Time and again, professional and avocational historians, artists, model makers, and others, have sought out information -- or have argued -- about many items of what should be information basic to an understanding of the environment of the sailing navy: How many provisions were carried for a six-month cruise? What did an ammunition loadout consist of? What were the dimensions of a rammer? And on and on and on. There follows here a "lucky bag," a randomly collected compilation, of such information gleaned from more than twenty years of poring over contemporary documentation and recording same in The Captain's Clerk. Much of it is derived from materials relating to USS Constitution. It is a "working document," and by no means complete.


Addressing Officers. In 1869, it was decreed that officers under the rank of Commander were to be addressed either by the title of their rank or as "Mister." (General Order No. 109, 15 Mar 1869.)

Ammunition Load. In 1798, there was shipped to USS Constitution a quantity of ammunition that equated to the following allowances per long gun:

24-pdr round shot
24-pdr grape & cannister
24-pdr double-headed
12-pdr round shot
12-pdr grape & cannister
12-pdr double-headed

Captain Thomas Tingey, then Commandant of the Washington Navy Yard, provided the following information to an unknown addressee in a letter whose date is obscured: "The following is established by the department, 1rst Sept. 1813."

For long guns
[Do. do. do.]
[Do. do. do.]
[Do. do. do.]

For carronades
[Do. do.]
[Do. do.]

100 rounds of round shot
40 do. do. grape do
# 5 do. do. double head
No cannister

60 do. do. round shot
40 do. do. grape do
20 do. do. cannister.

"All grape to be made with iron stools, containing twelve shot the whole to weigh the weight of the round shot as near as may be. This did great execution against the Guerriere, the enemy complain much of their effect. One doublehead shot cut her foremast about one third off." (Letter, Tingey to ?, date obscured, RG45 (M125, Roll 31), DNA.)

Early in 1842, the Navy began to place four 8-inch (68-pounder) shell-firing Paixhans guns aboard each liner and frigate. Ammunition allowance was set at 25 explosive shells, 5 solid shot, and 3 stands of grape for each. (Letter, Board of Naval Commissioners to Commodore John Downes, 28 Dec 1841, RG45, Letters Sent, BNC, DNA.)

An Act for the Gradual Increase of the Navy. The act of this title, approved on 29 April 1816, provided $1 million a year for eight years for the construction of warships. The actual expenditures under this act, for the subsequent fiscal years (1 Oct-30 - Sep 18__, were as follows:

$ 81,783.01

On 3 March 1821, the act was amended to reduce the annual appropriation to $500,000 for the following six years.

Subsequent expenditure then were:

1824 (4 1/2 months)
$ 973,040.04

Total expended as of 17 February 1824: $5,972,460.27. The Navy had expended roughly a half million dollars less than what had been appropriated for new construction to that date. (Letter, Constant Freeman to Samuel Southard, 21 Feb 1824, RG45 (M124, Roll 98, vol. 2), DNA.)

Annual Naval Expenditures. The cost of having a Navy (exclusive of the naval construction costs after the War of 1812) and a Marine Corps during their first quarter century of service to the United States was as follows:

1798 (half year)
$ 570,314.24

Total cost to 31 December 1823: $76,817,895.89. (Letter, Constant Freeman to Samuel Southard, 21 Feb 1821, RG 45 (M124, Roll 98, Vol 2, DNA.)

Anchor Markings. On all anchors ordered for the Navy, an eagle was to be cut in the crown, together with the letters "USA." The maker could add his initials if he wished. Annual Operating Cost. The allocated annual operating cost for a 44-gun frigate in 1798 was $125,780.89. (Letter, Secretary of the Navy to Navy Agent Stephen Higginson, 18 Apr 1800, RG45 (M209, Roll 1, Volume 3), DNA; Naval Documents Relating to the Quasi-War with France, Vol. II, p. 114.)

That cost in 1825 was:

Pay & Subsistence

(Letter, Board of Naval Commissioners to the Secretary of the Navy, 18 Jan 1825, RG45 (M124, Roll 101, Volume 1), DNA.)


Bands Afloat. In August 1826, the Board of Naval Commissioners proposed to the Secretary of the Navy the addition of bands to all ships of the line and 1st and 2nd class frigates. That for a 1st class frigate was to be:

1 master of band
6 musicians
5 musicians
Petty officer equivalent
Seaman equivalent
Ordinary seaman equivalent

The proposal was approved and promulgated in a circular letter on 10 August. (Letter, Board of Naval Commissioners to Secretary, 5 Aug 1826, RG45 (M124, Roll 107, Volume 151), DNA.)

In 1826, this band was reduced by two seaman musicians and two ordinary seaman musicians, together with the pay of those remaining. (Circular letter, 10 Aug 1826, RG45 (M149, Roll 16), DNA.)


Cadre Crews for Ships in Ordinary. With the end of the Quasi-War with France, the Navy was severely reduced in size and most retained ships laid up in ordinary ("mothballs"). To maintain it, a cadre crew consisting of 1 sailing master, 1 boatswain, 1 gunner, 1 carpenter, 1 cook, 1 sergeant, 8 privates, and 12 seamen was authorized for each frigate. (6th Congress, Peace Establishment Act, 3 Mar 1801. This was repealed in 1804 by Eighth Congress, An Act supplementary to the Peace Establishment Act, 27 Mar 1804.) After the Algerine War, in 1816, a frigate's cadre crew was set at 1 sailing master, 1 boatswain, 1 gunner, 1 carpenter, 4 seamen, and 6 ordinary seamen and boys. (Letter, Board of Naval Commissioners to Captain Isaac Hull, 31 Jan 1816, RG45, Letters Sent, BNC, DNA.) In 1820, with a surplus of officers still in service from the War of 1812, the cadre for a 44-gun frigate in ordinary was set at 5 lieutenants, 20 midshipmen, 1 surgeon, 1 surgeon's mate, 1 purser, 1 sailing master, 4 seamen, and 6 ordinary seamen. (Letter, Secretary of the Navy to Captain Lewis Warrington, 20 Oct 1820, RG45 (M149, Roll 14), DNA.) Less than a year later, this was modified to accommodate captains and better provide a maintenance force: 1 captain, 2 lieutenants, 3 midshipmen, 1 boatswain, 1 gunner, 1 carpenter, 2 carpenter's mates, 6 able seamen, 6 ordinary seamen, and 4 boys. In 1826, the cadre crew for a 44-gun frigate was increased by 1 carpenter's mate, 4 seamen, and 11 ordinary seamen, with the intention of having the crew responsible for more of the ships' maintenance. (George H. Preble, History of the Boston Navy Yard, 1797-1875, M118, DNA, pp. 159-60.)

Cannon Caliber. The first ships of the Navy were plagued by 24-pdr long guns that were too short for shipboard use, so much so that not all those produced ever were used for their intended purpose. In 1807, when contracting for new models, Secretary of the Navy Robert Smith directed that all 24- and 32-pdr long guns were to be 18 calibers in length. (Letter, Secretary to Samuel Hughes, 18 Sep 1807, RG45 (M209, Roll 3, Volume 9), DNA.)

Cannon Markings. On 13 September 1796, it was ordered that the weight of each cannon accepted for service was to be marked on the left trunnion. (Naval Documents Relating to the Barbary Wars, Vol. I, page 173.)

Cartridges. The standard sheet of cartridge paper measured 21 by 18 inches. It would make 16 musket cartridges, each containing 6 drams of powder, or 20 with 5 1/2 drams. Similarly, it could make 24 for pistols at 4 drams each or 32 at 3. Tube cartridges were similar to the smaller pistol cartridges, 32 to a sheet. (Marshall, George, Gunner, USN. Marshall's Practical Marine Gunnery (Norfolk: Thomas G. Broughton), 1822.)

Command Pennants. An enclosure to a letter from Paul Hamilton to the Secretary of the Navy in 1818 contained this information:

"There shall be three distinct orders of broad Pendants. The broad pendent [sic] of the first order shall be blue with white stars. That of the second order shall be red with white stars. That of the third order shall be white with blue stars." This was a part of the revised Navy Regulations promulgated on 17 September 1817. The shape was that of a swallowtail pennant. (Letter, Hamilton to the Secretary, 10 Jun 1818, RG45 (M124, Roll 83, Volume 94), DNA.) A 10 April 1845 regulation stated that a squadron commander would fly a blue broad pennant. When two or more squadron commanders on separate service met, the senior was to fly a blue pennant, the second senior a red one, and any others more junior, white ones. (Regulation, 10 Apr 1825, RG45 (M625, Roll 406), DNA.)

In 1854, Navy Regulations specified the broad command pennant to be flown from a ship of the line was to be 13 feet in the hoist by 25 feet in the fly; that for a frigate, 11 1/2 by 22. The swallowtail "notch" was to be four-tenths the length of the fly.

In 1856, a "plain blue flag" was substituted for the broad command pendant.  Commodores with over 25 years as a Captain were to wear it at the fore; all others, at the mizzen.

(General order, 18 May 1858, RG45 (M977, Roll 2), DNA.)

Later that same year, it was ordered that the "Senior flag officer of the Navy" would wear the pendant at the main.  (At the time, this meant Senior Flag Officer Charles Stewart.)

