Cruise of the Essex.


Copy of a letter from Capt. Porter, to the Secretary of the Navy.

Essex-Junior, July 3d, 1814, at Sea. […]
I proceeded, now in company with the remainder of my prizes, to the island of Nooaheeva, or Madison’s island, lying in the Washington groupe, discovered by a Capt. Ingraham, of Boston; here I caulked and completely overhauled my ship, made for her a new set of water-casks, her old ones being entirely decayed, and took on board from my prizes provisions and stores for upwards of four months, and sailed for the coast of Chili on the 12th December, 1813. Previous to sailing, I secured the Seringapatam, Greenwich, and Sir Andrew Hammond, under the guns of a battery which I erected for their protection; (after taking possession of this fine island for the Untied States, and establishing the most friendly intercourse with the natives.) I left them under the charge of Lieut. Gamble, of the marines, with 21 men, with orders to repair to Valparaiso after a certain perion.
Lansingburgh Gazette. July 26, 1814: 2 cols 1-2.


“IT is hereby made known to the world that I, David Porter, a captain in the navy of the United States of America, and now in command of the Untied States’ frigate the Essex, have, on the part of the said United States, taken possession of the island called by the natives Nooaheevah, generally known by the name of sir Henry Martin’s island, but now called Madison’s Island. That by the request and assistance of the friendly tribes residing in the valley of Tienhoi, as well as of the tribes residing on the mountains, whom we have conquered and rendered tributary to our flag, I have caused the village of Madison to be built, consisting of six convenient houses, a rope-walk, bakery, and other appurtenances, and for the protection of the same, as well as for that of the friendly natives, I have constructed a fort, calculated for mounting sixteen guns, whereon I have mounted four, and called the same ‘Fort Madison.’
“Our right to this island, being founded on priority of discovery, conquest, and possession, cannot be disputed; but the natives, to secure to themselves that friendly protection which their defenceless situation so much required, have requested to be admitted into the great American family, whose pure republican policy approaches so near their own; and, in order to encourage these views to their own interest and happiness, as well as to render secure our claim to an island valuable on many considerations, I have taken on myself to promise them that they shall be so adopted; that our chief shall be their chief, and they have given assurances that such of their brethren as may hereafter visit them from the United States shall enjoy a welcome and hospitable reception among them, and be furnished with whatever refreshments and supplies the island may afford; that they will protect them against all their enemies, and that, as far as lies in their power, they will prevent the subjects of Great Britain (knowing them to be such) from coming among them until peace shall have taken place between the two nations.
“Presents, consisting of the produce of the island to a great amount, have been brought in by every tribe in the island, not excepting the most remote, and have been enumerated as follows: [Here follows the enumeration of thirty-one tribes.] Most of the above have requested to be taken under the protection of our flag; and all have been willing to purchase, on any terms, a friendship which promises them so many advantages.
“Influenced by these considerations of humanity, which promise speedy civilization to those who enjoy every mental and bodily endowment which nature can bestow, and which requires only art to perfect, as well as by views of policy, which secures to my country a fruitful and populous island, possessing every advantage of security and supplies for vessels, and which of all others is most happily situated as respects climate and local position, I declare that I have, in the most solemn manner, under the American flag displayed in Fort Madison, and in the presence of numerous witnesses, taken possession of said island, called ‘Madison Island,’ for the use of the United States, whereof I am a citizen, and that the act of taking possession was announced by a salute of seventeen guns from the artillery of Fort Madison, and returned by the shipping in the harbor, which is hereafter to be called ‘Massachusetts Bay.’ And that our claim to this island may not hereafter be disputed, I have buried in a bottle at the foot of the flag-staff in Fort Madison a copy of this instrument, together with several pieces of money, the coin of the United States.
“In witness whereof, I have hereunto affixed my signature, this 19th day of November, 1813.
“David Porter.”
Porter, David. Journal of a Cruise Made to the Pacific Ocean by David Porter in the United States Frigate Essex, in the Years 1812, 1813 and 1814. Philadelphia, PA: Bradford and Inskeep, 1815. 82. [The declaration previously appeared in many newspapers]
“Madison’s Island.” Albany Gazette [NY]. June 18, 1814: 2 col 4.

