President James Madison’s Appointment of David Porter, the Foremost American Naval Hero of the Age, to Captain a Ship in the War of 1812

We obtained this document directly from the Porter heirs, signed by both Porter and Madison

One of the two most important military appointments we have ever carried in our thirty years

Commodore David Porter was America’s most dashing naval hero between the Revolution and the Civil War. He was also the most visionary, powerful and often volatile. Porter commanded a number of US naval ships, including the...

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President James Madison’s Appointment of David Porter, the Foremost American Naval Hero of the Age, to Captain a Ship in the War of 1812

We obtained this document directly from the Porter heirs, signed by both Porter and Madison

One of the two most important military appointments we have ever carried in our thirty years

Commodore David Porter was America’s most dashing naval hero between the Revolution and the Civil War. He was also the most visionary, powerful and often volatile. Porter commanded a number of US naval ships, including the famous USS Constitution. His first tour after enlisting in the Navy was as a midshipman on board the frigate USS Constellation, one of the first five ships in the Navy. On board the Constellation he participated in the capture of the French ship L’Insurgente during the Quasi-War with France. He then served on the USS Experiment and later commanded the USS Amphitheatre. During the First Barbary War (1801 to 1807) he was a 1st lieutenant on the schooner USS Enterprise, the frigate USS New York, and frigate USS Philadelphia, and was taken prisoner when USS Philadelphia ran aground in Tripoli harbor on October 31, 1803. After his release in June 1805, he remained in the Mediterranean as captain of the iconic USS Constitution and later captain of the USS Enterprise. From 1808 until 1810 he was in charge of the US Naval forces at New Orleans, Louisiana, and clashed with pirate Jean Laffite. During the War of 1812 he commanded the frigate USS Essex and captured the first British warship of the conflict, the HMS Alert. In February 1813 he sailed the USS Essex around Cape Horn in South America and cruised the Pacific Ocean warring on British whalers. Over the next year, he captured 12 whale ships and 360 prisoners, virtually crippling the British whaling industry. Porter was the first to suggest that the U.S. Navy open Japan, which was not done for another 30 years. Porter’s role in bottling up the British fleet after their attack on Washington in 1814 played a key role in preventing a catastrophic defeat. So wherever there was a naval conflict in those decades, Porter was there.

Porter was the father of the two most important admirals in the Civil War. David Dixon Porter was his son, and David G. Farragut his adopted son. The Porters are probably the most illustrious family in American naval history.

Document signed, with engraved eagles, cannons and banners, Washington, July 2, 1812, signed by Madison as President, appointing Porter a Captain to serve in the newly-declared War of 1812. Navy Secretary Paul Hamilton has countersigned the document. That very day Porter hoisted the banner “Free trade and sailors’ rights” as captain of USS Essex, a slogan that resonated with the American people at the time. Porter has signed on the left side of the document.

We obtained this document directly from the Porter heirs, and it has never before been offered for sale. They inform us that Porter carried this document on his ship, and often on his person, throughout the War of 1812. Thus, it ranks as one of the two most important military appointments we have ever carried, the other being that of John C. Fremont by President Polk, which we had over two decades ago.

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