(General order, 26 Sep 1858, RG45 (M977, Roll 2), DNA.)

A general order of 1861 prescribed that, when flag officers were in company, the senior's pendant was to be blue, the next red, and the junior, white.

(General order, 2 Mar 1861 (RG45 (M977, Roll 2), DNA.)

In 1866, the broad command pennant received two changes. The number of stars, which previously had equalled the number of states in the Union, was reduced to one. And while it continued to be a swallowtail pennant, the lower edge was made perpendicular to the hoist while the top edge sloped to nine-tneths the hoist length. From 1869 to 1876, the upper point of the swallowtail was shortened and the pennant comprised seven red and six white stripes. In 1876, the pennant reverted to the pattern of a decade previously. The Act of 3 March 1899, which eliminated the rank of Commodore, likewise terminated the use of the one-star broad command pennants. (Marion V. Brewington, "The Broad Pennant," The American Neptune, Jan 1951, "Notes," pp. 72-73.) On 4 Jul 1876, the personal flags of the Secretary of the Navy, the Admiral, Vice Admiral, Rear Admirals of blue, red, and white, and the pendant of Commodore of blue, red, and white, which had been abolished on 1 Jan 1870, were restored. (General Order No. 198, 6 Jan 1876.)

Commissioning of Ships. At the Navy's outset, a ship's log was begun on the day she first set sail after outfitting; this also was the start date for enlistments. In later years, this date was equated with commissioning. In 1863 the Secretary of the Navy directed that ships were to be considered "in commission" when their officers and crew had gone aboard, and the yard commandant had turned the ship over to the commanding officer. The commandant was to report the date to the Department. (Circular letter, 6 Nov 1863, General Orders and Circulars Issued by the Navy Department From 1863 to 1887 (Washington: GPO, 1887), pp. 11-12.)

"Commodore" Abolished. This rank and title has a haphazard existence in the U. S. Navy. In the years after the War of 1812, in the absence of flag ranks senior officers became very agitated over who could or could not use this courtesy title implying seniority. So acrimonious did incidents become the Secretary of the Navy abolished its use on 1 February 1822 until such time as it could be reintroduced by legislation that included rules for its use. (General Order, 1 Feb 1822, RG45 (M149, Roll 14, DNA.)

Container Capacities. Provisions coming aboard ship in the early 19th Century most frequently were recorded in terms of numbers of casks, pipes, tierces, etc., with infrequent reference to their several capacities. While these capacities were not everywhere the same, the following table provides at least an indication of them for a number of containers of liquids.

Cask/Gang Cask
252 gallons
154 gallons
126 gallons
126 gallons
84 gallons
63 gallons
42 gallons
32 gallons
10 gallons (or less)

Note: in solid measure, a "tierce" contained 280 pounds of salt beef or 260 pounds of salt pork. (USS Constitution Logs, 1798-1855, DNA, and other sources.)

Cook Book. Cooks in the early Navy were left to their own imaginations when it came to preparing meals. In the main, this resulted in whatever was on the official ration for that day of the week being tossed in a ship's coppers and boiled until meal time. The first official Navy cook book was produced by Paymaster F. T. Arms and published by the Bureau of Supplies and Accounts in 1902. It contained five recipes for soup, six for fish, thirty-four for meats, fowl, and eggs, and several for desserts, including "plum duff." (Crumpacker, CDR J. W., (SC), USN, "Supplying the Fleet for 150 Years), U. S. Naval Institute Proceedings, June 1945, pp. 705-713.)

Copper Sheathing. Initially, sheathing the ship's bottom required that the bottom be "well caulked & horsed home, Then pay'd over with half made stuff Then papered & then the Copper is put on." (Naval Documents Relating to the Barbary War, Vol. II, p. 450.) In 1820, it required 1692 sheets (each 40" x 14") of 34-oz. copper, 2068 sheets of 32-oz., and 752 sheets of 14-oz., as well as 432,400 large sheathing nails and 11,500 small nails suitable for the 14-oz. copper to sheath a 74-gun ship of the line. To sheath a 44-gun frigate with copper then required 1750 sheets of 32-oz. copper, 1107 of 28-oz., and 572 of 14-oz, and 328,555 sheathing nails. (Letter, Board of Naval Commissioners to Captain Isaac Hull, 12 Oct 1819, RG45, Letters Sent, BNC, DNA.).

Corporal Punishment Records. Flogging a man had been the captain's purview from the Navy's outset, the fact of each such punishment noted in the ship's log. In 1840, Secretary of the Navy James K. Paulding directed that henceforth no corporal punishment was to be inflicted without a written, signed order setting forth the offense(s) and specific punishment. (General Order, 29 May 1840, RG45 (M149, Roll 31), DNA.)

Crossing the Line Ceremonies. The custom of conducting "crossing the Line" ceremonies has always been observed in the USN, and in the early days was not limited to the Equator: crossing the "Tropics" also occasioned such highjinks. (11 Jan 1799 entry, Log, USS Constitution, 1 Dec 1799-15 Feb 1800, USS Constitution Museum.) A detailed description of such a ceremony occurring in Jul 1844 is to be found in Lieutenant John B. Dale's journal, together with two sketches of the festivities. (Journal, Lieutenant John B. Dale, 1844-1846, New England Historical Genealogical Society.)



Enlistment Papers. Disturbed by the numbers of men being punished for infractions related to ignorance of the terms of their enlistments, in 1840 Secretary James K. Paulding ordered the used of pre-printed enlistment contracts which contained excerpts from the pertinent laws governing enlistments. He also directed that these be read to each recruit prior to his signing the contract. (General order, 29 May 1840, RG45 (M149, Roll 31), DNA.)

Equipment, Allowance and Siting of. "2 fire engines...for the ship [Constitution]..." (1797). (Naval Documents Relating to the Quasi-War with France, Vol. I, p. 10.) "Battle lanterns were hung on centerline...a fire bucket for each gun..." (1804). (Naval Documents Relating to the Barbary War, Vol. III, p. 38.) "...a scuttlebutt is to be...lashed near the mainmast..." (1804). (Naval Documents Relating to the Barbary War, Vol. III, p. 38.)


Figureheads. In keeping with European practice, all of the original ships authorized for the U. S. Navy had figureheads. These were allegorical figures designed by William Rush of Philadelphia to be representative of the ships' names. Even at this early point, however, there were those who believed they were an unnecessary expense. Wrote Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Stoddert in 1798, "Heads are not useful and I believe injure a ship -- If we must preserve an useless ornament...they ought not to be expensive." (M. V. Brewington, Shipcarvers of North Aamerica (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1962.) The new Board of Naval Commissioners, noting that European navies had begun restricting figureheads to ships of the line, made that the policy for the USN in 1815. With the advent of steam, figureheads, albeit small ones, had something of a resurgence, apparently reflecting a desire to carry over a tradition from the "Old Navy." In 1909, Secretary of the Navy George Von L. Meyer ordered all figureheads removed from USN ships except for the Winged Victory on the bow of USS Olympia, Dewey's flagship at Manila. (Constance Lathrop, "A Vanishing Tradition -- the Figurehead," U. S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Nov 1927, pp. 1166-1168.)

Fitness Reports. In formalizing and formatting the administration of the Navy, Secretary Samuel Southard did not overlook the evaluation of officer performance. Early in 1825, he directed that, beginning on 1 July of that year, semi-annual fitness reports were to be submitted on all officers. (General Order, 12 Mar 1825, RG45 (M149, Roll 15), DNA.)

Flags and Pennants. In 1799, a minimum inventory of colors for a frigate was considered to be one set each of American, English, Dutch, Portuguese, and French colors. A set consisted of one ensign, one jack, and one commissioning pennant. Additional American jacks were suggested, for hoisting over French colors. (Letter, Secretary of War to John Coffin Jones, 27 Feb 1799, RG45 (M209, Roll 1, Volume 1), DNA.) At the outbreak of the War of 1812, a frigate's flag inventory consisted of 2 US ensigns, 2 US jacks, 2 US commissioning pennants; 1 each of British ensign, jack, and pennant; 1 each of Spanish ensign and pennant; and 1 each of French ensign and jack. (Log, USS Constitution, 7 June 1812.)

Furlough.  Leave granted for personal convenience, not including sick leave.

(Letter, Midshipman Charles F. Stallings to SecNav, 4 Apr 1812, with endorsement, RG217, Accountant of the Navy, Letters Received, DNA.)

Funeral Allowance. In 1866, the funeral allowance for an officer was limited to the equivalent of one month's sea pay for his rank and authorized only for those officers whose estates cannot bear the cost. (General Order No. 76, 7 Jul 1866.)

Furnishings. In the Navy's earliest days, the department provided only limited furnishings to the captain's cabin and chests for each of the crew messes. Except when orders allowed insufficient time for them to do so, wardroom and other officers were expected to provide furnishings at their own expense. Allowable cabin furniture for a frigate in 1798 consisted of dining tables, Windsor chairs, 1 "accommodation chair," 1 globe lamp, and 2 copper stoves. (Naval Documents Relating to the Quasi-War with France, Vol. I, p. 38.)