Having been nearly a year at sea, he found that his ship would require some repairs, to enable her to face the foe; he repaired, therefore, accompanied by several of his prizes, to the Island of Nooaheevah, one of the Washington groupe, discovered by a Captain Ingraham of Boston. Here he landed, took formal possession of the island in the name of the government of the United States, and gave it the name of Madison’s Island. He found it large, populous and fertile […]
Irving, Washington. “Biographical Memoir of Captain David Porter.” Analectic Magazine. September 1814. 234.

Review of Porter’s Journal.


THERE has appeared in the last Analectic Magazine, published at Philadelphia, a part of Capt. Porter’s journal of his cruise in the Pacific. It is to be seen in the Magazine for October and November of this year, and it is ushered into notice by the editor with much apparent approbation […]
The conduct of Capt. Porter is calculated to excite a dread and horror of civilized Americans throughout all Polynesia. […]
And shall such tragedies pass before us unheeded as the idle wind? On hearing of these things, the man of serious and devout meditation will be apt to start, and enquire anxiously what has become of the moral sense of this country—He will have great reason to fear that God has given our nation up to a reprobate sense, and has said of them as he said of Ephraim of old, “they are joined to idols; let them alone.”
Lansingburgh Gazette. December 20, 1814: 2 cols 1-3.


“What in the captain’s but a choleric word,
“That in the soldier is foul blasphemy!”
Com. Porter has published part of his journal, in which he discloses transactions of a most extraordinary nature, which commit the character and honor of this country. He relates that he made war upon the Typees, a tribe in Madison’s Island, who had never troubled or molested this country. He says that on the 28th Nov. last,
“We continued our march up the valley and met in our way several beautiful villages which we set fire to, and at length arrived at their capital, for it deserved the name of one; the place was soon carried, and I very reluctantly set FIRE to it, for the beauty and regularity of this place was such as to strike every spectator with astonishment. Their grand site or public square was far superior to any other we had met with. Numbers of their GODS were here destroyed; several elegant and large war canoes, which had never been used, were burnt in the houses that sheltered them. Our friendly Indians [his allies] loaded themselves with plunder after destroying bread fruit and other trees and all the young plants they could find. We returned after being absent about four hours, leaving behind us a scene of ruin and desolation.
He says the number of villages he destroyed amounted to TEN, and that the destruction of trees and plants, and the plunder carried off by his Indian tributaries was almost incredible. He made much havoc and slaughter among the Happans, but lost none of his own men except a sergeant who died of fatigue a few days after.
“When I had reached the summit of the mountain, (proceeds this philosophical journal) I stopped to contemplate that valley in all its beauty, the scene of abundance and happiness, a long line of smoking ruins now marked our trace from one end to the other: the opposite hills were covered with the unhappy fugitives, and the whole presented a scene of devastation and horror?
Reader! are you an American! then here stop and cover your face!
Geneva Gazette [NY]. January 18, 1815: 2 col 2.

It appears that our Colony in the Pacific Ocean, (Madison’s Island, &c.) has revolted.
Commercial Advertiser [NY]. September 7, 1815: 2. [Citing Boston Palladium]
Intelligencer [Portsmouth, NH]. September 7, 1815: 2.
Rhode-Island American [Providence, RI]. September 8, 1815: 3.
Weekly Visiter [Kennebunk, ME]. September 9, 1815: 2.
Republican Star [Easton, MD]. September 12, 1815: 3.
Ohio Repository [Canton, OH]. October 5, 1815: 3 col 3. [Citing Bost Pat.]

Documents accompanying his Excellency the Governor’s Speech.

