The other day I was reading through a pile of nineteenth
century obituaries skillfully collected by interns Ethan and Louise.  It is an exercise I indulge in frequently, as
we seek to flesh out what we know about Constitution’s
War of 1812 officers.  Many of those men
remained in the Navy after the war, slowly climbed the ranks, had children,
achieved an honorable status in society- and then died.  

Death notices are always formulaic.  They start with the name and place of
residence of the deceased, and sometimes include a cause of death, especially
if it was sudden or hastened by lingering illness.  If it was a young person, just starting off
in life, you might get something like, “he bid fair to be an ornament to the
profession he had chosen, and an honor to his surviving parent and friends,
whose hopes are now destroyed by his premature death.”[1]   If the person died at an advanced age there
is often a litany of his or her better qualities and achievements bordering on
the hagiographic.

In general, reading the last post from a life long past is a
sobering exercise, but occasionally an unintentionally humorous entry creeps
in.  Take for example the case of a Falmouth
man with the most improbable name:  Mr. Hate Evil Hall died on November 28, 1797
at the age of 91.  Now, one encounters a
great many odd names in New England. 
Most of them, like Baruch or Zenas, or Shadrack, or Theophilis have
biblical, or at least classical, precedents. 
Mr. Hall’s parents, on the other hand, seem to have imbibed an
especially dour strain of Puritanism.  He
may have hated evil (we have no evidence other than his name) but he certainly
loved his family.  As the obituary
explains, “He has now living 341 children, viz. 13 children – 113 grand
children-214 children’s grand children-1 grand child’s grand child.  65 of the above have been married, which
makes and [sic] addition of 65 children
by marriage.”[2]

But I digress. 
Obituaries can provide some wonderfully detailed information about the
last days of Constitution’s
officers.  Lieutenant Henry Ward’s
obituary in the 14 July 1825 edition of the Boston Commercial Gazette provides
the touching story of his last hours.

The remains of Lieutenant Henry Ward, of the United States
Navy, were entombed in this city [Boston] on Monday, with the military honors
prescribed by the rules of the service, attended by all the officers of the
station, and numerous mourning relatives. 
The funeral escort was composed of the Marine Corps of the Yard, and a
detachment from the garrison of Fort Independence.  All who knew the deceased, deeply lament his
death.  The disorder which terminated in
his decease, was contracted when in service on the anti-piratical expedition
under Com. Porter, in the West-Indies. 
Leaving the expedition on account of sickness, his friends cherished a
hope, that a northern climate, surgical skill and care, and his excellent
spirits and cheerfulness, would eventually eradicate his disease; but they have
been disappointed, and although his malady did not prevent the faithful
discharge of his duty, his decline became apparent, and it was with the best
advice, that he was induced on Saturday to undertake a short journey for the
alleviation of his complaints.  He
visited several friends on the way, and his usual cheerfulness had not left
when he departed from Salem on his way to Gloucester.  “He rode,” says the Salem Register, “in a
chaise with his lady- When he arrived at the tavern in Manchester, he
complained of feeling worse, but thought he would endeavour to reach
Gloucester.  After riding some distance,
he felt so ill, that he could not proceed; he got out of the chaise, and sat
down by the road side; fortunately his brother and another gentleman had
overtaken Lieut. W. and his wife on the road, and were then in company.  A physician was sent for, but before medical
aid could be obtained Lieut. Ward was a corpse, having expired in the presence
of his distressed wife and brother!  He
was a valuable and highly esteemed officer, and his death is a severe loss to
the service and to his numerous friends.” 
His remains were conveyed to Gloucester, where the utmost respect were
paid to them by its hospitable inhabitants, to whom he was well known, and the
body, inclosed [sic] in a coffin, was
conveyed in a mourning hearse to the house of his father-in-law, in this city,
attended by several of his relatives, and brother officers,- whose attention to
his remains could only be exceeded by their personal regard for him while
living, and the sensation which they experienced on hearing his sudden exit.

Ward was only 34 years old. 
As a midshipman, he’d survived the battle with HMS Java on December 29, 1812, and later transferred to USS Congress. 
He was promoted to lieutenant in 1817 and still held that rank in
1825.

As the years rolled on, more and more of Constitution’s War
of 1812 crew passed from the scene.  By
the 1840s, probably 70 percent or more had died.  A few lingered until the Civil War.  Captain Charles Stewart may have outlived
them all.  The conqueror of the Cyane and Levant was promoted to rear admiral in 1862 (albeit on the retired
list) and died at the age of 91 in 1869.
 
The End.
 
Most death notices in the early nineteenth century were written without the euphemistic language that became common in the Victorian era.


 

[1]
Obituary of Midshipman William Burrows Atkinson, The South Carolina State Gazette (Charleston, SC), 4 Oct. 1799.
[2]
The Weekly Oracle (New London, CT),
13 Jan. 1798.

The Author(s)

USS Constitution Museum