Verse > Anthologies > William McCarty, ed. > The American National Song Book
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William McCarty, comp.  The American National Song Book.  1842.
 
On the Capture of the United States Frigate Essex
By Philip Freneau (1752–1832)
 
          Of thirty-two guns, David Porter, Esq., commander, in the neutral port of Valparaiso, on the coast of Chili, in South America, January, 1814, by the British frigate Phœbe, Captain Hillyer, of forty-nine guns, and the Cherub, of thirty-two guns

“All the devils were there, and hell was empty!”

FROM cruising near the southern pole,
Where wild Antarctic oceans roll,
With a gallant crew, a manly soul,
      Heroic Porter came.
Then, weathering round the stormy cape, 1        5
And facing death in every shape,
Which Anson 2 hardly could escape,
      (So says the page of fame,)
 
He made the high Chilesian coast,
The Andes, half in vapour lost,        10
The Andes topp’d with snow and frost,
      Eternal winter’s reign!
Then, to the rugged western gale,
He spread the broad Columbian sail;
And, Valparaiso, thy fair vale        15
      Received him with his men.
 
There, safely moor’d, his colours fly,
Columbia’s standard waved on high:
The neutral port, his friends, were nigh;
      So gallant Porter thought;        20
Nor deem’d a foe would heave in sight,
Regardless of all neutral right;
And yet that foe he soon must fight,
      And fight them as he ought.
 
His Essex claim’d his fondest care,        25
With her he every storm could dare,
With her, to meet the blast of war,
      His soul was still in trim;
In her he cruised the northern main,
In her he pass’d the burning line,        30
In her, he all things could attain,
      If all would act like him.
 
At length, two hostile ships appear,
And for the port they boldly steer;
The Phœbe first, and in her rear        35
      The Cherub, all secure.
They loom’d as gay as for a dance,
Or ladies painted in romance—
Do mind how boldly they advance,
      Who can their fire endure?        40
 
The Phœbe mounted forty-nine,
All thought her on some grand design—
Does she alone the fight decline?
      Say, Captain Hillyer, say?
The Cherub’s guns were thirty-two,        45
And, Essex! full a match for you—
Yet, to her bold companion true,
      She hugg’d her close that day.
 
Ye powers that rule the southern pole!
Are these the men of English soul?        50
Do these, indeed, the waves control?
      Are these the ocean’s lords?
Though challenged singly to the fight,
(As Porter, Hillyer did invite,)
These men of spunk, these men of might,        55
      Refused to measure swords!
 
“What! fight alone!” bold Hillyer said—
“I will not fight without my aid—
The Cherub is for war array’d,
      And she must do her share!”        60
Now Porter saw their dastard plan—
To fight them both was surely vain;
We should have thought the man insane
      That would so madly dare.
 
Then, hands on deck! the anchor weigh!        65
And for the sea he left the bay,
A running fight to have that day,
      And thus escape his foes.
But, O! distressing to relate,
As round a point of land he beat        70
A squall from hell the ship beset,
      And her maintopmast goes.
 
Unable to attain that end,
He turns toward the neutral friend,
And hoped protection they might lend,        75
      But no protection found.
In this distress the foe advanced—
With such an eye at Essex glanced!
And such a fire of death commenced,
      As dealt destruction round.        80
 
With every shot they raked the deck,
Till mingled ruin seized the wreck;
No valour could the ardour check
      Of England’s martial tars!
One hundred men the Essex lost:        85
But Phœbe found, and to her cost,
That Porter made them many a ghost
      To serve in Satan’s wars.
 
O! clouded scene!—yet must I tell
Columbia’s flag indignant fell—        90
To Essex, now, we bid farewell—
      She wears the English flag!
But, Yankees, she has none on board,
To point the gun or wield the sword;
And though commanded by a lord        95
      They’ll have no cause to brag.
 
Note 1. Cape Horn; being the most southern extremity of the island of Terra del Fuego, which is separated from the continent of America by the straits of Magellan, lat. 56° S., long. 67° 26' West. [back]
Note 2. See Lord Anson’s voyage round the world, between 1740 and 1744, by his chaplain, the Rev. Richard Walter. The terrors and dangers of a winter passage round Cape Horn into the Western Ocean, are depicted in that work by a masterly hand who was witness to the scene. [back]
 
 
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