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Captain Blakeley and the Wasp: The Cruise of 1814


Stephen W.  H. Duffy

Hardcover: 348 pages including Index, extensive Notes and Bibliography.

Publisher: US Naval Institute Press (2001)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1557501769


In celebration of the 200th anniversary of the start of his historic, and ill fated, cruise, it is my honor to present to you a brief review of a narrative of Captain Johnston Blakeley's career in the early American navy, culminating in one of the greatest raiding cruises every undertaken.


There are many tales of the accomplishments of America’s young navy during the War of 1812, and several of the most famous names in American Naval History were blazed into the national consciousness during that conflict.  Although the most successful American naval officer of the War of 1812, Johnston Blakely never enjoyed the fame that he had for so long desired.  His fame was posthumous.


In Captain Blakeley and the Wasp: The Cruise of 1814, Stephen Duffy tells, in a readable and coherent fashion, the story of Master Commandant Johnston Blakeley and the highly successful cruise of the American sloop of war Wasp in 1814. Duffy draws on archival information from numerous institutions to introduce the reader to the young Blakeley, tracing his youth and formative years through to his early years serving under Thomas Truxton on the President and John Rodgers on the John Adams to his command of the brig Enterprise in 1811. Blakeley’s skills and ambition are rewarded – he is sent to Newburyport, Massachusetts to supervise the construction of the Sloop of War Wasp.


Duffy demonstrates his passion for detail and accuracy as he chronicles the building of the Wasp and Blakeley's struggles to outfit and crew his new ship, an effort made more difficult by national politics and by rivalries within the Navy. Designed by Naval Constructor William Doughty as a commerce raider, Wasp was rated at 509 tons and 22 guns with a crew of 173.  Blakeley left port on May 1, 1814, at the helm of the newly commissioned Wasp


Blakeley captured his first prize on June 2, 1814.  Within the following month, the Wasp captured and burned four more prizes.  Blakeley secured his place in American naval history on June 28, 1814.   Blakeley and his crew chased and brought to battle the Royal Navy’s HMS Reindeer, a Cruizer class brig sloop of 18 guns.  One of the hardest fought battles of the war followed, and when it had concluded, Blakeley’s guns had overpowered and reduced the British vessel to a drifting hulk.  Also damaged, Blakeley sailed to L’Orient, France to offload prisoners and seek repairs.  En route, despite the damage incurred during the battle with the Reindeer, the Wasp still captured two more prizes.


The Wasp was back at sea by August 27, and Blakeley set course for Gibraltar.  He continued cruising successfully throughout the fall, even winning a battle over the HMS Avon.  As news of Blakeley’s success filtered back to the United States in October and early November, he became a hero, and Congress promoted him to Captain on November 24.  Meanwhile, the Wasp’s return was long overdue, and rumors swirled concerning the ship’s fate.  The British never made claims to sinking the ship, but the Wasp vanished somewhere on the Atlantic, possibly foundering in a gale.  The last confirmed sighting was by a Swedish crew on the Adonis.  They saw the Wasp on October 9, 1814, some 225 miles southwest of Madeira.


Duffy is able to provide a cogent and informative interpretation of the available archival records, and brings Blakeley to life as a tragic hero of his time. Faced with the common constraint imposed on any student of history, Duffy was faced with the paucity of primary source accounts from Blakeley and his close associates, as well as the conflicting accounts in the British and American records.  Duffy was very selective and effective in his use of reasonable speculation about the thoughts of the young officer regarding various situations. Mr. Duffy has succeeded in providing not just a story of a young man who was in the right place with the right ship at the right time, but also presents a well-researched and documented study of a junior officer in the small American navy at the beginning of the 19th Century.






Neither should a ship rely on one small anchor, nor should life rest on a single hope.

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I've read many many many books about this period of US Navy history.  This is my favorite.


My understanding is that the author is a reclusive genius who is very smart, very handsome, and only comes out at night.  He has been known, apparently, to venture into online forums and pose as an interested modeler to test the waters to see if there is actually any intelligent life out there... My information is from Frolick, who may not be as reliable as we could hope...



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OK, y'all outed me.


I just want to express my appreciation for those of you here who bought a copy. and especially to those who enjoyed it. This was a eight year labor of love.  It took me that long to piece together the life of Captain Blakeley, as the few surviving papers were scattered and it was all done pre-internet. The story of the life of Johnston Blakeley read to me like a Greek tragedy: A young, obscure naval officer with little influence, he being a recent orphan, climbs his way up the latter, performing thankless, but necessary service to his country's navy. He finally receives the acknowledgement and glory that he sought his whole life for - but at a terrible price. Blakeley's life reads in many ways like a bad novel. For example:


Blakeley's planned June, 1812 battle in the Balize Rive between the Brig Enterprize, 16 guns, mostly 18-pounders, and the quarter-decked ship-rigged Corvette HMS Brazen, 28 guns, mostly 32-pounders, only to be aborted last minute by the great Hurricane of that year that destroyed New Orleans.


The Thomas Paine inspired university riots, at the then religious UNC, Chapel Hill, that got Student-President Blakeley tossed out of college and sent into the navy - only to have Paine's illegitimate son come aboard the Wasp, 14 years later, as a midshipman. Blakeley then puts troublesome Thomas Paine Bonneville in a prize, to get rid of him, alongside prize-master Midshipman David Geissinger, the future highest ranking pre-civil war naval officer. They would be the Wasp's only two surviving officers


The Wasp nearly meeting HMS Hibernia, 110 guns, in the English Channel in 1814, under the command of Admiral Sir Sydney Smith. Blakeley served under Smith's illegitimate son, Lieutenant Charles Grandison of the Hornet in 1806.


And of course, Blakeley's triumph over two comparatively rated British enemy sloops of war, the Reindeer and the Avon, while out on the same cruise, a feat not equalled in the American sailing navy.


Then there is the mystery of the Wasp's disappearance at sea, some time after October, 1814. It was thrilling to piece together all the known accounts and theories about her fate from contemporary letters, logbooks, and newspapers. Did she wreck on the African shore with her survivors sold into slavery? Was she chased by the Frigates Hyperion, or Horatio, or the Aquilon? Maybe. Did she chase two small English sloops of war off Tenerife? Probably. According to the Admiralty, some one who looked like her did. Did she put into Mogadore, Morocco? Did she wreck off Charleston, SC in November, 1814, after a chase with the Frigate Lacedemonian, as the papers reported?


Blakeley's life was an amazing story, and I am grateful that no one had written his biography prior to my book.


Lest you think that I am just trying to increase sales by writing this, be advised that "Blakeley and the Wasp" sold out of Naval Institute Press many years ago. But I do encourage you to pick up a used copy ...   :)

Edited by uss frolick
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Mr Duffy.. post-76-0-98420800-1402532494.gif

"The shipwright is slow, but the wood is patient." - me

Current Build:                                                                                             
Past Builds:
 La Belle Poule 1765 - French Frigate from ANCRE plans - ON HOLD           Triton Cross-Section   

 NRG Hallf Hull Planking Kit                                                                            HMS Sphinx 1775 - Vanguard Models - 1:64               


Non-Ship Model:                                                                                         On hold, maybe forever:           

CH-53 Sikorsky - 1:48 - Revell - Completed                                                   Licorne - 1755 from Hahn Plans (Scratch) Version 2.0 (Abandoned)         



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