To his Excellency Daniel D. Tompkins, and the honorable the Legislature of the State of New-York.
THE Inspectors of the State Prison beg leave to represent, that the present situation of the State Prison is such as to make it our imperious duty to lay before your Excellency and the Legislature, as candid and correct a statement of its present situation as is in our power, hoping and presuming that it will receive that attention which a matter of so much importance requires. It is a melancholy fact, that crime of every description is making a rapid progress throughout the state, and that candidates for the state prison are increasing to an alarming degree (notwithstanding the pardon of a great number of prisoners within the last year) so much so, that there are now confined within the walls seven hundred and twenty-two prisoners, and new subjects are daily coming in. […]
It will readily be admitted that these convicts (or at least a large proportion, of them) are of desperate characters, and a rush or insurrection, when in their minds a favorable opportunity should offer, is much to be feared, and ought to be guarded against. It is true, that every precaution, and the utmost vigilance is used by the officers of the institution and the guard; but all this precaution and vigilance may not always avail against hundreds of desperate men, whose crimes have hardened them in sin, and who, to obtain their liberty, would risk the consequences, however forlorn the hope or desperate the undertaking. This institution in its present situation can safely and conveniently contain five hundred convicts, and employ them usefully; but more than that number, as before observed, is a bill of cost. The establishment of this institution was for the purpose of punishing, and at the same time reclaiming (if possible) those who had violated the laws of the country; the objects, as the situation of the institution now is, cannot possibly be effected, and the reason is obvious. It is because convicts, in consequence of their overflowing numbers, and to make room for others, who are daily coming in, are pardoned out before the punishment which their crimes merit has had its effect; they know this, and should they again be convicted and sent back, anticipate the same release from the same cause. With these facts before us, it has become matter of serious consideration, whether the state prison has not a tendency to demoralise, rather than to reclaim criminals ; for whenever punishment is so far mitigated as not to be dreaded, the law fails in the effect it proposes to produce. We are therefore firmly of opinion, that some different plan for the punishment of crimes of the first magnitude, such as arson, forgery and other felonies of the deepest die, ought to be adopted, or a state prison in every district will be required to contain the delinquents.
Permit us then, to suggest to your Excellency and the honorable the Legislature, the propriety of recommending, through our Representatives in Congress, the establishment by the general government of a Colony on the north west coat of America, at or near the Columbia River, or at Madison Island, to which convicts of aforementioned class, shall be transported. If however the government of the United States should object to this plan, why may not this State adopt a similar one, on a smaller scale, and six on some place on the frontiers of the State, where they may be sent and usefully employed to keep them from committing in future their depredations on society. Believing that the utility as well as the necessity of some distant place being fixed upon, to which certain convicts in the different states of the Union may be transported will be generally acknowledged by Congress, we feel anxious that the subject should be submitted to their consideration as early as possible. […]
Signed in behalf of the Board of Inspectors.
State Prison Office,
New-York, Oct. 24, 1816.
Ulster Plebian. December 3, 1816: 1.
American [Hanover, NH]. December 11, 1816: 4.

The inspectors of the New York state prison, in an address to the Legislature, recommend a suggestion, through that body, to Congress, to establish a colony on the northwest coast of America, or at Madison Island, to which convicts may be transported. Better set the convicts of that state to work on the canal.
“Summary……….Foreign and Domestic.” American Watchman [Wilmington, DE]. November 23, 1816: 3.

Deliverance from Solitude and Distress.

Mr. Powell, Commander of the Queen Charlotte, informs us of the interesting circumstance of his having recovered from [Motu Iti] a rock twenty-one miles N. W. of Nooaheevah (one of the Marquesas), a man that had been its solitary inhabitant for nearly three years. His account stated, that early in 1814 he proceeded thither from Nooaheevah with four others, all of whom had left an American ship there, for the purpose of procuring feathers, that were in high estimation among the natives of Nooaheevah; but losing their boat on the rock three of his companions in a short time perished through famine, and principally from thirst, as there was no water but what was supplied by rains. His fourth companion continued with him but a few weeks; when he formed a resolution of attempting to swim, with the aid of a splintered fragment that remained of their boat, to an island, in which effort he must have inevitably perished. He had once himself attempted to quit his forlorn situation by constructing a catamaran, but sailed, and lost all means of any future attempt. They had originally taken fire with them from Nooalieevah, which he had always taken care to continue, except on one occasion, when, it became extinguished, and never could have been restored but by a careful preservation of three or four grains of gunpowder, and the lock of a musket which he had broke up for the construction of his catamaran. The flesh and blood of wild birds were his sole aliment: with the latter he quenched his thirst in seasons of long droughts, and the skulls of his departed companions were his only drinking vessels. The discovery made of him from the Queen Charlotte was purely accidental : the rock was known to be desolate and barren, and the appearance of a fire as the vessel passed it on an evening, attracted notice, and produced an inquiry which proved fortunate to the forlorn inhabitant of the rock, in procuring his removal to Nooaheevah, whither Mr. Powell conveyed him, and left him under the care of a European of the name of Wilson, who has resided there for many years, and with whom the hermit had had a previous acquaintance.
“Interesting Intelligence from the British Settlements in India.” Literary Panorama, and National Register. September 1817. 976-977.

