War and the Muses - "The Wasp's Frolic"
About noon on October 13, 1812, the USS Wasp, an 18-gun sloop-of-war commissioned in 1807 and skippered by Master Commandant Jacob Jones, sortied from the Delaware River to patrol off the coast of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. Two days later she encountered a heavy storm that tore away her jib boom, but contrived to jury-rig a replacement and carried on. Toward midnight of the 17th, Wasp encountered a small British convoy and gave pursuit. The next morning Captain Jones engaged the British convoy’s escort, Cdr. Thomas Whinyates’ 20-gun brig Frolic. A hot action followed. Since both ships were largely armed with powerful, but short-ranged carronades, they closed literally to within a few feet of each other and pounded away for about 22 minutes. Then, with both vessels heavily damaged, the Americans boarded the Frolic, to find that all of her officers and nearly half her crew were dead or wounded.
Although an American prize crew attempted to put the Frolic in service, the British 74-gun ship-of-the-line Poictiers, under Captain John Beresford, soon approached, and took both Wasp and Frolic.
Not long afterwards, the battle of the Wasp and the Frolic became the subject of a punning poem that had wide circulation in the United States for a time.
The Wasp’s Frolic
[October 18, 1812]
T’was on board the sloop of war Wasp, boys,
We set sail from Delaware Bay,
To cruise on Columbia's fair coast, sirs,
Our rights to maintain on the sea.
Three days were not passed on our station.
When the Frolic came up to our view;
Says Jones, “Show the flag of our nation;"
Three cheers were then gave by our crew.
We boldly bore up to this Briton,
Whose cannon began for to roar;
The Wasp soon her stings from her side ran,
When we on them a broadside did pour.
Each sailor stood firm at his quarters,
T’was minutes past forth[sic] and three.
When fifty bold Britons were slaughtered,
Whilst our guns swept their masts in the sea.
Their breasts then with valor still glowing.
Acknowledged the battle we'd won,
On us then bright laurels bestowing.
When to leeward they fired a gun.
On their decks we the twenty guns counted,
With a crew for to answer the same;
Eighteen was the number we mounted,
Being served by the lads of true game.
With the Frolic in tow. we were standing,
All in for Columbia's fair shore;
But fate on our laurels was frowning.
We were taken by a seventy-four.
- Jacob Nicholas Jones (1768-1850), a native of Delaware and a practicing physician before joining the Navy in 1799, served during the Quasi-War with France, the Barbary Wars, the War of 1812, and the many years of peace which followed, to die while still on active duty as Commandant of the Philadelphia Navy Yard, with the honorary rank of commodore.
- John Poo Beresford (1766-1844), illegitimate scion of a famous naval family, joined the Royal Navy in 1782, served during the French Wars and in the War of 1812, was a prominent Tory politician, earned a baronetcy, and ended his naval career as Second Sea Lord (Vice-Chief of Naval Operations).
- Thomas Whinyates (1778-1857) had earlier commanded the sloop-of-war Bergere in the Mediterranean. He survived his wounds, but apparently left the Navy soon afterwards, as he does not seem to appear is not found in any references thereafter .
BookNote: There’s an amusing old novel for young people about the Wasp: Cyrus Townsend Brady’s In the Wasp's nest; the story of a sea waif in the war of 1812 , originally published in 1921 and recently reissued.