Letter from John Cushing Aylwin to William Aylwin, June 12, 1812
John Cushing Aylwin was born in Quebec, Canada on June 14, 1778 to Lucy (Cushing) and Thomas Alywin, a Boston merchant who had fled to Canada during the American Revolution. Aylwin’s father sent him to London to work as a captain’s apprentice with the condition that he attend a naval academy for six months. Aylwin never made it to school, but was eventually promoted to the position of mate. Although determined to migrate the United States, Aylwin was pressed into service in the British Royal Navy and sailed aboard a brig of war for several years. Ill health eventually allowed him to be released to Boston, where he joined a merchant ship. On May 25, 1812, Aylwin entered the United States Navy as a sailing master.
Aylwin wrote this letter to his brother, William, from the mouth of Chesapeake Bay on June 12, 1812, shortly before departing on a cruise aboard USS Constitution. He remarks that Constitution’s crew is “fully equipped at all points to give the first British frigate we meet with a pretty good drubbing.” As the sailing master, he was responsible for the safe navigation and proper sailing of the ship at all times. Aylwin saw action in the battle with HMS Guerriere on August 19, 1812 and was mortally wounded in the battle with HMS Java on December 29, 1813. He was posthumously awarded a Congressional silver medal for his role in the victory over Java.