The ship Lion, Townsend, arrived here from Canton, has brought to this country, three natives of Madison’s Island, in the South Sea, which, it will be recollected, was taken possession of by Capt. Porter, in the frigate Essex, in November, 1813, for the United States. Two of them are young men, upwards of 20 years old, probably, and the other a lad of about 12. They are copper-colored, and tattooed according to their custom, by puncturing the skin and introducing a dark liquid, which has a singular appearance.—They appear to be inoffensive youths, and as they are American citizens, having been adopted into the great American family, we trust they will be treated with kindness and hospitality.
Providence Patriot [RI]. April 17, 1819: 2 col 5.
Philadelphia Gazette [PA]. April 24, 1819: 3 col 1.
City of Washington Gazette [DC] April 26, 1819: 2.
Connecticut Herald [CT]. April 27, 1819: 2.
Maryland Gazette and Political Intelligencer [Annapolis, MD]. April 29, 1819: 3 cols 2-3.
Yankee [Boston, MA]. April 29, 1819: 2.
Republican Gazette and General Advertiser [Frederick, MD]. May 1, 1819: 3.
National Register 7(18) [Washington, DC]. May 1, 1819. 288.
Cabinet [Schnectady, NY]. May 5, 1819: 3.
Bangor Weekly Register [ME]. May 6, 1819: 2.
Columbian Museum [Savannah, GA]. May 10, 1819: 3 col 1.
Trump of Fame [Warren, OH]. May 13, 1819: 4.

We mentioned a few days since, the arrival here of three natives of Madison’s Island, in the ship Lion; since when, we have been informed by Capt. Townsend, that the fortification and buildings erected by Com. Porter had been demolished, but the benign influence of his exertions and the fame of his name still remained with the natives, who live in great harmony and social intercourse. The hostile tribes learnt war no more; and the Typees were frequent visitors of the Lion, while she lay at the island.
Providence Patriot [RI]. April 28, 1819: 2 col 5.

[Commodore David Porter] proceeded the to the island of Nooahevah, one of the Washington groupe, to make repairs. On the 19th of November, 1813, he took formal possession of this island in behalf of the United States of America, by the name of Madison’s Island. It is situate between the latitude of 9 and 10 S. and in longitude 140 W. from Greenwich, and is large, fertile, and populous.
French, Benjamin Franklin. Biographia Americana; or, A Historical and Critical Account of the Lives, Actions, and Writings of the Most Distinguished Persons in North America. NY: D. Mallory, 1825. 247-148.

Extract of a Letter to a Gentleman in the District of Colombia. […]
In my opinion, our nation would be far more safe without a single ship of war, than with 300 such ships, if commanded by such men as Porter avowed himself to be, or as Percival is, if his conduct at the Sandwich Islands has been correctly stated in the public papers.
What a degrading opinion must Captain Porter have entertained of the morals of his countrymen, and of the officers of government, when he published his “Journals” of the most shameless debaucheries, and of his war on the natives of Madison’s Island;—a war in which he violated the laws of nations, the laws of his own country, wantonly exposed the lives of his own men, murdered a considerable number of the Typees, and inhumanly burnt a beautiful range of villages, nine miles in length! I blush for my country when I reflect, that a “Journal” of such horrid deeds, perpetrated by an American officer, could escape the censure of our government, and find subscribers for a second edition. If that “JOURNAL,” with its sale, may be regarded as a thermometer, expressing the state of morals in our land, our virtue will not be found higher than zero. If such conduct as Porter’s, is still to be tolerated in our naval commanders, the sooner our navy is annihilated, the better it will be for the nation. However, I cannot but hope that the present officers of government have virtue enough, to cause justice to be done in the affair of Capt. Percival.” R.
Christian Register [Boston, MA]. February 24, 1827: 29 col 5, 30 col 1.

Caution to Navigators.— […] The murderous affair at Madison’s Island, as narrated by Commodore Porter, will not probably be forgotten, nor forgiven, during the present age. Concerning the commodore’s conduct at that time, it is not necessary at this moment to enter into any argument of vindication or condemnation—whether justifiable or not, it would be imminently hazardous for the unarmed ships of any civilized power to approach that spot—and we are not certain, but that some of our missing whalers in that region have fallen victims to the unappeased spirit of savage revenge, and been made to atone for the desolation and bloodshed caused by the forces under our flag.—[Boston Bulletin.]
New-York American for the Country. July 15, 1828: 1.



