Cover image for The shining sea : David Porter and the epic voyage of the U.S.S. Essex during the War of 1812
The shining sea : David Porter and the epic voyage of the U.S.S. Essex during the War of 1812
Daughan, George C.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Basic Books, 2013.
Physical Description:
xxi, 337 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
"Shortly after the outbreak of the War of 1812, Captain David Porter set out at the helm of the USS Essex, intent on rounding Cape Horn and hunting British whaling and merchant ships in the Pacific Ocean. Porter's odyssey took him to exotic isles and brought glory to the fledgling American navy, and in The Shining Sea, celebrated historian George C. Daughan tells the full story of this historic voyage for the first time. Porter's cruise is now regarded as the greatest maritime adventure of the period, but his monomaniacal quest to capture a British man-of-war ultimately cost him his ship and the lives of over two-thirds of his crew-a disgraceful end to a daring journey. A thrilling narrative of risk and ruin on the high seas, The Shining Sea brings to life one of the war's greatest tragedies, capturing Porter's immense hubris and his cataclysmic failure. "--

"After the outbreak of the War of 1812, David Porter, captain of the USS Essex and a veteran of the Quasi-War with France and the war with Tripoli, had orders to join two other American frigates so that the trio could attack British shipping in the South Atlantic. Instead Porter set off on an 18-month voyage to the Pacific in pursuit of fame and riches. Porter's quest for glory would ultimately cost him his ship and the lives of more than two-thirds of his crew, yet he was lauded as a hero upon his return to America. This book describes the most mythologized naval adventure of the War of 1812, and one of the conflict's most celebrated yet misunderstood military commanders, Captain David Porter"--
Prologue -- President Madison's war plan -- Making of a sea warrior -- Disaster in Tripoli -- Primed for battle -- Essex: past and present -- First rendezvous: Porto Praia -- In the South Atlantic, dreaming of the Pacific -- Doubling Cape Horn -- Navigating Chile's political waters -- A packed week at Valparaiso -- Peru and the elusive Nimrod -- Fortune smiles in the Galapagos Islands -- Unparalleled success -- Hunt for the Essex -- Marquesas Islands: "in vales of Eden" -- Nuku Hiva -- Annexation and war -- Mutiny -- Showdown in Valparaiso -- Butcher's bill -- Heroes come home -- Lieutenant Gamble at Nuku Hiva -- Epilogue: four lives after the war.
Conference Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Anna M. Reinstein Library E353.1.P7 D38 2013 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
Williamsville Library E353.1.P7 D38 2013 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



A few months after the outbreak of the War of 1812, Captain David Porter set out in the USS Essex on an epic, seventeen-month cruise to the South Seas. Porter was pursuing fame and riches, and by most accounts his odyssey was a stunning success: it brought glory to the fledgling American navy, cemented Porter's reputation as a daring and talented commander, and has long been celebrated as one of the greatest maritime adventures in U.S. history. Less well known, however, is the terrible price that the crew of the Essex paid for their captain's outsized ambitions.

In The Shining Sea , award-winning historian George C. Daughan tells the full story of Porter's thrilling, action-packed voyage, revealing the heights of Porter's hubris and the true depths of his failure on this fateful cruise. Intent on achieving personal glory, Porter made the treacherous journey around Cape Horn and into the Pacific Ocean, where he planned to capture a British man-of-war. From Valparaiso to the Galapagos to the Marquesas, the Essex roamed the South Seas, seizing British whaling and merchant ships, wreaking havoc on British commerce, and earning Porter and his men wealth and acclaim. Flush with his victories, Porter welcomed the news that a British frigate-the HMS Phoebe -was on his tail, and he resolved to capture her. But Porter could not overcome the Phoebe's superior firepower. Over the course of a desperate, bloody battle, he lost the Essex and over two-thirds of her crew-a shocking end to a daring journey.

A swashbuckling tale of risk and ruin on the high seas, The Shining Sea brings to life the monomaniacal quest of one of the most misunderstood commanders of the War of 1812. Porter's singular voyage, Daughan shows, stands as a cautionary tale for any leader who would put personal glory and ambition ahead of cause and countrymen.

