A Database of Naval History


In days of yore, the captain's clerk was a junior "civil officer" in the Navy who had a decent command of the English language, could copy the captain's out-going letters in a "fair round hand," and maintained files of all his employer's correspondence. The present Captain's Clerk is a database created in 1986, based largely on primary historical sources. The first thing to say about it is that nearly everything in it relates to USS Constitution ("Old Ironsides"), one way or another, and where a document is not included in its entirety, the quote or note relates to the ship although that might not be specifically evident (leaving out "Constitution" saves a lot of space!).

Secondly, most of the files are working documents. That is, later research may, from time to time, modify or expand the material in a number of them. Principal focus currently is on "filling in" primary information concerning the ship's first line service, i. e., to June 1855.

A number of files have been removed from the Clerk's archives for presentation here. If you are interested in short articles about various aspects of Constitution's history, go to The Captain Speaks. Something has been worth recording on just about every day of the year in the ship's long history, and you will find it in Calendar. If you are looking for current print and video offerings about the ship, see Close Up. For trivia about the ship and the early Navy, try The Lucky Bag.

Below is a list of files in the directories as they now exist.

The directory "BILLS" contains copies of 15 extant watch, quarter, and station bills (individuals' duty assignments) from the ship as follows: quarter bills for 1804 and 1812; watch, quarter, and station bills for 1809; watch and quarter bills for 1814, 1822, 1826, and 1835; and quarter and station bills for 1825.

The directory "PAPERS" consists of more than 100 compilations of information gleaned from many sources; references are provided within each document. Here are lists of captains, of officers for each of her commissions, of deaths aboard, of overseas burial sites, of deserters, of operational cost estimates for 1798, 1806, 1807, and 1816, of repairs, and of medals awarded; itineraries for each of the commissions; official manning levels for 1798, 1807, 1812, 1813, 1814, 1820, 1821, 1822, 1824, 1826, 1838, 1844, 1853, 1868, 1871, 1879, 1931, and 1935; and other miscellaneous information.

The "IMAGES" directory contains more than 100 pictures of CONSTITUTION and her people from 1794 to 1976, together with supporting commentary.

The "INPRINT" directory includes more than 80 papers of varying lengths written by Commander Tyrone G. Martin, USN, over a period of 25 years, all dealing with CONSTITUTION specifically or with the broader milieu in which she operated.

The directory "JOURNALS" contains either notes, excerpts, or complete texts of the 28 journals of the following officers: Passed Midshipman Frank A. Bacon (1835- 36), Passed Midshipman Frederick Baury (1811-13), Midshipman William P. Buckner (1844-45), Captain's Clerk Edward Cobb (1852-55), Lieutenant John B. Dale (1844-46), Surgeon Amos A. Evans (1812-13), Marine Private William Fleming (1824-28), Lieutenant David Geisinger (1821-24), Marine Private John Hazlett (1879), Midshipman Meriwether P. Jones (1844-46), Lieutenant William H. Kennon (1839), Midshipman Richard L. Page (1826-28), Midshipman James Pity (1798-99), Commodore Edward Preble (1803), Boy Samuel Sloan (1803-04), Midshipman Wright Smith (1803-05), Philip A. Stockton (1824-26), Sailmaker Charles Tallman (1881), Midshipman Colville Terrill (1845-46), Carpenter Henry G. Thomas (1844-46), and Lieutenant  Melancthon T. Woolsey (1804-07).

The directory "LAWS" contains verbatim texts of 78 federal statutes passed 1798?1847 dealing specifically or generally with the ship.

The directory "LOGS" contains notes and excerpts taken from 42 logs of Constitution in various archives. In addition to noting events, emphasis has been placed on identities, punishments, deaths, ship's routine, ship's appearance details ?? the "nitty gritty." All are reproduced at this site at "The Ship's Logs."