In 1803, it included 2 small tables, 2 green table cloths, two dozen chairs, 1 small carpet, 1 looking glass, 5 lamps, and assorted cooking and dining utensils. (Secretary of the Navy to Commodore Edward Preble, 5 Jul 1803, RG45 (M149, Roll 6), DNA.) By 1820, however, the situation had changed markedly. In that year, the department furnished USS Constitution as follows: For the cabin: 1 sideboard, 1 secretary, 2 sofas (of not more than $30 each), 1 set of curtains, 1 clerk's desk, 1 set of tables, 18 chairs, and cooking utensils. For the wardroom: 1 dining table, 1 small table for each stateroom, 2 dozen chairs, 1 walnut sideboard, 1 green table cover, and cooking utensils. For Warrant Officers and Midshipmen: 1 mess chest, 3 camp stools, 1 frying pan, 1 iron teakettle, 1 tin coffee pot, 1 coffee mill, and 2 tin pitchers per each six-man mess. For Sailors and Marines: 1 mess chest, 2 kids, and 2 cans per each six-man mess. (Letter, Board of Naval Commissioners to Captain Isaac Hull, 24 Nov 1820, Letters Sent, BNC, DNA.)


Gifts from foreign officials. The earliest reference found to a prohibition against American naval officers accepting "presents of any kind whatever from any King prince or foreign State..." is a letter from Secretary of the Navy Mahlon Dickerson to Commodore Jesse Duncan Elliott reminding him of a departmental order of 21 Jun 1834 on that subject. (Letter, Dickerson to Elliott, 16 Mar 1837, RG45 (M149, Roll 26), DNA.)

Grape Shot. The diameters for each shot in a stand for several calibers are shown below:

Long Guns

32 pdr
24 pdr
18 pdr
12 pdr
9 pdr


42 pdr
32 pdr
24 pdr
18 pdr
12 pdr



Each stand of grape shot contained 12 shot on an iron stool. (Marshall, George, Gunner, USN. Marshall's Practical Marine Gunnery; Norfolk: Thomas G. Broughton), 1822.)

Grog. A mixture of rum and water, introduced into the Royal Navy on 21 August 1740 by Vice Admiral Edward Vernon. The word is a corruption of his nickname, "Old Grog," given him by the sailors in recognition of his well-known boat cloak made of grogram,a coarse material of silk and mohair. In his original order, a man's daily ration of a half pint of rum was mixed with one quart of water, and was issued in two servings before noon and after the end of the working day. The practice of serving grog twice a day was carried over into the Continental Navy and later the renascent U. S. Navy. Thomas Jefferson's Secretary of the Navy, Robert Smith, experimented with substituting native rye whiskey for the imported rum concoction, and finding the American sailors preferred it, made the change permanent. It is said his sailors followed the practice of their British antecedents and took to calling it "Bob Smith" instead of "grog." (Constance Lathrop, "Grog," U. S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Mar 1935, pp. 377-380; letter, Robert Smith to Keith Spence, 11 Nov 1808, RG 45 (M209, Vol. 9), DNA; Tyrone G. Martin, "Bob Smith," Encycopedia of the War of 1812, New York: Garland Publishing Co., 1998)

In July 1862, the spirit ration was abolished.

General order, 17 Jul 1862, RG45 (M977, Roll 2), DNA.)

Gunner's Tools. Gunner's tools generally were proportioned to the gun they were to support:

Long Guns

Crow Bar
Rammer Head
Sponger Head


Rammer Head
Sponger Head

Same length as gun's carriage
Same length as gun's carriage
Same length as from breech ring to muzzle face
Length equal to 1.25 bore diameter
13" longer than Rammer
Length equal to 1.5 bore diameter
Same length as Sponger
Same length as Rammer
Length same as bore diameter

Same length as from breech ring to muzzle face
Length equal to 1.25 bore diameter
12" longer than Rammer
Length equal to 1.33 bore diameter
Same as Sponger
Same as Rammer
Length 1.25 bore diameter

(Marshall, George, Gunner, USN. Marshall's Practical Marine Gunnery (Norfolk: Thomas G. Broughton), 1822.)


Honorable Discharge.  In 1855, the "honorable discharge" was created to commend men completing their enlistments with exemplary service records.  Special forms were provided, and commanding officers were to see personally to their delivery.  The names of recipients were to be reported to the Department.  Men whose conduct was "ordinary" continued to receive traditional discharges.  [Act of 2 Mar 1855.]


Illnesses. Naval surgeons of the early 18th Century often used terms to describe illnesses that no longer are in use today. Below are listed the modern terms for some of the most common illnesses then experienced and what they then were called.

Dysentery -- bloody flux, flux

Lung cancer -- consumption

Malaria -- ague, ague and fever, bilious fever, country fever, intermittent fever, malignant fever

Pneumonia -- lung fever

Smallpox -- variola

Syphilis -- French pox, great pox

Tetanus - locked jaw

Tuberculosis -- consumption, phthisis (if of the lungs), scrofula (if of the lymph glands)

Typhoid -- bilious fever, congestive fever, enteric fever

Typhus -- gaol fever, hospital fever, nervous fever, putrid fever, ship fever

Yellow fever -- black vomit, yellow jack

(Phyllis A. Richmond, "Glossary of Historical Fever Terminology," Journal of the History of Medicine, Jan 1961, pp. 76-77.)



Kentledge. Kentledge was the cast iron ballast used in our early warships, sometimes along with "shingle," sea-smoothed stones from coastal beaches. Joshua Humphreys, the designer of our original six frigates, described kentledge thusly:

"Two feet six inches on one side & five & a half inches wide.

"Two feet five & 3/4 inches on the other do. & five & one quarter inches do.

"Deep four inches & three eights of an inch.

"One hole at each end on the flat and at opposite sides."

The holes at each end on each side were intended to take large iron "staples" used to lock the pieces together.

(Letter, Humphreys to the Secretary of War, 18 Apr 1795, RG45 (M739, Roll 1), DNA.)

A few years later, Secretary of the Navy Robert Smith wrote: "Kentledge -- 24 inches long, 6 inches by 5 inches square weighing about 180 pounds. The form to be an oblong cube -- a hole of about 1 1/2 inches in diameter at each end to pass obliquely through."

(Letter, Smith to Samuel Hughes, 17 Jan 1809, RG45 (M209, Roll 3, Volume 9), DNA.)



Magazine Lining. In 1803, it was ordered that Constitution's magazine and filling room [ed: note singular] be lined with copper. (Naval Documents Relating to the Barbary War, Vol. II, p. 446, 491.)

Masts. When the U. S. Navy was coming into being in the late 1790s, the lower masts and bowsprits were created from single trees, i. e., they were "pole" masts. It was soon learned that these were not equal to the task and by 1799 lower foremasts and mainmasts, as well as bowsprits, were being assembled from a number of pieces united about a central spindle. Such a spar might be composed of as many as 28 pieces. (Naval Documents Relating to the Quasi-War with France, Vol. II, p. 520; Naval Documents Relating to the Barbary War, Vol. II, p. 450.) Another hot debate concerned the dimensions of masting to be used in the new frigates. The designer, the builders, and the prospective captains all had their own ideas and not much consensus. By 1801, the dust had settled enough for Secretary of the Navy Robert Smith to decree that 44-gun frigates ought to have fore masts 95' by 32", main masts 105' by 35", and mizzen masts 92' by 24"; the bowsprits, 64' by 34". (Letter, Smith to Navy Agent William Pennock, 5 Dec 1801, RG45 (M209, Roll 2, Volume 5), DNA.)

Midshipman Examinations. The first examining board to determine the readiness of midshipmen for promotion to lieutenant was ordered in 1802, then intermittently thereafter until 1819. (Secretary of the Navy circular letter, 18 Aug 1802, RG45 (M149, Roll5), DNA.) In March of that year, the Secretary of the Navy announced the convening of the first of what would become an annual examining board on 4 October to assess the qualifications of all Mids with warrants dated prior to 1 Jan 1813. If active service should deny a candidate his moments under scrutiny, he would be ordered home in the second year of his eligibility without prejudice to his seniority. Failed candidates were permitted a second opportunity. (General Order, 22 Mar 1819, RG45 (M149, Roll 13), DNA; General Order, 1 Jul 1820, RG45 (M149, Roll 14), DNA; General Order, 5 Jul 1821, RG45 (M149, Roll 14), DNA; General Order, 15 May 1822, RG45 (M149, Roll 14), DNA.) Three years later, it was thought appropriate to identify those Midshipmen who were qualified for promotion. In June 1822 the order went out for such young men to add a gold star inside the gold braid diamond they wore on each collar. (General Order, 26 Jun 1822, RG45 (M149, Roll 14), DNA.) The practice of ordering midshipmen home from the overseas squadrons was very unwieldy and expensive. In 1825, Commodore John Rodgers, about to take command of the Mediterranean Squadron, was ordered to establish an examining board on site for candidates within his command. (Letter, Secretary of the Navy to Commodore John Rodgers, 16 Mar 1825, RG45 (M149, Roll 15), DNA.)

Morse Code. The adoption of the "English Morse code" was ordered on 3 Apr 1886. (General Order No. 345, 3 Apr 1886.)