Author Notes

George C. Daughan holds a Ph.D. in American History and Government from Harvard University. Author of If By Sea and 1812: The Navy's War , Daughan lives in Portland, Maine.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

The War of 1812 has mostly retreated from the national consciousness, even though it resulted in the burning of Washington, D.C. Maritime historian Daughan provides a reminder that 1812 was actually a global war and chronicles-capably, if drily, with many passages packed with long-forgotten sailing terminology-"the most famous voyage of the war, and one of the most spectacular in the entire age of fighting sail." Momentous as the Essex's journey was, its strategic relevance to the conflict is ambiguous. Stalled in the Atlantic, Capt. David Porter had to kill his valuable pigs and goats to conserve water-monkeys, however, were spared, since they were considered essential entertainment. Other animals were less welcome: rats tormented the sailors by "chewing through water casks... and eating their way through just about every part of the ship." Porter, ready to break from capturing British vessels off South America, sailed for Polynesia to annex "Nuku Hiva in the name of the United States, even though he had no authorization from his government to do so." Military subterfuge was likely not his primary concern, as "nothing engrossed sailors as much as thoughts of Polynesian women." Daughan's history provides the facts about this high-seas adventure, but readers may wish that his account was more entertaining. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

With substantial background information on the U.S. Navy, its circumstances of battle in the War of 1812, and the naval careers of principal commanders, Samuel Eliot Morison Award winner Daughan (If by Sea) centers on Capt. David Porter's time commanding the American frigate Essex and extending the War of 1812 into the Pacific. Porter's cruise began in early 1813 when he was ordered to harass the British with commerce raiding. He made the momentous decision to take the war to the English whaling grounds off the west coast of South America, where he captured numerous enemy vessels and was so disruptive that the English diverted several warships to catch him. Daughan richly describes the Essex's voyage, including the dangers and privations from the weather, enemy action, crew indiscipline, and the vagaries of handling a wooden ship under sail. He questions Porter's judgment in interfering in the affairs of the natives of Nuku Hiva (which he claimed as a U.S. possession) and his seeking a glorious frigate-to-frigate battle instead of preserving his ship as a continued threat through raids. VERDICT Readers, especially those well versed in naval history and terminology, will revel in this lively and thoroughly researched work covering a cruise on its bicentennial.-Lawrence Maxted, Gannon Univ. Lib., Erie, PA (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Award-winning historian Daughan provides a dramatic account of Captain David Porter and the USS Essex's 17-month cruise of the South Pacific during the War of 1812. Rounding Cape Horn in February 1813, the ambitious Porter wanted to capture a British man-of-war and disrupt British whaling and merchant commerce in the waters between Valparaiso, Chile, and the Marquesas Islands. As the first US warship to cruise the Pacific, the Essex captured 12 whale ships, bringing wealth, recognition, and acclaim to Porter and his crew. The US vessel also spent several months in the Marquesas Islands, which Porter claimed for the US and renamed the Madison Islands, in honor of then-President James Madison. Achieving personal glory, notoriety, and wealth, Porter did not encounter British warships until March 28, 1814. The British heavier-armed frigate HMS Phoebe and sloop HMS Alert, which had been looking for Porter for months, found the Essex, engaged her, and forced her to surrender. While Porter lost his ship and two-thirds of his crew during the fateful battle, the odyssey of Porter and the Essex remains one of the greatest naval adventures in US history. Summing Up: Recommended. General and undergraduate libraries. G. A. Smith Texas Christian University

Table of Contents

Introduction: The War of 1812p. ix
Mapsp. xiii
Prologuep. 1
1 President Madison's War Planp. 9
2 The Making of a Sea Warriorp. 17
3 Disaster in Tripolip. 25
4 Primed for Battlep. 37
5 The Essex: Past and Presentp. 47
6 First Rendezvous: Porto Pralap. 55
7 In the South Atlantic, Dreaming of the Pacificp. 69
8 Doubling Cape Hornp. 87
9 Navigating Chile's Political Watersp. 97
10 A Packed Week at Valparaisop. 109
11 Peru and the Elusive Nimrodp. 119
12 Fortune Smiles in the Galapagos Islandsp. 127
13 Unparalleled Successp. 145
14 The Hunt for the Essexp. 161
15 The Marquesas Islands: "In Vales of Eden"p. 171
16 Nuku Hivap. 185
17 Annexation and Warp. 199
18 Mutinyp. 209
19 Showdown in Valparaisop. 215
30 The Butcher's Billp. 235
31 The Heroes Come Homep. 247
33 Lieutenant Gamble at Nuku Hivap. 255
Epilogue: Four Lives After the Warp. 263
Acknowledgmentsp. 279
Glossaryp. 281
Notesp. 287
Select Bibliographyp. 313
Indexp. 323

Google Preview