Obituaries are an integral part of discovering information about the lives of USS Constitution’s War of 1812 officers. Many of those men remained in the U.S. 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, the obituary might read 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.


Lieutenant Henry Ward’s obituary in the July 14, 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 HMS Cyane and HMS Levant was promoted to rear admiral in 1862 (albeit on the retired list) and died at the age of 91 in 1869.


The End.


1 Obituary of Midshipman William Burrows Atkinson, The South Carolina State Gazette (Charleston, SC), 4 Oct. 1799.

The Author(s)

Matthew Brenckle
Research Historian, USS Constitution Museum

Matthew Brenckle was the Research Historian at the USS Constitution Museum from 2006 to 2016.