John Downes (naval officer)
Commodore John Downes (1786 – 11 August 1854) was an officer in the United States Navy, whose service covered the first half of the 19th century.

Early life and career

Born in Canton, Massachusetts
Canton, Massachusetts
Canton is a town in Norfolk County, Massachusetts, United States. The population was 21,561 at the 2010 census. Canton is part of Greater Boston, about 15 miles southwest of downtown Boston.- History :...

, Downes served as acting midshipman
A midshipman is an officer cadet, or a commissioned officer of the lowest rank, in the Royal Navy, United States Navy, and many Commonwealth navies. Commonwealth countries which use the rank include Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Kenya...

 from 9 September 1800 and was appointed midshipman
A midshipman is an officer cadet, or a commissioned officer of the lowest rank, in the Royal Navy, United States Navy, and many Commonwealth navies. Commonwealth countries which use the rank include Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Kenya...

 1 June 1802. He rendered distinguished service during the First Barbary War
First Barbary War
The First Barbary War , also known as the Barbary Coast War or the Tripolitan War, was the first of two wars fought between the United States and the North African Berber Muslim states known collectively as the Barbary States...

 in 1804 in the frigate
A frigate is any of several types of warship, the term having been used for ships of various sizes and roles over the last few centuries.In the 17th century, the term was used for any warship built for speed and maneuverability, the description often used being "frigate-built"...

 , and distinguished himself again while a midshipman on the frigate New York
USS New York (1800)
The second USS New York was a three-masted, wooden-hulled sailing frigate in the United States Navy that saw service during the Quasi-War with France....

in a boat attack upon Tripoli
Tripoli is the capital and largest city in Libya. It is also known as Western Tripoli , to distinguish it from Tripoli, Lebanon. It is affectionately called The Mermaid of the Mediterranean , describing its turquoise waters and its whitewashed buildings. Tripoli is a Greek name that means "Three...

tan felucca
A felucca is a traditional wooden sailing boat used in protected waters of the Red Sea and eastern Mediterranean including Malta, and particularly along the Nile in Egypt, Sudan, and also in Iraq. Its rig consists of one or two lateen sails....


In March 1807, he was made a lieutenant, and served as executive officer for Captain David Porter
David Porter (naval officer)
David Porter was an officer in the United States Navy in a rank of commodore and later the commander-in-chief of the Mexican Navy.-Life:...

 in during her cruise in the Pacific in the War of 1812
War of 1812
The War of 1812 was a military conflict fought between the forces of the United States of America and those of the British Empire. The Americans declared war in 1812 for several reasons, including trade restrictions because of Britain's ongoing war with France, impressment of American merchant...

. Downes commanded the prize sloop
In the 18th and most of the 19th centuries, a sloop-of-war was a warship with a single gun deck that carried up to eighteen guns. As the rating system covered all vessels with 20 guns and above, this meant that the term sloop-of-war actually encompassed all the unrated combat vessels including the...

Georgiana is an English name. It is the feminine form of the male name George and a variation of the female names Georgina and Georgia. It comes from the Greek word Γεωργιος, meaning farmer.-Places:*Georgiana, Alabama*Georgiana County, New South Wales...

in the Action off James Island
Action off James Island
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...

 where he captured three British privateer
A privateer is a private person or ship authorized by a government by letters of marque to attack foreign shipping during wartime. Privateering was a way of mobilizing armed ships and sailors without having to spend public money or commit naval officers...

s, later Downes participated in the Action off Charles Island
Action off Charles Island
The Action off Charles Island was a naval battle fought during the War of 1812 in the summer of 1813 off Charles Island in the Galapagos. An American squadron of three vessels attacked three British privateers and captured them. The engagement was notable for being one of the few to occur in the...

 before sailing to Nuku Hiva
Nuku Hiva
Nuku Hiva is the largest of the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia, an overseas territory of France in the Pacific Ocean. It was formerly also known as Île Marchand and Madison Island....

 to assist in building America's first military base in the Pacific.

Among the Essex many prizes was the whale ship Atlantic, "which Captain Porter fitted as a cruiser
A cruiser is a type of warship. The term has been in use for several hundreds of years, and has had different meanings throughout this period...

 and classified as a sloop-of-war, with twenty guns, named the Essex Junior
Essex Junior
The sloop Essex Junior, formerly the British whaler Atlantic, was captured by the frigate Essex, Captain David Porter, off the Galapagos Islands on 29 April 1813...

, and placed under the command of Lieutenant Downes who retained this place until the capture of the Essex and the conversion of the Essex Junior into a cartel, 28 March 1814."

Downes was promoted to master commandant in 1813, and two years later commanded the brig
A brig is a sailing vessel with two square-rigged masts. During the Age of Sail, brigs were seen as fast and manoeuvrable and were used as both naval warships and merchant vessels. They were especially popular in the 18th and early 19th centuries...

