Johnston Blakely was born near the village of Seaford, Co. Down, Northern Ireland in 1781. Two years later, his family emigrated to the United States and setttled in Wilmington, North Carolina. In 1790, Blakely was sent to New York to acquire an education and committed to the care of a respectable New York merchant and an old friend of his father. Here he remained for five years to pursue his studies, afterwards returning to Wilmington.
It was the intention of his father to bring him up to law, and, in 1796, he was placed in the University of North Carolina, situated at Chapel Hill. He remained at college until sometime in 1799, when the consequences of his father's death compelled him to relinquish his studies at the university and his intention of practicing law. In February 1800, Blakely obtained a midshipman's warrant and joined the United States Navy.
Johnston Blakely had a very successful career in the U.S. Navy. He was promoted to Lieutenant on the 10th of February 1807 and was aboard the Enterprise from 1811 to 1813 on which he cruised off the coast of the United States, capturing the armed schooner Fly. He was subsequently made a Commander in July 1813 and served in the Mediterranean Squadron on the ships, President, John Adams and Congress, and took part in the operations of the Squadron before Tripoli. When he was commissioned a Master Commandant, he was given command of the Sloop-of-war Wasp in early 1814.
Wasp put out to sea in May 1814 for a war cruise to the western approaches of the English Channel. As commander of the Wasp, Blakely captured his first vessel, the 207 ton brig Neptune on the 2nd of June, 1814. Within three weeks' time, he had captured the William, a 93-ton brig, the 131-ton armed brig Pallas, the 171-ton Galliot Henrietta and the 325-ton ship Orange Boven.
On the 28th of June, the Wasp came upon the 21-gun British sloop-of-war Reindeer, some 225 miles west of Plymouth, England and brought her to battle. The fight only lasted 19 minutes, but during that brief span of time the two ships traded a murderous fire of great and solid shot. The action ended in the capture of the Reindeer with a loss of 21 Americans killed and wounded. The British lost 67 men. The Reindeer was cut to pieces and it was impossible to save her. She was accordingly set afire.
In a letter written in May 1811, Johnston Blakely wrote, "I hope the last Blakely who exists will lay down his life ere he tarnish the reputation of those who have gone before him. My father's memory is very dear to me, and I trust that his son will never cast a reproach on it."
Legend has it that my descendants emigrated from Ireland to the United States aboard the same ship as the family of Johnston Blakely. In honor of his achievements serving this country, his name has been carried through the generations by members of my family. It was only fitting to name the firm in keeping with this tradition.
Benjamin Johnston Conway