Capt. David Porter’s Cruise in the Essex During the War of 1812—How He Annexed an Island of the Marquesas Group—His Army, His Navy, His Wars, and His Citizens—The Fate of Madisonville

Within the space of a single week the people of the United States and the world at large have seen American dominion extended over two archipelagoes in the Pacific Ocean, over the Ladrones by a small conquest and over the Hawaiian islands by Congressional action. This annexation business in the Pacific is really no new thing, novel as it may seem. Few are aware that eighty-five years ago a start was made in annexing the islands of the Pacific. Gazetteers make no reference now to Madison Island in the South Pacific; to its seat of Government, Madisonville; to Fort Madison (pierced for sixteen guns), which defended it; to Massachusetts Bay, at the head of which the capital was situated. Yet all these places were once incorporated with the territory of the United States. The tattooed savages who lived there were admitted into “the great American family, whose pure republican policy approaches so near their own,” and as annexation was proclaimed by a Captain of the navy of the United States, the fort bellowed out a salute of seventeen guns. […]
For a nation which makes no pretension to being one of the great military powers, the United States seem to have got into trouble with somebody at pretty regular intervals, so timed that there has always been a chance to talk about “the late war.” The events connected with the annexation of Madison Island were a somewhat disconnected but highly interesting chapter in the history of “our late war with England,” the war of 1812. […]
The narrative of a later visitor has made this island better known to the world in general, perhaps, than any other spot of land in the South Seas. […]
Even as long afterward as 1842, when the French extended their protectorate over the Marquesas, the people of Nukahiva assured the French officers that they were Americans and had been such since the time of their fathers, when Opotee [Porter] made them a part of his country. The diplomatic agents of France on this account refrained from including Nukahiva in the protectorate until they had received assurances from Washington that the annexation, while valid at the time and as a war measure, had lapsed through failure to ratify. […]
Diseases have reduced the native population to a mere handful and none survives who retains any traditions of the past. Not one was found who recalled the faintest memory of the sojourn of Porter and the annexation by which Nukahiva became a part of America. In return for a tin of biscuit as wages and the promise of a most gratifying reward in case of success a gang of men dug up the surface of the site of Fort Madison in search of the duplicate copy of the proclamation of annexation which porter deposited in a bottle and buried at the foot of his flagstaff in order to secure the rights of his country for all time. The search was vainly prosecuted to a depth of several feet; neither bottle nor paper was found. The nearest approach to any reminiscence of Porter was the name of the head man of this gang, Poti.
The Sun [NY]. July 17, 1898: 26 cols 1-3.


We have been favored by so many defenders of Expansion, from Harvard professors down, with all sorts of precedents for Mr. McKinley’s benevolent assimilation of the Philippines, that we have noticed with surprise the silence of the Imperialistic press about one of the closest analogies in the history of our country. This was the occupation of Madison Island in the Pacific by Capt. David Porter, even in defeat the Dewey of his day, and the hoisting there of the American flag, not yet Old Glory, in token of the Republic’s suzerainty. It is to Dr. J. N. Callahan of Johns Hopkins University that we owe the resurrection of the long-forgotten facts about this brilliant episode in our national history. […]
The Evening Post [NY]. March 13, 1901: 6 col 4.

It is not generally known that the first step in the annexation of the islands of the Pacific was taken in 1813. In another part of this work, the story of the gallant Essex has been told, under her commander, Captain David Porter, father of Admiral D. D. Porter, and instructor of Cadet D. G. Farragut. […] A defensive work, Fort Madison, was completed, and on November 19, 1813, the flag of the United States was hoisted over the fort, and possession of Nukuhiva taken by the United States under the name of Madison Island. This beautiful and fertile island is eighteen miles long and ten broad, and at that time contained a population of 60,000. […] The annexation of Nukuhiva, though valid at the time as a war measure, lapsed through failure to ratify
Ellis, Edward S. The History of Our Country from the Discovery of America to the Present Time. Indianapolis, IN: J. H. Woolling & Co., 1905. 2022.

It was not Porter’s fault that his annexation of Nukahiva was not followed by permanent occupation, nor is it just to his memory that this really great and far-sighted act should be forgotten.
Beach, Edward L. “The Pioneer of America’s Pacific Empire: David Porter.” United States Naval Institute Proceedings 34(2). June 1908. 563.