The directory "MEMORIES" is a collection of 8 unpublished works by participants certainly or apparently done at some later time (up to 62 years!). From Passed Midshipman Edward C. Anderson are his description of a trip through the Holy Land in 1837, his deposition for the 1840 court-martial of Commodore Jesse D. Elliott, and his notes on how to rig the ship. From Commodore Elliott is his version of the events for which he was court-martialed, published in 1844. From Acting Chaplain Assheton Y. Humphreys is the text of his "recapitulatory journal" of the ship's last war cruise (1815). The remaining three documents, from Ordinary Seaman William Bryant (covering 1798? 99), Marine Private Thomas C. Byron (1812-15), and Boy Moses D. Webber (1835-38), are memoirs written many decades after the service they recall.

The directory "MUSTER" contains compilations of 17 muster/pay rolls of the ship covering the periods 1798-99, 1803-06, 1807-1815, 1821-28, 1835-38, 1844-46, and 1852-55.

The directory "POETRY" contains the texts and lyrics of 36 poems and songs written about the ship and her career from before launching to the modern era.

The directory "RESEARCH" contains complete contemporary texts, excerpts, abstracts, or notes ("NTS") compiled in 175 files, mostly from unpublished sources. "AMSTPPRS.EXP" contains lengthy excerpts from the American State Papers (1789-1825). "NAVCHRON.NTS" pertinent material from the British Naval Chronicles (1798-1815). The full transcripts of the courts-martial of defeated British captains, as well as the court of inquiry on Captain Charles Stewart are included, as are the ship's regulations for 1805, 1809, 1824, and 1835. Page by page research of a number of National Archives microfilm series has resulted in extensive notes and excerpts from: M74 (Letters of Tench Coxe, 1794-96), M89 (Letters Received by SecNav from Squadron Commanders. 1841?86), M124 (Miscellaneous Letters Received by SecNav, 1801-1843), M125 (Letters Received by SecNav from Captains, 1805-61; 1866-85), M147 Letters Received by SecNav from Commanders (1804-55), M148 (Letters Received by SecNav from Junior Officers, 1802-1864), M149 (Letters Sent by SecNav to Officers, 1798-1858), M209 (Miscellaneous Letters Sent by SecNav, 1798-1855), M330 (Abstracts of Officers' Records), M441 (Letters Sent by SecNav to Commandants, 1808-65), M472 (Letters Sent by SecNav to the President, 1821-84), M480 (Letters Sent by SecNav to Bureau Chiefs, 1842-86), M518 (Letters Received by SecNav from Bureau Chiefs, 1842-85), M528 (Letters Received by SecNav from Navy Agents, 1843- 65), M625 (Area Files, 1775-1846), M739 (Letters Sent by SecWar on Naval Matters, 1794-98), and M977 (Navy Department General Orders and Circular Letters, 1798-1862). The remaining files are a miscellany of short letter collections, notes from published primary sources, and contemporary newspaper items.

The directory "SAILNAVY" contains separate forms of basic technical and historical information on the 426 sailing ships of the U. S. Navy through the Civil War, together with a "timeline" depicting periods of overhaul, ordinary, operations, etc., for each.

The directory "CALENDAR" has a file for each month, each of which contains a form for each day in that month. Each form lists events occurring on that date throughout Constitution's history. There are several dates, including 29 February, for which there are no entries. This material appears on the site at "The Ship's Calendar."

The directory "CREW" is the monster: here are to be found the individual forms on over 15,300 men (and a few women) who have served officially in the ship since 1798, as well as supernumeraries and passengers. There is a file for each letter of the alphabet except "X," and an additional file which defines the abbreviations used in the forms.

The directory "PRISWAR" contains a form for each known prisoner of war taken as a result of Constitution's captures on the high seas, nearly 1000 persons, recording when and where he or she was taken and what subsequent disposition was made.

The last four directories above contain materials in database rather than word processing format. Each "SAILNAVY" and "CREW" form occupies three computer screens and includes fields up to a full screen in length, in order to accommodate such things as source identification.

An effort has been made to provide cross-referencing within the database.

Inquiries as to the availability of any of the material not reproduced at this site may be addressed to the site.

Inquiries about unpublished material in the database may be sent to The Captain's Clerk at matrosse58@gmail.com.