The Action off James Island was a naval battle of the War of 1812. In May 1813 an American sloop-of-war captured three British privateers off James Island in the South Pacific. The engagement was one of the few fought in Pacific waters during the war.
Following Captain David Porter's passage of Cape Horn in USS Essex a year earlier, the United States Navy vessel focused on commerce raiding by attacking British whalers off the coast of South America. After taking several vessels, Captain Porter made a prize out of the Georgiana, a 280-ton converted sloop. The ship initially carried six guns but her armament was increased to six 18-pounders, four swivel guns and six blunderbusses. Lieutenant John Downes was placed in command with forty-two others and six volunteers, recently liberated American sailors. Downes was then ordered to proceed from the coastal area to harass the British off James Island in the Galapagos chain.
Leaving the Essex on May 12, Downes headed in a southern direction for James. While nearing the island in the afternoon on May 28, lookouts aboard the Georgiana sighted a mast and sails on the horizon. In fact the sails belonged to the 270-ton gun-brig privateer Catherine which also operated as a whaler and she was accompanied by a 220-ton gun-brig named Rose. Downes ordered his men to give chase and raised the Union Jack to trick the enemy into believing that they were not under threat. When the Americans were within range they cunningly lowered a few boats filled with men and captured the two sloops without resistance. Later the British captains revealed to Downes that they did not realize they were being attacked until after the Americans were on deck.
On board the two vessels were a total of sixteen guns, eight each, and fifty sailors who were taken prisoner. But just as the capture of the Rose and Catherine was completed, a third vessel was spotted, it was the 270-ton Hector armed with eleven guns and crewed by twenty-five men. Georgiana maneuvered to pursue and after several moments of chasing, the sun had gone down before the Americans were in firing range. In the dark, the Georgiana fired a warning shot across the Hector and she returned fire with inaccruarate broadsides. The Americans then engaged and began raking the British vessel, ripping off its main mast and most of the rigging. Four more broadsides followed and when it seemed as though the privateer's fire was weakened, Georgiana moved in to board the enemy. Just as the Americans drew near, the British lowered their colors and surrendered so the boarding took place without hostilities. Two British sailors were killed and six others seriously wounded. Apparently all of the British shots passed over the Georgiana or fell too short thus no damage or casualties were reported by the Americans.
Seventy-five prisoners were taken but because there were fewer than fifty Americans to guard them, Lieutenant Downes disarmed the captured Rose and transferred the prisoners to her. They were then released on parole and ordered to Saint Helena. Georgiana returned to the Essex which was anchored of Tumbez, Peru on June 24. On the same day as the action, David Porter captured two more whalers without incident, the Montezuma of eighteen guns and the Greenwich of ten guns. Captain Porter was now in command of nine armed vessels in the Pacific. Lieutenant Downes was promoted on November 28, 1813 for gallantry in many actions against the British and the natives of Nuka Hiva.
- Porter, D. David (1875). Memoir of Commodore David Porter: of the United States Navy. J. Munsell Publishing. p. 151.
This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.
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