We always love to discover more about the people involved with Constitution over the years. We’ve recently learned all sorts of new things about the sailors who fought in the War of 1812, but now we’re taking a closer look at the hundreds of people who helped build and outfit the ship between 1795 and 1798.

The task has been a bit complicated by the relative scarcity of records.  A fire in the War Department in 1800 and the burning of the Navy Department and Treasury in 1814, along with a general disregard for obsolete paperwork during much of the 19th century, have left some disappointing holes in the record.  The “Papers of the War Department” project has done much to gather surviving correspondence from different repositories. We are optimistic that some of the financial records pertaining to Constitution‘s construction will be located within the Treasury Department records.  We’d really like to find the payrolls for the carpenters, blacksmiths, and general laborers employed at Edmund Hartt’s shipyard.  Once we have a good list of names, we can start pouring through the usual genealogical resources to learn more about the men and women who wielded the axes, adzes, hammers, tongs, needles, and thread to create America’s most famous ship.

A detail from William Birch’s 1800 engraving titled “Preparation for War to defend Commerce.”  It took many skilled craftsmen to shape rough timbers into the graceful curves and straight plank needed to build a ship.  USS Constitution Museum collection.

The Museum’s collection includes three payrolls of carpenters engaged to repair the ship at the end of 1801 and in the late spring of 1802.  The labor force consisted of between 98 and 117 ship carpenters.  Some of the names seem familiar to us.  There are, for instance, Samuel and Joseph Hartt, the brothers of Edmund.  Not surprisingly, many of the men came from other coastal Massachusetts towns with strong shipbuilding traditions, including Gloucester, Scituate, and Hingham. Boston Navy Agent Samuel Brown had been advertising for carpenters since August 1801, and the ads appeared in many Massachusetts newspapers. 

An advertisement for ship carpenters, from the Newburyport Herald, September 9, 1801.

Those engaged in family history research love lists of names, so what follows is a transcription of one of the rolls.  The names in parenthesis indicate the man’s spelling of his own name in his signature (as opposed to the clerk’s spelling).

Pay Roll for Carpenters employ’d on board the Frigate
Constitution Lt. Isaac Hull Commander from Saturday the 21st November to Friday
the 4th December 1801.

James
Hatch
Nehemiah
Perry
Simeon
(Samuel)
Hemenway
(Hemmenway)
William
Pook
Edmund
Oleary
Joseph
Wiswell
Samuel
Waters
Daniel
Bray
Richard
Humphries
Peleg
Humphries
Jonathan
Gilmore
Nathan
Champney
Edward
Howard
John
Snelling
Ephraim
French
William
Hayden
James
Lampstead
(Lamstead)
Alpheus
Dunbar
Nathaniel
Litchfield
John
Gardner
James
Turner
Nathaniel
Turner
Samuel
Nowell
Joseph
Hartt
William
Grace
Thomas
Dillaway
John
Stevens
Peter
Duffy
John
Kingman
Daniel
Leeman
(Leman)
Lewis
Record
(Rick[h]ard)
James
White
Nathaniel
Page
Stephen
Blood
Charles
Bellamy
Robert
Hale
William
Chapman
Lemuel
Colbourne
(Colburn)
David
Pulsifer
Joseph
Gould,
Jr. (Goule)
Samuel
Hunstable
Richard
Holden
Daniel
Malcolm
William
Gardner
Joseph
Whitney
William
Pearson
Haugh
Oakes
Benjamin
Shute
Robert
Badger
James
Foley
Shepherd
Briggs
Henry
(Hnery)
Emmes
William
Hyler
Charles
Tilden
Thomas
Cross
John
Bates
Francis
Cushing
John
Hovea
Nathaniel
Colesworthy
James
Stetson
Elijah
Swift
Benjamin
Swift
Samuel
Choate
David
Leason
John
Nutting
Edward
Carey
(Carys)
Samuel
Hartt
Elijah
Dean
Linus
Dean
William
Tompkins
James
Husson
Patrick
Lambert
Seth
Briggs
John
Gay
Joseph
Chamberlain
John
Cummings
Joshua
Grant
Amos
Lock
Samuel
Hanson
Joseph
Gould
Levi
Ramsdell
Ralph
Peake
(Peak)
Nathaniel
Sylvester
James
(John)
Alkins
(Atkins)
William
Delano
Barney
(Barnard)
Clapp
(Clap)
Tilden
Hall
Samuel
Ramsdell
(Ramsdel)
Nathaniel
Brown
David
Parker
Matthew
Tower
Nathaniel
Humphries
(Humphrey)
Ensign
Merit
Daniel
Ramsdele
(Ramsdel)
Gad
Levitt
(Leavitt)
Joseph
Tucker
Joshua
Baker
Warren
Joy

The Author(s)

Christopher Johnson