 killed and 10 wounded out of 500 men. The Essex Junior was then converted into a cartel and in it Porter and the survivors were sent to the United States; they arrived off Sandy Hook July 5, 1814, where they were brought to by the Saturn. As the latter seemed determined not to let them pass, Porter decided to effect his escape in spite of the British ship. Although 30 miles from land, Porter and a few of his men dropped into a whale boat and started toward shore. The Saturn gave chase, but a dense sea fog settled down and hid Porter from the British ship. After rowing two nights longer, Porter and his men landed at Babylon, Long Island, where they were seized as spies. He had little trouble in convincing his captors of his identity and was allowed to pass on to New York. There the Essex Junior had already arrived and Porter was received with great enthusiasm, as one who had brought great honor to the American navy.

The USS Peacock takes the HMS Epervier

The capture of HMS Epervier was a naval action fought off the coast of Florida near Cape Canaveral on April 28th, 1814, between the ship-rigged sloop of war USS Peacock, commanded by Master Commandant Lewis Warrington, and the Cruizer-class brig-sloop HMS Epervier under Commander Richard Wales.

Lewis Warrington (3 November 1782 – 12 October 1851), an officer in the United States Navy during the Barbary Wars and the War of 1812, also served as the Secretary of the Navy. On 12 March 1814, he put to sea with his new command bound for the naval station at St. Mary's, Georgia. After delivering supplies to that installation, he encountered the British brig Epervier off Cape Canaveral, Florida. Peacock emerged victorious from a brisk 45-minute exchange with that opponent, inflicting 10 times her own losses on the enemy. For his role in the victory, Warrington received the Thanks of Congress in the form of a Congressional Gold Medal, and of the state of Virginia in the form of a gold-hilted sword.


Sir, Savannah, May 2, 1814.

I have the honor to inform you, that a fine brig of 18 guns, prize to the United States sloop Peacock, anchored here this morning. She is much shattered in her hull, and damaged in her rigging, having fought 45 minutes—her loss 8 killed and 15 wounded. The Peacock, 2 slightly wounded. She was chased on the 30th April, by a frigate, but escaped by running close in the shore in the night. Lieut. Nicholson, prize master, will forward you a more detailed account of this handsome affair. 

I am etcc.

Hon. W. Jones &c. C. MORRIS.


Sir, Savannah, May 1, 1814.

I have the honor to inform you of my arrival here in late his Britannic majesty's brig Epervier, of eighteen 32 pound carronades, Capt. Wales, captured by the sloop Peacock, on Friday morning, the 29th, off Cape Carnaveral, after an action of 45 minutes, in which time she was much cut up in hull, spars, rigging and sails, with upwards of five feet of water in her hold, having the weather gage.

She has lost 8 killed and 15 wounded; among the latter her first lieutenant, who has lost his arm. I am happy to say, the Peacock received no material injury—her fore-yard and two men slightly wounded—she received not one shot in her hull. The brig had upwards of one hundred thousand dollars on board. 

I have the honor to be &,c.



U. S. Sloop Peacock, at sea, lat 27° 47', long. 80° 9',

29 April, 1814. 

Dear Sir, 

I have the honor to inform you that we have this morning captured, after an action of 45 minutes, his majesty's brig Epervier, rating and mounting 18 thirty-two pound carronades, with 128 men, of whom 8 were killed and 15 wounded (according to the best information we could obtain:) among the latter is her 1st lieutenant, who has lost an arm, and received a severe splinter wound on the hip. Not a man in the Peacock was killed, and only two wounded; neither dangerously so. The fate of the Epervier would have been determined in much less time, but for the circumstance of our foreyard being totally disabled by two round shot in the starboard quarter from her first broadside, which entirely deprived us of the use of our fore and fore-top sail, and compelled us to keep the ship large throughout the remainder of the action. This, with a few top-mast and top-gallant back-stays cut away, a few shot through our sails, is the only injury the Peacock has sustained. Not a round shot touched her hull; our masts and spars are as sound as ever. When the enemy struck, he had five feet water in his hold, his main top-mast was over the side, his main-boom shot away, fore-mast cut nearly in two and tottering, his fore rigging and stays shot away, his bowsprit badly wounded, and 45 shot holes in his hull, 20 of which were within a foot of his water line. By great exertion we got her in sailing order just as dark came on.

