Journal of a Cruise Made to the Pacific Ocean… in the United States Frigate Essex, in the Years 1812, 1813, and 1814.

The second edition is the only complete edition and generally regarded as the best one. The 1986 introduction added much information of importance and interest. – Hill. Samuel Eliot Morison called it the best bit of sea literature of the period. (See also Smith II, 1632. Howes P-484 (aa). Hill 1373.)

David Porter was the son of a Revolutionary privateersman. He went to sea in 1796 at the age of sixteen, and received his baptism of fire in an encounter with a British man-of-war. Two years later he entered the navy, and by 1811 had attained command of the frigate “Essex”. In 1813, on his own initiative, he undertook to sail the “Essex” around Cape Horn. Based on intelligence he received while provisioning at the Chilean port of Valparaiso, he began an epic sweep of the Pacific in which he virtually destroyed British shipping. He cleared the way in the Pacific for American whalemen and he established American ties with rebel governments along the South American coast. Reports of his exploits circulated widely in the newspapers of the day, and the ingenious and energetic little captain became one of the great heroes of American naval history. In the course of his year in the Pacific he captured a dozen British vessels valued at $2,500,000. Porter was an accomplished writer and, happily, left us an excellent account of this cruise. Porter died in 1843, and a contemporary manuscript note gives the date of this sale as 1853. A rare, and possibly unique, insight into the intellectual life of an American naval hero.

Volume I:

p. 81, where Porter warns against minimizing the dangers of the Cape Horn passage: In the first place, I must caution them against those erroneous expectations, which the opinion of La Perouse is unhappily calculated to lead them into, and which, perhaps, have proved fatal to many ships, by inducing their commanders to believe that the passage round Cape Horn is attended with no other difficulties than those to be met with in any other high latitude; thereby causing them to neglect those necessary precautions, which the safety of their ships, and the lives of those on board, required. He says, to use his own words, " I doubled Cape Horn with much more ease than I had dared to imagine; I am now convinced that this navigation is like that of all high latitudes; the difficulties which are expected to be met with, are the effects of an old prejudice which should no longer exist, and which the reading of Anson’s voyage has not a little contributed to preserve among seamen." On the 25th of January, La Perouse entered the Streights of Le Maire, and on the 9th of February, he was in the Pacific, in the parallel of the Streights of Magellan, making his passage in fourteen days. On the 13th of February, I passed the Streights of Le Maire, and was in the latitude of those of Magellan on the 26th, making a passage of thirteen days, a little more than a month later in the season than he passed the Cape; and as my passage, against such violent gales, was made in one day less than his, I am at a loss to conceive what should have occasioned his delay. I have the utmost respect for the memory of that celebrated navigator, and regret that I should have cause to differ with him in opinion in any point, particularly on one of so much importance, as the doubling of Cape Horn from the east.

p. 169: Next day I went on board the Policy, accompanied by most of the officers; and, after the funeral service of the church had been read by Mr. Adams, the body of doctor Miller was committed to the deep.

p. 171, on orders of a British officer: He gave orders that the property of every person should be respected; which orders, however, were not so strictly attended to as might have been expected ; besides being deprived of books, charts, &c. &c. both myself and officers lost many articles of our clothing, some to a considerable amount. I should not have considered this last circumstance of sufficient importance to notice, did it not mark a striking difference between the navy of Great-Britain, and that of the United States, highly creditable to the latter.

p. 174, when captured in Chile by a British ship of war (Captain Hillyard): Soon after the capture of the Essex, I was sent on board the Phoebe, by the officer who took possession of the Essex, I had no cause to complain of my treatment while there. Captain Hillyar’s conduct was delicate and respectful. The instant of my anchoring at Valparaiso, I was allowed to go on shore on parole, and the same privilege was granted to my officers, as well as those of my crew who were wounded….

p. 214: Nothing worthy of note occurred until the 4th of July, except the mustering of the ship’s company and prisoners of war, on the Sunday preceding, and the reading of the morning service by Captain Tucker.

p. 239-40, on being joined in Valparaiso by the companion ship, the Essex Junior, commanded by Lt. Downes: By this ship I received several letters from our consul general at Valparaiso, as well as other friends there; also letters from our consul at Buenos Ayres, and newspapers, which, though of old dates, contained news of the greatest interest to us.

We obtained intelligence by them of the re-election of Mr. Madison to the presidency, and various changes in the different executive departments of the government; as also the most satisfactory accounts of the successes of our navy, in every instance where our ships had encountered an enemy of equal force.

Volume II: The Hathi Trust editions of Vol. II seem to index the same passages as those of Volume I alone. The page numbers and transcribtions given here are accurate as far as they go. I do not now have access to a better copy of Porter’s Second edition, and recommend any user of this compilation to pursue other instances of reading in this fascinating book.