Naming Ships. For the first six ships of the U. S. Navy, President George Washington made the choices, five being the first five on a list of proposed names submitted by Secretary of War Timothy Pickering in March 1795. Ships built by public subscription during the Quasi-War with France were named by the principal subscribers, usually for their community. Naming of the principal warships was regularized by Congress in 1819, when it was decreed that ships of the line would be named for states, frigates named for rivers, and sloops of war for cities. (Congressional Resolution, 3 Mar 1819.)

Nationalities. In the beginning, healthy and honest seamen of all nationalities could be enlisted. (Letter, Secretary of War of Captain Samuel Nicholson, 5 May 1798, RG45 (M149, Roll 1), DNA.) In 1803, Commodore Edward Preble reported that he believed he had fewer than twenty "native American Sailors," i. e., those born in the US, in his nearly completed crew. (Naval Documents Relating to the Barbary War, Vol. II, p. 494.) In a circular letter of 29 Feb 1808, the Secretary of the Navy banned the enlistment of all aliens. The ban was still in force a year later, and apparently continued for more than a decade. (Secretary of the Navy circular letter to all captains, 29 Feb 1808, RG45 (M149, Roll 8), DNA; letter, Secretary of the Navy to Commodore John Rodgers, 2 Feb 1809, RG45 (M149, Roll 8), DNA; letter, Secretary of the Navy to Captain James Renshaw, 20 Jan 1821, RG45 (M149, Roll 14), DNA.) In 1811, captains were required to discharge any Englishmen in their crews. (Secretary of the Navy to Captain Isaac Hull, 8 Jun 1811, RG45 (M149, Roll 9), DNA.) In 1812, President Madison directed the discharge of all bonafide aliens. (Letter, Secretary of the Navy to Captain Isaac Hull, 1 Jul 1812, RG45 (M149, Roll 10), DNA.) Navy Register. The Navy Register, a listing of naval officers by rank and seniority, was first published and distributed in 1814. (Skallerup, Harry R., Books Afloat & Ashore (Hamden: Arcon Books, 1974), p. 111.)

Numbering Hammocks and Sea Bags. The numbers used were the men's numbers on the watch, quarter, and station bills, those in the starboard watch having odd numbers and those in the larboard, even. Painted on squares of canvas to be sewn to hammocks and bags, those for the larboard watch were done in red and for the starboard in black. (Brady, William, Boatswain, USN. The Naval Apprentice's Kedge Anchor (New York: Taylor and Clement), 1841.)


Officer Career Pattern. In 1869, it was established that officers would alternate 3 years at sea with 3 years ashore, and would rotate among stations. Sea duty rotation would be in sequence Mediterranean, Brazil, China, Pacific, and home stations. (General Order No. 112, 17 Mar 1869.)

Organization, Ship's. The organization of ship's companies in the USN varied somewhat from ship to ship at any given time, and in any ship from one time to another, according to the desires of the commanding officer. In the frigate Constitution, for instance, the gun deck gun battery in 1803 was divided into thirds with the ten guns in each and their crews making up the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Divisions from forward aft, respectively. Personnel assigned to the spar deck batteries as well magazine and shot locker crews were designated the Spar Deck Division. (USS Constitution Quarter Bill, 1803, American Antiquarian Society.) A few years later, the organization of the gun deck remained unchanged, but the spar deck was divided into a Forecastle Division and a Quarterdeck Division made up of quarterdeck, magazine, and shot locker personnel. This organization seems to have prevailed through the War of 1812. (USS Constitution Quarter Bill, 1809 (Funck), USS Constitution Museum; USS Constitution Quarter Bill, 1812; RG45, DNA; USS Constitution Quarter Bill, 1814 (Tayloe), USS Constitution Museum.) In 1821, after six years in ordinary, "Old Ironsides" returned to service with the same gun deck organization, but with spar deck personnel divided into a "1st division, Forecastle," a "2nd Division, Quarterdeck," and a "3rd Division, Quarterdeck." USS Constitution Quarter Bill, 1822 (Walsh), USS Constitution Museum. In1825, under a new captain, the three gun deck divisions were continued, but there were now 4th and a 5th Divisions comprising forecastle and quarterdeck gun crews, and a 6th Division of those in the tops, handling sails, and manning the magazines and shot lockers. (USS Constitution Battle Bill, 1825, Daniel Todd Patterson Papers, Manuscript Division, DLC; USS Constitution Battle Bill, 1826 (Edwards), USS Constitution Museum.) The ship's 1835 battle bill does not indicate divisional assignments. (USS Constitution Quarter Bill, 1835, Edward C. Anderson Papers, Southern Historical Collection, U. of North Carolina Library, Chapel Hill.)

Ornamentation and Painting. In 1799, the crew of Constitution was "whitewashing betweendecks...," and repeated the process quarterly. (8 Jul 1799, 20 Sep 1799, and 22 Dec 1799 entries, Log, USS Constitution, 1 Dec 1799-15 Feb 1800, USS Constitution Museum; 25 Mar and 23 Jul 1800 entries, Log, USS Constitution, 6 Dec 1798-20 Oct 1800, DNA.) During that same year, the ship had her sides and inboard quarterdeck bulwarks painted and was "blackened below the bends." Her guns also were blacked. (27 Feb, 3 Jul and 12 Oct 1799 entries, Log, USS Constitution, 1 Dec 1799-15 Feb 1800, USS Constitution Museum.) Thesides were again painted a year later, while the hull was blackened twice in 1800. (12 and 16 Mar, 11 Aug, and 20 Oct entries, Log, USS Constitution, 6 Dec 1799-20 Oct 1800, DNA.) It evidently was practice from the outset of the USN to paint ship's boats of the same design in different colors so they could be distinguished at a distance. In 1799, there is reference to a "blue cutter" in USS Constitution, and to a green one in the same ship in 1812. (12 Apr 1799 entry, Log, USS Constitution, 1 Dec 1799-15 Feb 1800, USS Constitution Museum.) In 1804, USS Constitution lost her figurehead of Hercules in a collision with USS President; it was replaced with a billethead. (Naval Documents Relating to the Barbary War, Vol. V, p. 81.) In 1804: "...whitewashing between decks...," "The black paint which is above the yellow on the larboard side...," and "...repainting Quarterdeck Guns, they are now painted a light correspond with the paint work of the quarterdeck..." (Naval Documents Relating to the Barbary War, Vol. III, p. 451, and Vol. V, pp. 73, 74, and 81.) In 1842, the Board of Naval Commissioners directed that black and white were the only colors to be used on a vessel's exterior except for a primer coat of "Spanish brown" on ironwork, and that inboard paint colors were to be limited to white, straw, or green. The same directive also banned the use of composition, brass, or copper for "any purposes of ornamentation on any part of a ship of war or her boats," except that composition or brass could be used for cabin and wardroom quarterdeck rails. (Circular Letter, Board of Naval Commissioners, 19 Jan 1842, RG45, Circular Letters, BNC, DNA.) In 1869, it was ordered that the practice of shellacking berth decks was to "dispensed with." And in that same year, it was ordered that warship spars no longer were to be painted yellow and their their yards were to be painted black. "A return to the old custom is ordered." (General Orders No. 92 and No. 93, 11 Mar 1869.) In 1876, the practice of shellacking berth decks was resumed. (General Order No. 200, 17 Jan 1876.) In 1880, it was ordered that all launches, steam cutters, and dinghies, be painted black below the moldings and lead white inside; all other boats were to be painted white below the moldings outside and inside above the footlings, which were to be lead white. All moldings and gunwales were to be kept bright. All smokestacks were to be black. (General Order No. 252, 7 Jul 1880.) In 1884, all boats were ordered to be painted white outside. (General Order No. 320, 3 Jun 1884.)


Pay. Navy pay began with the "Act to provide a naval armament" of 27 March 1794. Subsequent changes in the pay scales through the end of the 19th century -- generally increases -- occurred in 1799, 1828 (for lieutenants only), 1835, 1854 (professors of mathematics only), 1861, 1862 (due to an expansion of the commissioned grades), 1870, and 1899. (LCDR Robert W. Daly, USCGR, "Pay and Prize Money in the Old Navy, 1776-1899," U. S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Aug 1948, pp. 967-971.)

Personal Awards. From the outset, in addition to providing for prize money, the Congress recognized deed of valor with the authorization of medals and swords specifically created to commemorate the event. First recipient of a congressional gold medal was Captain Thomas Truxtun for his battle with FNS L'Insurgent in February 1799. In November 1804, the Congress voted a gold medal and a sword to Stephen Decatur in recognition of his destruction of the captured American frigate Philadelphia in Tripoli harbor. Decatur also was promoted to Captain for this action. Everyone else who was with Decatur in Intrepid, officer and sailor, received two months' extra pay. A few months later, Commodore Edward Preble was voted a gold medal for his actions against the Tripolines, together with swords for every commissioned officer and midshipman who had distinguished himself in the several actions; each sailor received and extra month's pay. The War of 1812 saw the Congress settle down to a formula of awarding a gold medal to each victorious ship captain and silver ones to each of their commissioned subordinates. In two instances, silver medals were specified for deceased officers, as well .All told, the rewards program cost $18,595.88 exclusive of monies appropriated in lieu of prize money. (Eugene S. Ferguson, Truxtun of the Constellation (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1982); The Captain's Clerk database, DOCS/MEDALS.LST; letter, Constant Freeman to Samuel Southard, 21 Feb 1824, RG45 (M124, Roll 98, vol. 2), DNA.)

