The War in the Pacific (1813-April 1814)
Originally appointed to sail in pair with U.S.S. Constitution, after missing three scheduled rendezvous, Captain David Porter of U.S.S. Essex decided to exercise discretionary orders to sail “for the good of the service” and move into the Pacific Ocean, an area that had long fascinated him. The Spanish colonies there welcomed him, looking to the United States as an example of throwing off colonial rule and hoping for his assistance in their rebellions against Bonapartist masters.
Between April and October of 1813, Essex operated mainly around the Galapagos Islands, disrupting British whaling operations, taking twelve whalers as prizes. Porter converted one to a warship to operate in tandem with him, renaming it Essex Junior. After a busy summer, the ships moved on to Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas for a much needed overhaul. Porter tried to annex the island for the United States, but the federal government never recognized his action.
Meanwhile, the British government planned a campaign to destroy United States trading posts near the Columbia River and dispatched H.M.S. Phoebe, James Hillyar commanding, for this purpose. At Rio de Janeiro, H.M.S. Cherub, Racoon, and storeship Isaac Todd were added to the squadron. On rounding Cape Horn, Hillyar lost contact with Isaac Todd and when it did not reappear by the time he reached the equator, he assumed it had been captured and with Phoebe and Cherub, he turned to search out Essex.
Porter, meanwhile, learned of the squadron and determined to seek battle. He returned to sea in December 1813, seeking the British war squadron off Valpariso. Phoebe and Cherub arrived in early February and blockaded him into the port. On 28 March 1814, the long expected battle took place, but Essex was massively outgunned. Porter struck his colors and became a prisoner. In April, Hillyar gave Porter and his surviving men permission to sail back to the United States in the disarmed Essex Junior. While at sea, Porter began writing a defense of his actions in the Pacific.