Found amongst Thomas Chew’s possessions was this key to a navy yard powder magazine. In addition to serving as purser aboard USS Constitution in the War of 1812, and several other ships, Chew was also purser of the Boston Navy Yard and later the New York Navy Yard. As a purser, Chew was a bookkeeper, business agent, and shopkeeper rolled into one. Part of his responsibilities at the navy yards included managing supplies like gunpowder.
It is likely this key came from the New York Navy Yard, which was Chew’s final assignment before retiring in 1821. The key was one of two that opened the inner and outer doors of the magazine, which was a stout, heavily built structure usually located in a remote and secure location in a navy yard. A vestibule between the doors helped ensure that neither flood nor fire would likely penetrate the magazine and damage the gunpowder supply or cause it to explode.