Port.  Early in 1846, because "larboard" sounded so much like "starboard," and because steamship bridge areas were so much noisier than those of sailing ships, it was decreed that henceforth the word "port" would be substituted.

(General Order, 18 Feb 1846, RG45 (M977, Roll 2), DNA.)

Powder Barrels, Dimensions of. "Single" barrels were 21.5" high with diameters of 15" at the top and bottom and 17" at the bilge; half barrels were 14" high with diameters of 15" at the top and bottom and 12" at the bilge. Nominally, the two sizes contained 100 and 50 lbs, respectively, but each commonly was filled 10 percent short in order to leave room for the powder to shift. (Marshall, George, Gunner, USN. Marshall's Practical Marine Gunnery (Norfolk: Thomas G. Broughton), 1822.)

Powder Charges, Allowances of. In 1822, a gunner was expected to have 35 powder charges made up for each gun: 15 full charges, 12 second ("salute") charges, and 8 third ("scaling") charges. In peacetime, the number fell to 15: 8 first charges, 4 second charges, and 3 third charges. Each size charge was to be in a different color cartridge. For long guns, a full charge was 1/3 the weight of shot, the second 3/10, and the third 1/4. For carronades, a full charge contained 1/12 the weight of shot, a second charge 1/14, and a third 1/16. (Marshall, George, Gunner, USN. Marshall's Practical Marine Gunnery (Norfolk: Thomas G. Broughton), 1822.)

Powder Charges, Sizes of.  In preparing for her first war cruise in 1812, Constitution's gunners prepared the following powder charges for her 24 pounder long guns: 135 of 8 lbs., 165 of 7 lbs., 225 of 6 lbs., and 60 at 2 lbs. for drill; for her 32 pounder carronades: 96 at 2 7/8 lbs., 108 at 2 5/8 lbs., 252 of 2 3/8 lbs., 144 of 2 1/2 lbs., and 48 at lbs. for drill.

(Log, USS Constitution, 1 February  - 13 December 1812, National Archives,)

     During her final Mediterranean cruise, Constitution carried the following powder charges for her 8 inch Paixhans guns: 22 of 8 lbs. color coded white, 192 of 7 lbs. coded blue, and 96 of 6 lbs. coded red; for her gun deck medium weight 32 pounder long guns: 120 of 7 lbs. coded white, 1344 of 6 lbs. coded blue, and 648 of 4 lbs. coded red; and for her spar deck lightweight 32 pounder long guns, 578 4 lb. charges coded white.

(Journal, Midshipman Francis H. Baker, USS Constitution Museum.)

Preserving Ships in Ordinary. Prior to the War of 1812, little was done to prepare ships for ordinary beyond mooring them securely. A frigate's caretaker crew consisted of a sailing master, boatswain, gunner, and carpenter, and 12 seamen, 1 Marine sergeant, 8 privates, and a cook. (Naval Documents Relating to the Quasi-War with France, Vol. III, pp. 134-8.) By war's end, the practice had improved in that they were caulked thoroughly at the outset, "a thick coat of stuff" put on them, and their awnings might be spread or sheds erected to provide some protection from sun and weather. In 1816, Captain Isaac Hull, Commandant of the Boston Navy Yard, proposed instead covering them with light board roofs which, he thought, could be done for about $250 per ship. The Board of Naval Commissioners approved. (Letter, Board of Naval Commissioners to to the Secretary of the Navy, 24 Nov 1815, RG45 (M124, Roll 68, Vol. 68, #117), DNA; and letter, Board of Naval Commissioners to Hull, 19 Aug 1817, RG45, Letters Sent, BNC, DNA.) By the 1830s, the light board roof had developed into a complete shingled roof "in sections of convenient size - the roof to have an angle of thirty degrees, to be attached with hooks to a ridge pole, supported by stantions [sic] from the deck - it will also be necessary to have a tier of stations [sic] for the support of the roof mid-way from the middle of the side. The under side of the rafters to be kept 6" above the rail - the rafters to continue so far down as to project 5' from the side of the ship. To the underpart of the rafters and 12" from the lower end, perpendicular frames boarded with 12" pine boards are to be attached to run down as low as the upper part of lower gun deck in ships of the line and air ports of frigates - a capping of boards must be placed on the ridge and spouts placed at the junction of the different sections of the roof. To the lower part of the perpendicular frames curtains made of canvas, fringed at the lower part with small scantlings are to be attached, to haul up when necessary, with Brails - the fringe of the curtain to be 2' above the water." (Circular letter from Board of Naval Commissioners, 16 May 1825, RG45, Letters Sent, BNC, DNA.) Furthermore, preservation procedures in effect at this time provided that "All ships in ordinary must be caulked whenever they require it -- their seams well payed -- their bends to be blacked with lampblack and tar -- their sides varnished -- their deck well covered with half stuff -- the openings and hatchways on the spar decks to be covered tight to prevent the rain and wet from getting below -- their holds and between decks to be whitewashed annually -- the ballast to be laid up on the keelson, and each side of the shot locker, to be placed on battens sufficiently high to give air to the ceiling -- the doors in all the storerooms and other places to be kept open and all scuttles to be kept off -- two planks on each bulkhead of the magazine to be removed -- to ventilate those parts -- the tin to be removed from the bread rooms -- the ports to be kept open in dry and closed in damp weather. The sides and ends of the ships to be covered with mats during the hot season -- the ship winded once a year, to give equal exposure to the respective sides." (Circular letter from Board of Naval Commissioners, 29 Mar 1830, RG45, Letters Sent, BNC, DNA.) In 1842, preservation regulations changed somewhat. Perhaps the most important new requirement, possible since 1835, was for a ship entering ordinary to be drydocked, her bottom checked, and her copper sheathing restored. Under the new rules, ballast was to be removed, cleaned, whitewashed, and restowed in squares. Ceiling planking was to be removed except over frame joints. The spaces between frames were to be cleaned and whitewashed. All lower masts, bowsprit and rudder were to be removed, as were all bulkheads. The spar deck was to be payed with turpentine and tallow and receive a coat of fine, clean, white sand. Topsides were to be scraped and painted a light lead color after caulking. As before, a roof structure was installed and the ship opened or closed according to the weather. A daily inspection was to be made for rot, and monthly sight ranges checked to determine hogging. Fires were to be lighted belowdecks weekly during long wet periods. And if the ship was not swinging at anchor, it was to be winded monthly between April and September, and every other month during the remainder of the year. (Letter, Board of Naval Commissioners to yard commandants, 19 Jan 1842, RG45, Letters Sent, BNC, DNA.)

Prize Money. Under US law, all captured men of war became the property of the US Government. For other ships, if they were superior to their captor in guns or men, they became the sole property of that crew; if they were of lesser force, the value of the prize was divided evenly between the Government and the capturing ship. The value of auctioned prizes and any bounties paid for its guns and crew was divided into twenty shares apportioned amongst the captors as follows:

Captain -- 3 (if a squadron commander was embarked, he received one of the captain's shares)

Sea lieutenants and sailing master -- 2

Marine officers, surgeon, purser, boatswain, gunner, carpenter, master's mate, and chaplain -- 2

Midshipmen, surgeon's mates, captain's clerk, schoolmaster, boatswain's mates, gunner's mates, carpenter's mates, ship's steward, sailmaker, master-at-arms, armorer, and "cockswain" -- 3

Gunner's yeoman, boatswain's yeoman, quarter masters, quarter-gunners, cooper, sailmaker's mates, sergeant of Marines, corporal of Marines, drummer and fifer, and "extra petty officers" -- 3

Seamen, ordinary seamen, marines, and boys -- 7

If another US man of war was in sight at the time of capture, it would share in the prize money based on the relative strengths of the national ships involved. US privateers present were excluded. In addition to the value of the prize itself, bounties were paid on enemy men of war brought into US ports based on their gun batteries and crew size, as follows:

For each 24-pdr gun or larger -- $200

For each 18-pdr -- $150

For each 12-pdr -- $100

For each 9-pdr -- $75

For each smaller cannon -- $50

For each officer and man of the crew -- $40

In 1862, the "head money" was increased to $200 for every man aboard a prize of superior force and $100 if of equal or lesser force. Monies accruing to the US from the sale of prizes was placed in an account to fund the payment of lifetime pensions of half-pay to officers and seamen wounded in action or their surviving widows. Any funds deemed surplus to this purpose were to be used for "further provision of comfort" to disabled personnel or other worthy naval persons. Prize money was abolished in 1899. (Act of 2 Mar 1799; CAPT Frederick L. Oliver, USN, "Prize Money," U. S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Oct 1946, pp. 1315-1317.)

Professional Books. From the outset, the Navy provided copies of its regulations and printed volumes of pertinent laws to the commissioned officers for their edification and compliance. Some other works, such a those on navigation, were proved to appropriate departments. In the main, however, the officers were expected to provide themselves with reference books. The first work of this type known to have been issued by the department was The Mariner's Dictionary, based upon The British Mariner's Vocabulary of 1801, and published by William Duane in Washington. Secretary Robert Smith directed a copy be issued each midshipman from 1805 to 1808.