 , in the squadron employed against Algiers
' is the capital and largest city of Algeria. According to the 1998 census, the population of the city proper was 1,519,570 and that of the urban agglomeration was 2,135,630. In 2009, the population was about 3,500,000...

 under Stephen Decatur
Stephen Decatur
Stephen Decatur, Jr. , was an American naval officer notable for his many naval victories in the early 19th century. He was born on the eastern shore of Maryland, Worcester county, the son of a U.S. Naval Officer who served during the American Revolution. Shortly after attending college Decatur...

. On 17 June 1815 he, in concert with the rest of Decatur's squadron, captured
Battle off Cape Gata
The Battle off Cape Gata, which took place June 17, 1815, was the first battle of the Second Barbary War. A squadron of vessels under the command of Stephen Decatur met and engaged the flagship of the Algerian Navy, the frigate Meshuda under Admiral Hamidou...

 the Algerian frigate Mashouda. Two days later the Epervier and three of the smaller vessels of the squadron captured
Battle off Cape Palos
The Battle off Cape Palos was the last battle of the Second Barbary War. The battle began when an American squadron under Stephen Decatur attacked and captured an Algerian brig.-Background:...

 the Algerine brig of war Estedio with twenty-two guns and 180 men off Cape Paios. After the conclusion of peace with Algiers, Decatur transferred Downes to his own ship, .

Downes also served on the and . He became captain in March 1817.

Downes took command of in 1818 and set forth on a three-year show of power for America to South America and beyond. On this trip, he decided to use the ship for his own enrichment and became a banking ship, giving protection, passage and banking service to privateer
A privateer is a private person or ship authorized by a government by letters of marque to attack foreign shipping during wartime. Privateering was a way of mobilizing armed ships and sailors without having to spend public money or commit naval officers...

s, pirates and others. He took large amounts for his own private use. He took at least 2.6 million in specie during his trip. He so angered his associates, whom he kept busy counting money under poor conditions, that one of his midshipmen, William Rodgers, resigned from the Navy after coming ashore from this three-year voyage. He cited not being able to "do what I joined this man's Navy to do. Not being able to serve my country but to simply be serving for the monetary good of Captain Downes". Captain Downes had so much specie aboard that he was able to bribe Lord Cochrane into allowing the Macedonian to pass Cochrane's blockade
A blockade is an effort to cut off food, supplies, war material or communications from a particular area by force, either in part or totally. A blockade should not be confused with an embargo or sanctions, which are legal barriers to trade, and is distinct from a siege in that a blockade is usually...


Squadron Commodore

Downes became Commodore
Commodore (rank)
Commodore is a military rank used in many navies that is superior to a navy captain, but below a rear admiral. Non-English-speaking nations often use the rank of flotilla admiral or counter admiral as an equivalent .It is often regarded as a one-star rank with a NATO code of OF-6, but is not always...

 of the Mediterranean Squadron, and from 1828 to 1829 he commanded the in the Mediterranean.

His next assignment (1832–1834) was to command the Pacific Squadron
Pacific Squadron
The Pacific Squadron was part of the United States Navy squadron stationed in the Pacific Ocean in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Initially with no United States ports in the Pacific, they operated out of storeships which provided naval supplies and purchased food and obtained water from local...

. In 1832, Downes was ordered to the coast of Sumatra
Sumatra is an island in western Indonesia, westernmost of the Sunda Islands. It is the largest island entirely in Indonesia , and the sixth largest island in the world at 473,481 km2 with a population of 50,365,538...

 to avenge an attack on an American ship, Friendship, of Salem, Massachusetts
Salem, Massachusetts
Salem is a city in Essex County, Massachusetts, United States. The population was 40,407 at the 2000 census. It and Lawrence are the county seats of Essex County...


In February 1831, the American merchant ship arrived at the harbor of Quallah Battoo on the Pedir coast of Sumatra to take on a cargo of pepper. A Malay
Malay Peninsula
The Malay Peninsula or Thai-Malay Peninsula is a peninsula in Southeast Asia. The land mass runs approximately north-south and, at its terminus, is the southern-most point of the Asian mainland...

 boat arrived, but as the pepper was loaded the Malays, on signal, attacked the officers and crew. According to Owen Rutter's "Pirate Wind", every American on board was killed before the pirates ransacked the ship and took its cargo.

The captain however, had been on shore with four of his crew. He returned to the ship, fled and received help from other American ships also trading on the coast. They returned to Salem, the headquarters of much of America's trade with the East at that time, and also reported that the local chieftain denied any knowledge of the attack in his harbor.

President Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson was the seventh President of the United States . Based in frontier Tennessee, Jackson was a politician and army general who defeated the Creek Indians at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend , and the British at the Battle of New Orleans...

