Rank(s): Marine Sergeant
Dates of Service: -
Birth Date: 1786
Adrian Andrew Peters was born in Antwerp, Belgium (then Holland) in about the year 1786. He appears on War of 1812-period Navy and Marine Corps documents as Adrian Peters, but in all subsequent correspondence he signed his name as Peterson.
At the age of 17, he joined the French Army and fought in a number of campaigns under Napoleon for three years. He received five wounds during this service and was at last captured by the British. He managed to escape from a British warship and found refuge on board an American merchantman, which took him to the United States in 1806. He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps as a corporal at New York on 13 March 1811, but may have been in the service as early as 1807. His term of enlistment was for five years. He was literate, implying that he had at least some education.
Peters first joined Constitution’s crew as a corporal on 7 April 1812. He was promoted to sergeant on 1 August 1812. He was transferred to the Charlestown Navy Yard Marine Barracks on 21 May 1814, but returned to the ship on 10 December 1815. He was transferred back to the Navy Yard barracks on 15 June 1815.
The Marine sergeant was a non-commissioned officer who supported the Marine lieutenant in his duties. They were the ones who passed the officer’s commands to the Marines. They conducted daily small arms drill and insured that the men were well dressed and that their equipment was well maintained. They checked to see that the sentries were at their posts and could lead detachments of Marines in battle. For his work, a sergeant received only $10.00 per month.
Battles and Engagements
Peters served in each of Constitution’s engagements during the War of 1812. During the battle with HMS Java on 29 December 1812, he was stationed as a sharpshooter in the maintop. According to Benjamin in A Cruise on the Constitution: Around the World on Old Ironsides, 1844-1847 , Peters was the man who shot Captain Henry Lambert of the Java. Soon after firing the fatal shot, Peters was struck on the head by a stay which was shot away, and the wound caused a considerable amount of deafness.
In August 1815 Peters wrote to the commandant of the Marine Corps requesting his discharge, even though it was six months before the end of his enlistment. He was discharged by order of the Secretary of the Navy on 15 October 1815.
He got a job at the Portsmouth (NH) Navy Yard in 1816. In 1825, while supervising the building of a wharf, he was struck in the breast by a piece of timber.
In 1836, he received a warrant as a gunner in the US Navy. He served as gunner on the storeship Relief during the US Exploring Expedition of 1838 to 1842. In 1844 he received orders to report to Constitution again, but when he reported for duty at the Gosport (VA) Navy Yard, he discovered that another gunner had already been appointed to the position and he returned to the Boston Navy Yard.
He and his family resided in the Chelsea, Massachusetts Naval Hospital farm house, just across the Mystic River from the Charlestown Navy Yard. In 1850, he addressed a letter to the Secretary of the Navy:
“Your memorialist would respectfully represent to the Hon: Secretary of the Navy, that I have been in the Naval Service of the Country for a period of 42 years, ever since 1807, & am now 62 years of age. I had the honor of serving the Country during the late British War, & was in the frigate Constitution, from April 1812 to 17th June 1815, & was in the three battles viz. with the Frigate [sic] Guerriere, Java, Cyane & Levant. During the action with the Java, I received a contusion in [sic] the head, & have been quite deaf from that time to this. Since 1815, I have been variously employed, within the Navy Yards or Magazines, or in vessels of war in various places. Most of the Senior Officers of the Navy & Marine Corps know me personally.
I have been waiting orders for some time, & now desire to be ordered to some Southern Station, to a milder climate, as my health is infirmed, & the rigors of this climate are too severe for me. I could make myself useful on shore, in the ordinary at Norfolk, or in the laboratory at Washington, having been fourteen years a Gunner in the Service, & I would respectfully ask the Department to assign me some at those or other Southern Stations.”
He was assigned to the Portsmouth (VA) Navy Yard and, at the start of the Civil War, presented himself for duty at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Nevertheless, he was placed on the retired list on 21 December 1863.
Peters died of “apoplexy” on 27 July 1871 at his home in Chelsea, and was buried in Portsmouth, New Hampshire at the Proprietors Burying Ground.