Professor of Mathematics Examinations. For some years, professors of mathematics had been employed in US warships to improve the education of the midshipmen. In fact, many were incompetent and were partially responsible for the movement toward a naval academy. In 1835, Secretary of the Navy Mahlon Dickerson decided to do something about it and asked Professor Edward C. Ward of New York to act as an examiner until a board could be formally established. J. E. Dow, who had been employed as professor of mathematics in Constitution on a short voyage to France, was the first examined. He failed. (Letter, Dickerson to Ward, 1 Aug 1835, RG45 (M209, Roll 8, Volume 21), DNA.)

Proofing Cannon. The proofs called for in the case of the first 24-pounder long guns ordered for the Navy in 1794 were as follows:

1st proof - 13.5 lbs powder, 2 wads, 2 shot

2nd proof - 15.75 lbs powder, 2 wads, 2 shot

3rd proof - 18.5 lbs powder, 2 wads, 2 shot

(American State Papers, Vol. I, Paper No. 12.)

The Board of Naval Commissioners passed on this information in 1820:

In proofing cannon, the French fire a gun twice, each time with 2 shot and a powder charge equal to one-half the shot size. The English use 2 shot and 18 lbs. of powder for a 24-pdr, and 2 shot and 21.5 lbs for a 32-pdr.

Americans use 2 shot and 16 lbs of powder for a 24-pdr, and 2 shot and 21.33 lbs of powder for a 32 pdr.

Windage in French guns is 1/50th; in English guns, 1/20th; in American 1/25th, making French proof equal to the English, but American "rather inferior to either." (Letter, Board of Naval Commissioners to the Secretary of the Navy, RG45 (M124, Roll 86, Volume 102), DNA.)

Provisions. On 18 June 1803, Purser James Deblois reported to Commodore Edward Preble that the following provisions would be required for a 400 man crew for six months:

Wax candles
Tallow candles
20,000 lbs
36,000 lbs
31,200 lbs
10,400 lbs
5200 lbs
3900 lbs
1300 lbs
1300 gals
1300 gals
650 gals
650 gals
500 lbs
500 lbs

(Samuel Brown Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society)

USS Constitution sailed on 30 Dec 1813, ordered on a cruise intended to last at least six months. So laden that some of the bread was stowed on the berth deck, her provisions, for a crew of 485, comprised:

Crout [sic]
76,234 lbs
51,969 lbs
39,840 lbs
12,544 lbs
2174 lbs
1765.5 lbs
360 lbs
1286.4 gals
1316.9 gals
870 gals
796.6 gals
800 gals
5074.1 gals
47,265 gals

(Court of Inquiry Record on Captain Charles Stewart, May 1814, RG45 (M273, Roll 7), DNA.)

Provision Stowage. Beef was stowed on the larboard side and pork to starboard; flour, rice, and peas/beans in the wings. Stowage, as with the water casks below them, is begun from aft and worked forward. Casks in the spirit room are stowed from the forward bulkhead aft. In all cases, the largest containers are closest to the keelson, with sizes diminishing as they are laid outboard. All casks are laid bung up. (Brady, William, Boatswain, USN. The Naval Apprentice Kedge Anchor (New York: Taylor and Clement), 1841.)

Pursers. In 1798, Pursers were warrant officers assigned to ships to handle pay and supply matters. None served ashore. They became commissioned officers by an act of 30 Mar 1812. In Jun 1860, Pursers were retitled Paymasters, in 1865 began taking over responsibilities ashore formerly handled by civil servants, and by an act of 15 Jul 1870, consolidated into the "Pay Corps of the United States." This, in turn, was redesignated the "Supply Corps" in Jul 1919. (Crumpacker, J. W. CDR (SC), USN, "Supplying the Fleet for 150 Years," U. S. Naval Institute Proceedings, June 1945, pp. 705-713.)

Pyrotechnics. The pyrotechnics allowance in the early Navy was:

Rocket Staffs
Blue Lights
Port Fires
Wooden Sockets
False Fires
Wooden Sockets
1 per gun (3, if flagship)
2 per gun (4, if flagship)
1 per gun (4, if flagship)
1 per gun (2, if flagship)
1 per gun (4, if flagship)
2 per gun (4, if flagship)
1 per gun (2, if flagship)

(Marshall, George, Gunner, USN. Marshall's Practical Marine Gunnery (Norfolk: Thomas G. Broughton), 1822.)



Racial Discrimination. When first manning the ships of the new Navy in 1798, nothing was said about race in the orders to recruiters for sailors, and African Americans, at least, were signed on, but the Marines were prohibited from recruiting negroes, mulattoes, or Indians. (24 Jan 1799 entry, Log, USS Constitution, USS Constitution Museum; Letters, Secretary of War to Captain Samuel Nicholson, USN, and Lieutenant Lemuel Clark, USMC, both 5 May 1798, RG45 (M149, Roll 1), DNA.) In enlisting a new crew in 1799, the prohibition against negroes and mulattoes was extended to sailors recruited for Constitution. (Secretary of the Navy to Captain Samuel Nicholson, 18 May 1799, RG45 (M149, Roll 2), DNA.) In the spring of 1803, Commodore Edward Preble was directed "You are not to Ship Black Men..." (Naval Documents Relating to the Barbary War, Vol. II, p.479.)

Ranks. Commissioned and warrant officer ranks evolved from a rather modest beginning to the rather more complicated system evident today. Below, in tabular form, is a brief chronological presentation of when the several grades were created, and when altered or terminated.

Commissioned Grades.

Surgeon's Mate
Master Commandant
Master Commandant
Purser reclassified from warrant
Passed Assistant Surgeon
Surgeon's Mate redesignated Assistant Surgeon
Commander superceded Master Commandant
Sailing Master redesignated Master
Purser redesignated Paymaster
Assistant Paymaster
Vice Admiral
Rear Admiral
Lieutenant Commander
Passed Midshipman superceded
by Ensign (junior grade)
Lieutenant (junior grade) superceded Master
Ensign (junior grade) terminated
Admiral of the Navy

(Specifically created for George Dewey)
Rear Admiral (upper and lower halves)
Commodore terminated on active list
Commodore reinstituted
Fleet Admiral
Fleet Admiral terminated 28 Oct 1952 per 14 Dec 1944 Act
Commodore terminated 28 Oct 1952 per 9 Apr 1943 Act

Warrant Grades.

Sailing Master
Passed Midshipman
Midshipman redesignated Cadet Midshipman
Naval Cadet superceded Midshipman
Midshipman reinstated

Appointed Grades.
Naval Constructor
Chief Naval Constructor
Schoolmaster renamed Professor of Mathematics
Flag Secretary
Chief (Steam) Engineer
Chief (Steam) Engineer
Civil Engineer
Assistant Engineer
1st Assistant Engineer
2nd Assistant Engineer
3rd Assistant Engineer
Act of 27 Mar 1794
Act of 27 Mar 1794
Act of 27 Mar 1794
Act of 27 Mar 1794
Act of 27 Mar 1794
Act of 25 Feb 1799
reinstated Act of 21 Apr 1806
Act of 30 Mar 1812
24 May 1828
24 May 1828
Act of 3 Mar 1837
Act of 3 Mar 1837
Act of 22 Jun 1860
Act of 17 Jul 1861
Act of 16 Jul 1862 (filled 1866)
Act of 16 Jul 1862 (filled 1864)
Act of 16 Jul 1862
Act of 16 Jul 1862
Act of 16 Jul 1862
Act of 16 Jul 1862

Act of 5 Aug 1882
3 Mar 1883
Act of 3 Mar 1899

Act of 3 Mar 1899
Act of 3 Mar 1899
Act of 9 Apr 1943
Act of 14 Dec 1944

Act of 27 Mar 1794
Act of 27 Mar 1794
Act of 27 Mar 1794
Act of 27 Mar 1794
Act of 27 Mar 1794
Act of 27 Mar 1794
Act of 27 Mar 1794
24 May 1828
Act of 5 Aug 1882

Act of 2 Jun 1813

Appointed 1 May 1794
Act of 1 Jul 1902
Administrative order of Nov 1826
3 Mar 1835
Act of 3 Mar 1835
Act of 3 Mar 1835
Appointed 12 Jul 1836
Confirmed by Act of 31 Aug 1842
Appointed 1836
Appointed of 31 Oct 1837
Act of 31 Aug 1842
Act of 31 Aug 1842
Act of 31 Aug 1842

(Navy Department, "A General Register of the Navy and Marine Corps of the United States..." (Washington: C. Alexander, 1848); Joseph C. Tily, "The Uniforms of the United States Navy (New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1964); Lt Richard H. Sprince, USN, "From Admiral to Midshipman," U. S. Naval Institute Proceedings, November 1956, pp. 1188-1193.)