In fifteen minutes after the enemy struck, the Peacock was ready for another action, in every respect but her fore-yard, which was sent down, fished, and had the fore-sail set again in 45 minutes—such were the spirit and activity of our gallant crew. The Epervier had under convoy an English hermaphrodite brig, a Russian and a Spanish ship, all which hauled their wind and stood to the E. N. E. I had determined upon pursuing the former, but found that it would not answer to leave our prize, in her then crippled state and the more particularly so, as we found she had in $ 120,000 in specie, which we soon transferred to this sloop. Every officer, seaman, and marine did his duty, which is the highest compliment I can pay them. I am respectfully,


P. S. From Lieut. Nicholson's report, who was counting up the Epervier's crew, there were 11 killed and 15 wounded. L. W.

Sir, Savannah, May 4, 1814.

I have great satisfaction in being able to report to you the arrival of the Peacock at this anchorage today, and also the arrival of the Epervier on Monday last. I have now to detail to you the reason of our separation. We made sail as mentioned in my last, on the evening of the 29th of April. The next afternoon we were, at i past 5, abreast the centre of Amelia Island, with the vessels in sight over the land, when two large ships, which had been seen sometime previous a little to the northward of the Island, were • clearly ascertained to be frigates in chase of us. In this situation, at the suggestion of Lieut. Nicholson, I took out all but himself and sixteen officers and men, and stood to the southward along shore, on a wind, leaving him to make the best of his way for St. Mary's; which place I felt confident he would reach, as the weather frigate was in chase of the Peacock, and the other was too far to the leeward to fetch him: at 9 we lost sight of the chaser, but continued standing all night to the southward, in hopes to get entirely clear of him. At day light we shortened sail and stood to the northward, and again made the frigate, who gave chase the second time, which he continued until 2 P. M. when finding he could not come up, he desisted. In the evening we resumed our course, and saw nothing until day light on Tuesday morning, when a large ship, supposed to be the same, was again seen in chase of us, and again run out of sight.

This morning, at i past 3, we made Tybee light, and at half past 8 anchored near the United States ship Adams. As the enemy is hovering near to St. Mary's, I concluded he had received information of, and was waiting to intercept us. Accordingly we steered for this place, where we received intelligence of the Epervier's arrival, after frightening off a launch which was sent from the enemy's ship to leeward on Saturday evening to cut him off from the land.

From the 18th of April to the 24th we saw but one neutral, and two privateers, both which were chased without overhauling although we ran one among the shoals of Cape Carnaveral, and followed him into four fathoms water. We have been to the southward as far as the Great Isaacs, and have cruised from them to Maranilla reef, and along the Florida shore to Cape Carnaveral. Not a single running vessel has been through the gulf in all this time. The fleet sailed from Jamaica under convoy of a 74, two frigates, and two sloops, from the 1st to the 10th of May. They are so much afraid of our cruisers, that several ships in the Havanna ready for sea, which intended to run it (as it is called) were forced to wait the arrival of the convoy from Jamaica.

The Epervier and her convoy were the first English vessels we had seen.

We shall proceed in the execution of your further instructions, as soon as we can get a fore yard, provisions, and water.

The Epervier is one of their finest brigs, and is well calculated for our service. She sails extremely fast, and will require but little to send her to sea, as her armament and stores are complete.

I enclose you a list of the brig's crew, as accurately as we can get it.
I am respectfully,


U. 8. Sloop Peacock, Savannah, Sir, - 5 May, 1814.
As ray letter of yesterday -was too late for the mail, I address you again in :the performance of a duty which is pleasing and gratifying to me in a high degree, and is but doing justice to the merits of the deserving officers under my command, of whom I have hitherto refrained from speaking, as I considered it most correct to make it the subject of a particular communication.'

To the unwearied and indefatigable attention of Lieut. Nicholson (1st) in organizing and training the crew, the success of this action is in a'great measure to be attributed. I have confided greatly in have never found my confidence misplaced. In judgement, coolness, and decision in times of difficulty few can surpass him. This is the second action in which he has been engaged in this war, and in both he has been successful. His greatest pride is to earn a commander's commission by fighting for, instead of heiring it.
From Lieut. Henly (2d,) and Lieut. Voorhees, (acting 3d, who has also been twice successfully engaged,) I received every assistance that zeal, ardor, and experience could afford. The fire from their two divisions was terrible, and directed with the greatest precision and coolness.

