Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Blakely, Johnston

BLAKELY, JOHNSTON (1781–1814), commander in the United States' navy, was born in Dublin in October 1781. While he was still an infant, his parents emigrated to America and settled in North Carolina. In 1800 Blakely entered the States' navy, and, when the war with England broke out in 1812, had attained the rank of lieutenant. In the early months of 1813 he commanded the brig Enterprise on the east coast, but was promoted from her to the command of the Wasp, a new, large, and heavily armed sloop. In this he sailed from Portsmouth (New Hampshire) on 1 May 1814, and, crossing the Atlantic, ran boldly into the entrance of the English Channel, where, on 28 June, he fell in with and, after a short but severe action, captured the English brig Reindeer, commanded by Captain Manners, whose gallant conduct against an enemy of immensely superior force has called forth the admiration of both English and American writers. The Reindeer was so much damaged, and the risk of her recapture so great, that Blakely ordered her to be set on fire, after which he made the best of his way to Lorient, where he arrived on 8 July. For this important service congress voted him a gold medal, which, however, he did not live to receive. As soon as the Wasp was refitted he sailed from Lorient (27 Aug.) on another cruise, Within the next three days he made two prizes; and on 1 Sept., having fallen in with a convoy of ten sail under the escort of a 74-gun ship, succeeded in the course of the afternoon in cutting off and capturing one of the convoy laden with military stores of great value. The same evening, after dark, he met the English brig Avon, commanded by Captain the Hon. James Arbuthnott. The force of the Avon was very inferior to that of the Wasp, and the inferiority in her gunnery practice was almost more marked. After a running fight of about three-quarters of an hour, during which the Wasp had two men killed and one wounded, the Avon having lost forty-two men killed and wounded, and being in a sinking condition, hailed that she surrendered. The Castilian brig, of the same force as the Avon, now came up, and the Tartarus sloop was made out in the distance: so the Wasp, having her rigging a good deal cut, ran down to leeward to gain time. The Castilian at first followed her, but gave up the chase on the Avon's making urgent signals of distress; she was indeed sinking fast, and her men were scarcely out of her before she went down. The Wasp after this sailed for the south. Making two or three prizes as she went, on 21 Sept. she was in latitude 33° 12′ N.; and on 9 Oct. in latitude 18° 35′ N., longitude 30° 10′ W., she spoke a Swedish brig. This was the last known of her; she was never heard of again.

The Americans have formed a very high estimate of Blakely; and though the great superiority of the Wasp over both the Reindeer and the Avon may perhaps be considered as leaving little room for the display of any extraordinary courage, his conduct of these actions, and of his venturesome cruise in the chops of the Channel, then swarming with English men-of-war, and his successful raid on the Gibraltar convoy, all tend to show that the American estimate is not exaggerated.

[Ripley and Dana's American Cyclopedia; Roosevelt's Naval War of 1812.]

J. K. L.