Rank(s): Ordinary Seaman
Dates of Service: -
Alaby’s date and place of birth are unknown.
Alaby first joined Constitution as a boy on February 25, 1809 while the ship was in New York Harbor. In 1810, he was promoted to ordinary seaman and was transferred to USS Presidenton June 17, 1810 at Hampton Roads, VA. Alaby continued to prosper in the Navy and joined Constitution’s crew again as a boatswain’s mate on July 30, 1814. He deserted the ship in Boston on September 2, 1814.
The rank of boy had nothing to do with age, but rather experience. Although some boys may have been as young as eight when they entered the navy, the majority were in their mid to late teens. They were in effect apprentice seamen, learning the ways of the ship on what was most likely their first cruise. The rank was equivalent to “landsman” in the Royal Navy. The boys composed one part of that class of sailors referred to (sometimes derisively) as “idlers,” meaning that they stood no regular watch, except when “all hands” were called. Other duties assigned to boys included attending the watch glass and bell, running messages, acting as servants for the officers. They coiled the running rigging after sail evolutions and were often sent aloft to furl or loose the light sails. Much of the routine maintenance of the ship, such as, sweeping, scrubbing, and slushing the masts, fell to the lot of the boys. In the course of these duties they would have been learning rudimentary seamanship, especially knots and splices. In battle, some of the boys passed powder or shot to the guns. Boys made from between $6 and $10 per month.
Among the enlisted men, ordinary seamen stood in the middle of the lower-deck hierarchy. These men had typically sailed one or two voyages and knew basic seamanship. Like the able seamen, they too could “hand, reef, and steer,” but some of the more complicated maneuvers were foreign to them. Many ordinary seamen would have been numbered among the topmen, the young and agile crewmembers who were responsible for working aloft on the masts and yards. The ordinary seaman made $10.00 per month.
The boatswain’s mates were subordinate to the boatswain and aided him with his duties. They were specifically bidden to keep the men at their allotted tasks. Like the boatswain, they carried silver calls or whistles with which to give commands. Many boatswain’s mates carried short, knotted pieces of rope called “starters” or “colts” with which they would strike crew members who were slow or awkward in their duties. It was also the boatswain’s mates’ duty to flog malefactors (who were duly convicted) with the “cat-of-nine-tails.” Boatswain’s mates’ pay amounted to $19.00 per month.
Battles and Engagements
During his time on board, Constitution cruised the East Coast to enforce US trade laws. Though he later enlisted during the war, the ship remained in Boston Harbor during the month he was on board.
Alaby deserted from Constitution on September 2, 1814, but by June 1815 he had shipped on board USS-Java at New York under the assumed name Ely Mason. Commodore Decatur transferred him to USS Firefly, but on board this vessel he was recognized. Lieutenant George W. Rodgers wrote to the Secretary of the Navy on June 26, 1815 and was told that Alaby must be held for a court martial. He was accordingly arrested and placed in double irons under a sentinel’s charge. Despite these precautions, Alaby managed to escape from the New York Navy Yard on the night of July 3, 1815; the sentry may have helped him. It is not known if he was ever apprehended.