In Sailing Master Percival, whose great wish and pride it is to obtain a lieutenant's commission, and whose unremitting and constant attention to duty, added to his professional knowledge, entitles him to it in my opinion, I found an able, as well as willing assistant. He handled the ship, as if he had been working her into a roadstead. Mr. David Cole, acting Carpenter, I have also found such an able and valuable man in his occupation, that I must request in the most earhest manner, that he may receive a warrant; for I feel confident, that to his uncommon exertion, we in a great measure owe the getting our prize into port. From 11 A. M. until 6 P. M. he was over her side, stopping shot holes, on a grating, and, when the ordinary resources failed of success, his skill soon supplied him with efficient ones. Mr. Philip Myers, master's mate, has also conducted himself in such a manner as to warrant my recommendation of him as a master. a seaman, navigator, and officer; his family in New-York is respected, and he would prove an acquisition to the service. My clerk, Mr. John S. Town'send is anxious to obtain through my means a midshipman's warrant, and has taken pains to qualify himself for it by volunteering, and constantly performing a midshipman's duty—indeed, I have but little use for a clerk, and he is as great a proficient as any of the young midshipmen, the whole of whom behaved in a manner that was pleasing to me, and must be gratifying to you, as it gives an earnest of what they will make in time—3 only have been to sea before, and 1 only in a man of war, yet they were as much at home, and as much disposed to exert themselves as any officer in the ship. Lieut. Nicholson speaks in high terms of the conduct of Messrs Greeves and Rodgers, midshipmen, who were in the prize with him. I have the honor to be,"

sir, very respectfully, your obe't serv't, 


The Epervier, being to windward, gallantly met the Peacock; .but the battle Would have ended very soon, had not Capt. Warrington hailed, to ascertain whether she had struck, (her colors being shot away,) by the time spent in which he lost a commanding position; for the action appeared to have ceased for the moment, and the brave Warrington would not shed blood wantonly. The force of the vessels in guns and weight of metal is the same,.each,rating 18, and carrying 22; but in men we had some superiority, the British having only 128,. and we about 160; but the disparity of . the-execution done excites anew our wonder. The hull of the Peacock was not struck by a round shot, whereas on the larboard side of the Epervier between 50 and GO took effect, many of them within a foot of the water line, and she was otherwise dreadfully mauled, and had one of her guns dismounted, with 5 feet water in her hold. She is one of the finest vessels of her class in the British navy, built in 1812. It is said that "when she left London, bets were three to one, that she would take an American sloop of war or small frigate."

The Peacock's length is 118 ft.—breadth of beam 32 ft.—depth of hold 14 ft.—tonnage 509—she mounts 20 guns—had 160 men—killed none, wounded 2, shots in her hull, none. The Epcrvier's length 107 ft.— breadth of beam 32 ft.—depth of hold 14 ft.-*-tonnage 477. She mounted 18 guns, same calibre with those of the Peacock—had 128 men—killed 11, wounded 15, shots in her hull 45!

The US Crew repaired the damage to USS Peacock's rigging within an hour. Peacock's first Lieutenant took charge of the Epervier and succeeded in preventing it from sinking; the prize crew had the brig ready to sail by nightfall. Epervier was found to be carrying $118,000 in specie, which was private rather than Government property. 

The next day, The Americans sighted two British frigates and the USS Peacock successfully decoyed them away from Epervier. Both vessels reached Savannah, Georgia a few days later and was sold at Savannah and purchased by government for fifty five thousand dollars taking her into the United States Navy as USS Epervier. Warrington set out again in Peacock and made a successful raiding cruise in British waters, capturing 14 merchant vessels.  

Resolution, expressive of the sense of Congress relative to the victory of the Peacock over the Epervier.
Friday, 21 October 1814
Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, That the President of the United States be requested to present to Captain Lewis Warrington, of the sloop of war Peacock, a gold medal, with suitable emblems and devices, and a silver medal, with like emblems and devices, to each of the commissioned officers, and a sword to each of the midshipmen, and to the sailing master of the said vessel, in testimony of the high sense entertained by Congress of the gallantry and good conduct of the officers and crew, in the action with the British brig Epervier, on the twenty-ninth day of April, in the year one thousand eight hundred and fourteen, in which action the decisive effect and great superiority of the American gunnery were so signally displayed.
To date, Three ships in the United States Navy have been named USS Warrington for Lewis Warrington.


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