Johnston Blakeley, North Carolina’s most noted naval hero of the War of 1812, was born in October 1781 in Seaford, County Down, Ireland. At the age of two he and his family emigrated to Charleston, South Carolina. Soon after, his mother and an infant died. Johnston and his father, John Blakeley, moved to Wilmington. In 1790 he was taken into the home of Edward and Mary Mallett Jones, known as “Rockrest” in Chatham County. In 1792 Edward Jones became the state’s solicitor general, a position he held for thirty-six years. Blakely attended school in Flatbush, New York, until the death of his father in 1796. At that time he returned to his home state, still the legal ward of Edward Jones, to attend the University of North Carolina. Jones had been a supporter of the fledgling university from its inception. Blakeley paid for his own education out of the income from Wilmington warehouses that he inherited from his father. When the uninsured warehouses burned in 1799, he withdrew from the university and applied to join the navy as a midshipman.
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On February 5, 1800, Johnston Blakely was issued an appointment to the President, a new frigate being prepared for a cruise in the West Indies. He was later assigned to the USS John Adams, under Captain John Rodgers. Rodgers, recognizing his potential, chose to keep Blakeley with him during the Barbary War (1801-1805), and promoted him to acting lieutenant. Continuing his service in the Navy, he saw his commission as a lieutenant confirmed by the Senate in 1807. Blakeley assumed command of the Enterprise as acting commandant in March 1811. His commander’s commission was formally issued on July 24, 1813, the war with England already underway. The following month he was assigned to oversee the completion of a new sloop, the Wasp. Coincidentally, the officer who assumed Blakeley’s command of the Enterprise was killed sixteen days later in battle.
The Wasp set sail on May 1, 1814, with a crew of 173 men and orders to harass British merchant ships in the English Channel. The ship’s successes were many and the tales of Blakeley’s escapades lightened the hearts of war-weary Americans. Blakeley was described as “a brave and discreet officer” and his ship as “one of the most successful of our cruisers.” On November 3, 1814, Blakely was awarded a gold medal for his victory over the HMS Reindeer and on the 24th of the month he was promoted to captain. He never learned of his promotion, however—the Wasp was lost at sea, never heard from again. The ship is believed to have been sunk in an Atlantic storm, since no British ship reported destroying the prized vessel.
Johnston Blakeley’s widow, Jane Ann, gave birth to their daughter, Udney Maria, in January 1815. The following year, the state of North Carolina voted to bestow upon his widow a sword in honor of her husband’s service, but she suggested instead that a silver tea service be given to Udney Maria. An elegant service was crafted and inscribed by Anthony Rasch of Philadelphia in 1818 and presented to Maria Blakely. The silver tea and coffee service was later acquired through art dealers and donated to the North Carolina Museum of Art in 1968. The state also paid for Maria’s education and support, providing her with about $7,600 in funds over the course of about thirteen years.
Lindley S. Butler, Pirates, Privateers, and Rebel Raiders of the Carolina Coast (2000)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, I, 173-174—sketch by Sarah M. Lemmon
William S. Powell, ed., Encyclopedia of North Carolina (2006)—essay by on “Blakeley Silver Service” by Thomas J. Farnham and Elizabeth Reid Murray
William S. Powell, ed., Encyclopedia of North Carolina (2006)—essay on “Wasp” by Jerry L. Cross
A. R. Newsome, “Udney Maria Blakeley,” North Carolina Historical Review (April 1927): 158-171