, along with many Americans, was outraged and vowed retribution. If there was a regular government that Downes could deal with, he was authorized to negotiate with it, if not, he was to "inflict chastisement" on any "band of lawless pirates" responsible for the atrocity. Downes, in command of the Potomac
USS Potomac (1822)
The first USS Potomac was a frigate in the United States Navy.Potomac was laid down by the Washington Navy Yard in August 1819, was launched March 1822. Fitting out was not completed until 1831, when Captain John Downes assumed command as first commanding officer...

left New York harbor August 28, 1831 bound for Quallah Battoo by way of the Cape of Good Hope
Cape of Good Hope
The Cape of Good Hope is a rocky headland on the Atlantic coast of the Cape Peninsula, South Africa.There is a misconception that the Cape of Good Hope is the southern tip of Africa, because it was once believed to be the dividing point between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. In fact, the...

 and the Indian Ocean
Indian Ocean
The Indian Ocean is the third largest of the world's oceanic divisions, covering approximately 20% of the water on the Earth's surface. It is bounded on the north by the Indian Subcontinent and Arabian Peninsula ; on the west by eastern Africa; on the east by Indochina, the Sunda Islands, and...


First Sumatran Expedition

The ship arrived at Quallah Battoo on 5 February 1832. Although Downes was told to attempt to negotiate first, he relied on the advice of a native who seemed to be friendly and who advised that the local chieftain was unlikely to negotiate "except with a very sharp knife on his gullet."

Early on 7 February, Downes sent a detachment of marines and three detachments of seamen (a total of 282 men) with orders to take four Malay forts along the coast. They divided into three parties, attacked the forts in a combination of hand-to-hand combat and bombardment from the ship's 30-pound cannons. In five hours, the forts were taken, reportedly with all 150 of the defenders, including the local chieftain, fighting to the death.

On 9 February the ship bombarded the village itself, which caught on fire. The action resulted in another 300 dead.

Return Voyage

The Potomac then proceeded around the world, becoming the first U.S. naval vessel to circumnavigate the globe. The ship was also the first to host royalty — the king
Kamehameha III
Kamehameha III was the King of Hawaii from 1825 to 1854. His full Hawaiian name was Keaweaweula Kiwalao Kauikeaouli Kaleiopapa and then lengthened to Keaweaweula Kiwalao Kauikeaouli Kaleiopapa Kalani Waiakua Kalanikau Iokikilo Kiwalao i ke kapu Kamehameha when he ascended the throne.Under his...

 and queen of the Hawaiian Islands
Hawaiian Islands
The Hawaiian Islands are an archipelago of eight major islands, several atolls, numerous smaller islets, and undersea seamounts in the North Pacific Ocean, extending some 1,500 miles from the island of Hawaii in the south to northernmost Kure Atoll...


When Downes arrived at Valparaíso, Chile, Jeremiah N. Reynolds
Jeremiah N. Reynolds
Jeremiah N. Reynolds , also known as J.N. Reynolds, was an American newspaper editor, lecturer, explorer and author who became an influential advocate for scientific expeditions...

, an American explorer and author, joined the expedition as the commodore's private secretary for the trip and wrote a book about the experience Voyage of the United States Frigate Potomac

Downes' sea service terminated with this cruise.

On returning home, Downes was severely criticized for his harsh actions, but Jackson supported him, saying the fighting would deter future aggression. Yet the action wasn't absolutely successful — in August 1838 another American merchant ship, the Eclipse, was attacked by twenty-four Malays who had been allowed on board. The United States responded with the Second Sumatran Expedition
Second Sumatran Expedition
The Second Sumatran Expedition was a punitive expedition by the United States Navy against inhabitants of the island of Sumatra. After Malay warriors or pirates had massacred the crew of the American merchant ship Eclipse, an expedition of two American warships landed a force that defeated the...

, which had a more lasting effect.

Later life

From 1837 to 1842, and from 1850 to 1852, he commanded the Charlestown Navy Yard
Boston Navy Yard
The Boston Navy Yard, originally called the Charlestown Navy Yard and later Boston Naval Shipyard, was one of the oldest shipbuilding facilities in the United States Navy. Established in 1801, it was officially closed as an active naval installation on July 1, 1974, and the property was...

 in Boston Harbor. Captain Downes died at Charlestown, Massachusetts
Charlestown, Massachusetts
Charlestown is a neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, United States, and is located on a peninsula north of downtown Boston. Charlestown was originally a separate town and the first capital of the Massachusetts Bay Colony; it became a city in 1847 and was annexed by Boston on January 5, 1874...



Three ships in the United States Navy have been named USS Downes
USS Downes
Three ships of the United States Navy have been named Downes, in honor of Captain John Downes., a Cassin-class destroyer, commissioned in 1915, transferred to the United States Coast Guard and finally sold in 1934., a Mahan-class destroyer, commissioned in 1936 and decommissioned in 1945., a...

 in honor of him.

External links

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