Rank(s): Able Seaman
Dates of Service: -
Death Date: 8/19/1812
Caleb Smith’s place and date of birth are unknown.
Smith enlisted in the US Navy on June 16, 1812 in Philadelphia, PA. He joined Constitution’s crew as an able seaman on July 2, 1812, while the ship lay at Annapolis, Maryland. The able seaman was the elite member of the crew. Having sailed for years “before the mast” on merchant vessels or worked his way up through the ranks in the navy, it was on him that the officers relied for the smooth operation of the ship. The traditional requirements for the seaman were that he be able to “hand (furl or take in a sail), reef (reduce a sail’s area), and steer,” but these were in fact the barest requirements for the seaman rating. In addition, they were expected to be familiar with nearly all aspects of shipboard labor. He had to be able to cast the sounding lead, be able to sew a sail with a palm and needle, and understand all parts of the rigging and the stowage of the hold. Furthermore, he had to know how to fight, as part of a gun crew or with small arms. The able seaman made $12 per month.
Battles and Engagements
Smith was on board Constitution during the ship’s August 19, 1812 battle with HMS Guerriere. Sadly, he was one of the seven Americans killed in the engagement.
In July 1821 a lawyer in Philadelphia wrote a letter on behalf of a boardinghouse keeper to the Fourth Auditor of the Treasury (Navy Accountant) seeking information about Smith’s wages and prize money:
“At the request of Mrs. Shankland an elderly Lady who for many years kept a sailors boarding House in Philadelphia request information relative the settlement of the Claim of the Estate of Caleb Smith a seaman killed in the U.S. Frigate Constitution under the Command of Capt Hull in the Action with H.M. Ship Guerriere J. R. Dacres Commander August 20th 1812.
“Caleb Smith a young seaman was a distant connection of this family and always made it his home when in Port — Mrs Shankland tells me he had a mother living at the time of his death in Maryland – but that she has also been dead for a considerable time – that her husband supplied Caleb with cloathing [sic] & money to a very considerable Amount previous to his going out in the Constitution which Money has never been refunded that Mr Shankland her husband died about the same time or soon after Smith Therfore [sic] requests the favour of information – that if the mother of C Smith did not receive the prize money and wages during her life due her son that so much at least may be paid her as to ballance [sic] Accounts.”
Mrs. Shankland wrote again in March 1822:
“…’Caleb Smith’ a Seaman killed on board the United States frigate Constitution Isaac Hull Esquire Commander In the Action with the Gurriere [sic] on the 20th Augt. 1812. ‘Smith’ was a boarder & Debtor a particular favourite and a distant Relation of my family. Please inform me if the Estate of ‘Caleb Smith’ has beem settled with the Government? [Signed with an “X.” Annotated: “DD – overpaid $18.53.]