Rates.  As is the case with officer ranks, enlisted rates expanded from a modest beginning to the wide range of skills addressed today.   Below, in tabular form, are the rates prevalent during Constitution's regular service, 1798-1881:

Petty Officer Rate Established Subequent modifications
Boatswain's Mate 1794  
Quarter Gunner 1794  
Quartermaster 1794  
Gunner's Mate 1794  
Sailmaker's Mate 1794  
Carpenter's Mate 1794  
Master's Mate 1794 Disestablished 1813; reestablished 1838; disestablished 1865
Coxswain 1794  
Armorer 1794  
Maaster at Arms 1794  
Cooper 1794  
Gunner's Yeoman 1794 Disestablished 1838
Cook 1794 Ship's Cook 1838
Steward 1794 Ship's Steward 1838
Captain's Clerk 1794 Disestablished 1835
Boatswain's Yeoman 1799 Disestablished 1864
Yeoman of the Gun Room 1794 Disestablished 1813
Captains of the Tops 1835  
Armorer's Mate 1835  
Ship's Corporal 1835  
Captain of the Forecastle 1838  
Surgeon's Steward 1838 Apothecary 1866
Officers' Cook 1838 Divided into Cabin Cook, Wardroom Cook,Steerage Cook,
and Warrant Officers' Cook 1864
Officers' Steward 1838 Divided into Cabin Steward, Wardroom Steward, Steerage Steward,
and Warrant Officers' Steward 1864
Captain of the Hold 1838  
Captain of the Afterguard 1846  
Painter 1846 Painter 2c 1864
Nurse (Male) 1861  
Paymastere's Steward 1861 Paymaster's Writer 1867;Paymaster's Yeoman 1c/2c/3c 1870
Asst. Paymaster's Steward 1862 Disestablished 1864
Boatswain's Mate In Charge 1864 Disestablished 1869
Gunner's Mate In Charge 1864  
Surgeon's Steward in Charge 1864 Disestablished 1868
Painter's Mate in Charge 1864 Painter 1c 1864; disestablished 1870
Schoolmaster 1864  
Baker 1864 Ship's Baker 1870
Engineer's Cook 1864 Disestablished 1864
Signal Quartermaster 1865  
Ship's Writer 1865  
Assistant Cook 1865  
Bag Room Keeper 1865  
Machinist 1866 Disestablished 1880
Boilermaker 1869  
Coppersmith 1869 Disestablished 1879
Ship's Printer 1869  
Ship's Tailor 1869  
Ship's Barber 1870  
Bugler 1871  
Engineer's Yeoman 1874  
Jack of the Dust 1876  
Ship's Lamplighter 1876  
Blacksmith 1879  
Engineer's Blacksmith 1880  
Finisher 1880  
Unrated Men Established Subsequent modification
Seaman 1794  
Ordinary Seaman 1794  
Boy 1794  
Landsman 1838  
Fireman 1842 Fireman 1c/2c 1847
Coal Heaver 1842  
Lamp Cleaner 1865  
Seaman Gunner 1869  
Bayman 1870  
Engineer's Force Seaman 1871  
Engineer's Force Ordinary Seaman 1871  
Ordinary Seaman 2c 1876  

Report forms. Secretary of the Navy Samuel Southard is remembered as the department head who placed the Navy on the road to bureaucratic formality and complexity. Just how swiftly he moved can be appreciated by the fact that a year after taking office he wrote to Commodore Thomas Macdonough, then about to depart for the Mediterranean Squadron, forwarding him forms to be submitted monthly on: officers and crew embarked, persons discharged, deserters, and deaths on board each ship in the squadron. The Commodore was admonished to ensure all were prepared accurately and submitted regularly through him. Reporting was to begin on the 1st of the month after sailing from the US. (Letter, Secretary to Captain Thomas Macdonough, 19 Oct 1824, M149 (Roll 15), DNA.)

Rules of the Road. The original "Regulations for Preventing Colisions at Sea," were distributed to all USN ships on 16 Jul 1880, to go into effect on 1 Sep 1880. These superceded a Congressional "act fixing certain rules and regulations for preventing collisions on the water" which had been promulgated by General Order No. 34 on 4 May 1864. (General Order No. 253, 16 Jul 1880.)


Salting hulls. Commodore William Bainbridge informed the Secretary of the Navy in January 1825 that:

"...salt has been used for the preservation of the Ships of the United states since the year 1802... "The usual mode of applying it is to fill the space between the timbers from the floor heads to the rail..."

(Letter, Board of Naval Commissioners to the Secretary, 11 Jan 1825, RG45 (M124, Roll 101, Volume 1), DNA.)

And in annotating an incoming letter, Secretary Levi Woodbury wrote:

"...I am happy to inform him, that this Deptmt has for some years adopted the practice of salting all our public vessels - whether on the stocks or afloat."

(Letter, William Patterson to the Secretary, 26 Feb 1834, RG45 (M124, Roll 141, Volume 234), DNA.)

Salutes. In 1822, salutes were ordered as follows;

21 Guns The President of the United States
19 Guns The Vice President of the United States
17 Guns The Secretary of the Navy,
other Cabinet members,
Governors of states or territories,
foreign ministers (ambassadors),
4th of July, Washington's Birthday
15 Guns Major Generals
13 Guns Commodores on separate service,
Brigadier, Generals,
"Public Character"
9 Guns Commodore not on separate service
7 Guns Captain

Note: Upon death in service, minute guns to the number rated in salute were to be fired for any commodore or Captain. A Lieutenant's death was to be marked by 3 musket volleys at his funeral. (Marshall, George, Gunner, USN. Marshall's Practical Marine Gunnery Norfolk: Thomas G. Broughton), 1822.) The following year, it was ordered that members of the Board of Naval Commissioners be accorded 15-gun salutes. (General Order, 20 Aug 1823, RG45 (M149, Roll 15), DNA.) In 1866, it was ordered that a Vice Admiral was to be saluted with 15 guns. (Regulation circular No. 2, 30 Jan 1866.)

Salvors' Money. A US man of war retaking an American ship or that of a friendly nation within 24 hours of its capture by an enemy was to receive 1/8 of its value from the owners as reward. If the recapture took place between 24 and 48 hours, the reward was 1/5 the value. The reward increased to 1/3 if the recapture occurred between 48 and 96 hours after the fact, and to 1/2 if "above that." (Act of 2 Mar 1799)

Sauve Tete. Despite the French words meaning, "save head," this phrase is of English invention and refers to a netting that might be installed horizontally over an open deck of a man-of-war to prevent falling objects from striking exposed personnel. Documented in the Royal Navy at least from the time of the French Revolution, its use was not regulated and was entirely at the discretion of a ship's captain, to be made by his crew. Generally created from “junk” (old rigging), the netting seems to have been most often installed above the quarterdeck area to protect the captain and those controlling the ship. It was roughly as wide as the deck area there and about the length of deck between the main and mizzen masts. When deployed upon the ship being cleared for action, its four corners were lashed to main and mizzen shrouds 3-4 feet above the bulwarks. Its use was adopted by the new U. S. Navy. (Log, USS Constitution, Jun1799)

Sea Bag Inventory. In 1815, a USN sailor's full sea bag consisted of: three shirts, two jackets, one (red or white) waist coat, three pairs of trousers, two pairs of shoes, two hats or one hat and cap, and a black handkerchief. (Ship's Orders, USS Independence, 1815, private collection.)

Semaphore System.  In 1847, the Navy adopted the "Rogers & Black Semaphoric Dictionary" as an official signalling system. (Circular letter, 16 Feb 1847, RG45 (M977, Roll 2), DNA.)
  Ships' Libraries. The Navy first provided libraries in its ships on 28 January 1828, when Secretary Samuel Southard sent a circular letter of all navy yard commandants a list of 37 books on mathematics, history, philosophy, and miscellaneous topics to be purchased and provided every ship as it was outfitted for service. USS Falmouth was the first ship to receive the library. (Skallerup, Harry R., Books Afloat & Ashore (Hamden: Arcon Books, 1974), pp. 135-7.)

Slaves aboard ship. At the outset, slaves could be enlisted for service with their masters' permission. Some officers, like Captain Silas Talbot, brought them aboard as personal servants, as well. In 1820, Article 16 of the new Navy Regulations banned the practice. (Letter, Secretary of the Navy to Captain Arthur Sinclair, 3 Jul 1820, RG45 (M149, Roll 14), DNA.)

Small Arms. In 1798, USS Constitution was issued 100 pair of pistols, 200 cutlasses, and an unknown number of swivels and blunderbusses. (Naval Documents Relating to the Quasi-War with France, Vol. I, p. 53.) In 1803, USS Constitution carried twelve swivels. (Receipt by Midshipman Charles Morris, 18 Jun 1803, Samuel Brown Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.) In 1822, the allowance of small arms was as follows:

Repeating Swivels
For the above
For the above
For the above
For the above
For the above
Musket Balls
Repeating Pistols
For the above
For the above
Pistol Balls
Boarding Pikes
1 to every 20 guns
1 for every 10 guns
630 lead balls each
2 for every 10 guns
100 balls each rifle
3 for every 2 guns
100 filled ball cartridges each
50 filled buckshot cartridges each
25 filled blank cartridges each
25 lbs per musket
1 to every 10 guns
1 to every 5 guns
25 balls each
3 [pair?] to every 2 guns
50 filled cartridges each
15 lbs per pistol
25 per weapon
2 for every gun
3 to every 2 guns
1 to every gun

(George Marshall, Gunner, USN. Marshall's Practical Marine Gunnery (Norfolk: Thomas G. Broughton), 1822.)

