Just days before the beginning of the War of 1812, Secretary of the Navy Paul Hamilton met with the ranking officers of the U.S. Navy to discuss how best to fight the most powerful navy on earth. Stephen Decatur and other more junior captains favored using the Navy's frigates singly or in pairs, but the more senior Commodore John Rodgers convinced Hamilton that their few ships would be best used when combined into a squadron.
One of the more junior officers, Master Commandant David Porter, commanding the small, 32-gun frigate Essex, was supposed to sail as part of Rodgers' squadron, but when the impatient commodore got under way within an hour of learning of the declaration of war, the Essex was not yet ready and was left behind.
Several days later, with the Essex then ready for sea, Porter ventured out alone from New York. Initially, all was quiet, but on 11 July he encountered a British convoy headed for Quebec with a load of war supplies and 1,400 soldiers.