The Navy acquired its first breech-loading rifle, the Jenks, in 1838. Of .54 caliber, it employed percussion caps in lieu of flints. Its first percussion cap pistol, also of .54 caliber, was the Model 1843. The last muzzle loaders used by the Navy were the 1863 .69 caliber Whitneyvilles intended for use in repelling boarders with loads of buckshot. They were fitted with 12-inch knife bayonets designed by Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren. In 1911, the Navy adopted the .45 caliber Colt automatic as its standard sidearm. (Harrison P. Martin, "Small Arms and the Navy," U. S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Dec 1937, pp. 1753-1759.)

Spirit Ration. The U. S. Navy inherited the practice of the issuance of spirits -- grog -- from the Royal Navy. In 1808, Secretary of the Navy Robert Smith, after learning of Yankee preferences, changed the "spirit" from rum to rye whiskey. (It was cheaper, as well.) (Secretary to Purser Keith Spence, 11 Nov 1808, RG45 (M209, Roll 3, Volume 9), DNA.) In recognition that all hands did not drink the hard stuff, and in the face of growing public sentiment against it, in 1831 Secretary Levi Woodbury, in one of his first general orders, directed that men not drawing their spirit ration were to be credited with 6 cents additional pay per day. (General Order, 15 Jun 1831, RG45 (M149, Roll 19), DNA.)

Splinter Netting. Although rarely mentioned, splinter netting (also called "sauve tete" -- "save head") was employed to shield the quarterdeck area from falling rigging in battle. (5 and 9 Jan 1799 entries, Log, USS Constitution, 1 Dec 1798-15 Feb 1800, USS Constitution Museum.)

Squadrons. Following the Civil War, the Navy Department reestablished the squadron organization:

North Atlantic - formerly the Home or West Indies Squadron area

European - Atlantic coast of Europe, the Mediterranean, and NW coast of Africa

South Atlantic - SW coast of Africa and Se coast of South America

South Pacific - W coast of South America and Australia

North Pacific - W coast of North America and the Sandwich Islands

Asiatic - W coast of Asia and adjacent islands

(Circluar letter, 23 Apr 1866, General Orders and Circulars Issued by theNavy Department From 1863 to 1887 (Washington: GPO, 1887), p. 51.)

In 1869, the North and South Pacific Squadrons were subordinated to a Rear Admiral commanding the Pacific Station, whose limits extended from Alaska to Cape Horn. (General Order No. 105, 13 Mar 1869.) In 1872, the Pacific Station was split at the Equator, except that the South Pacific Station encompassed all of the west coast of South America to the Isthmus of Panama and extended west to Australia. (General Order No. 175, 8 Jul 1872.)

Ships' Names. Five of the original six ships built for the U. S. Navy were named by President Washington from a list provided him by Secretary of War Pickering. The subsequent so-called �subscription frigates,� were named for the cities wherein resided their principal sponsors. Lesser units were named rather haphazardly by the Secretary of the Navy, employing names from mythology, character traits, natural phenomena, and dangerous animals and insects. The first formal directive on the matter was a 3 March 1819 act of Congress which authorized the Secretary of the Navy to provide new names �under the direction of the President� according to the rule that ships of the first class (ships of the line) were to be named for States, the second class (frigates) for rivers, and the third (sloops of war) for cities, and ensuring that no two active units bear the same name. Broadly speaking, the practice continues to this day, with the various types of ships receiving names from particular categories. The Naval Historical Center researches names as needed for each year�s building program, forwards them to the Chief of Naval Operations for approval and submission to the Secretary for authorization and announcement..

Stateroom Assignments. According to Commodore Charles Morris, "In the...Constitution when I was attached...just before the war of 1812, the larboard rooms were assigned to the [Sailing] Master, civil and marine officers, and the starboard side to the lieutenants of the Navy. ...[T]he purser occupied the second and the surgeon the third..." (Letter, Morris to the Secretary of the Navy, 30 Aug 1840, RG45 (M124, Roll 174, Volume 308), DNA.) Commodore Francis Gregory recorded that during the War of 1812, when he was in the Lake Ontario squadron, labels were provided outside of each stateroom identifying the character of the resident officer. (Letter, Gregory to the Secretary of the Navy, 25 Jul 1840, RG45 (M124, Roll 174, Volume 308), DNA. Commodore Silas H. Stringham provided a sketch of the arrangement of a typical frigate wardroom showing staterooms for the First through Fifth Lieutenants from forward aft along the starboard side, and those for Master, Purser, Surgeon, Commanding Marine, and Chaplain from forward aft along the larboard side.

(Letter,Stringham to the Secretary of the Navy, 31 Jul 1840, RG45 (M124, Roll 174, Volume 308), DNA.

"The choice of staterooms and sleeping berths [in a 1st class frigate] shall be in the following order: The four senior lieutenants, according to their rank, the Master, Purser and Surgeon, the other Lieutenants to the number allowed the Ship by the regulations according to their rank, the captain and Lieutenant of Marines [sic] then Chaplain and Secretaries..."

(Letter, Secretary of the Navy to Commodore Lewis Warrington, 6 Apr 1840, RG45 (M149, Roll 30), DNA.)

In 1871, stateroom assignments in the wardroom were decreed to be:

Executive officer
Navigator/ordnance officer
Line officers by rank
Chief engineer
Senior Marine officer
Staff officers by rank
Forward stbd
Next aft stbd
Next aft stbd
Forward port
Next aft port
Next aft port
Next aft port
Next aft port
Next aft port
Next aft port

(Circular letter, 3 Oct 1871, General Orders and Circulars Issued by the Navy Department from 1863 to 1887 (Washington: GPO, 1887, pp. 108-109.)

Storerooms. In 1798, bread rooms were lined with lead covered with thin boards. (Naval Documents Relating to the Quasi-War with France, Vol. I, p. 171.) In 1803, bread rooms and sail rooms were lined with tin. (Naval Documents Relating to the Barbary War, Vol. II, p. 491.)

Summary Court Martial.  In the years following the abolition of flogging in 1850, the Navy struggled with a disciplinary system whose non-judicial punishments were limited to shackling or less, or a general court martial.  In March 1855, the Congress responded by creating the "summary court martial," a court requiring only three junior officers and far less formality of proceedings than the "general."

(Act of 2 Mar 1855)


Travel Expenses.  Through 1816, at least, officers' travel expenses were paid one of three ways: (1) actual public stage fares as charged by the operators, plus 2.5 cents per mile for incidental expenses; (2) actual fares for water passages; or (3) eight cents per mile for travel by "private conveyance." The overland transportation generally cost on the order of 8 cents per mile, regardless of distance or region of the country.  The one exception found was the rates from Boston and New York to Sackett's Harbor, on Lake Ontario, which were only 6 and 5 cents per mile, respectively. Water travel, with no known mileage table, was more variable.  It was markedly cheaper to travel by water, sometimes by more than 50%. 

(Compiled from Accounts Settled, Records of the Accountant of the Navy, RG214, NA.)

Treenails Discontinued. Late in 1829, the use of wooden treenails in warship construction was discontinued in favor of metal bolts. (Letter, Commodore Charles Morris to the Board of Naval Commissioners, 16 Dec 1829, RG45, Letters Received, BNC, DNA.)


"USS." Use of the abbreviation "USS" seen as early as July 1797. (Receipt for hammocks in USS Warren, Jul 1797, Samuel Brown Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.)  "Use of "USS" was formalized by President Theodore Roosevelt's Executive Order 549 on 8 January 1907."



Watch Sections. As may be seen by the many extant watch bills, ship's companies were divided into larboard and starboard watches, following the British pattern. (USS Constitution Watch Bills associated with the Battle Bills for 1809, 1814, 1822, 1826, and 1835 referenced under "Organization, Ship's.") Officer watch sections usually numbered at least three, any more than that depended upon the numbers of officers of the various ranks present. The Captain, First Lieutenant, and warrant and civil officers were exempted. (Naval Documents Relating to the Barbary War, Vol. III, p. 34.)

Water Casks. In 1803, Commodore Edward Preble reported having in Constitution 90 leaguers, 76 butts, and 56 gang casks containing 41,385 gallons of water. (Naval Documents Relating to the Barbary War, Vol. III, p. 220.) The standard allowance of water casks for a 74-gun ship of the line after the War of 1812 was 110 casks of 300 gallon capacity, twenty of 250 gallons, twenty of 200 gallons, eighty of 150 gallons, fifty of 100 gallons, thirty of 75 gallons, thirty of 50 gallons, thirty of 40 gallons, thirty barrels or breakers of 20 gallons, thirty barrels or breakers of 15 gallons, and 100 mess kegs of 8 gallons (65,800 gallons). The standard allowance of water casks for a 44-gun frigate was ten of 250 gallon capacity, ten of 200 gallons, 130 of 100 gallons, ten of 75 gallons, forty of 50 gallons, thirty of 40 gallons, thirty of 20 gallons, thirty of 15 gallons, and seventy of 8 gallons (33,860 gallons). (Letter, Board of Naval Commissioners to Captain Isaac Hull, 11 Jul 1820, RG45, Letters Sent, BNC, DNA.)

Water Tanks. In 1832, Congress appropriated $131,795 to install iron water tanks on the ships of the USN. ("An Act to provide iron tanks for the use of the United States," approved 10 Jul 1832.)