Rank(s): Able Seaman
Dates of Service: -
Coombs’ date and place of birth are unknown
Coombs worked as a mariner for most of his early life. He served in the Navy during the War of 1812. He was on board USS Enterprise when she captured HMS Boxer on 5 September 1813.
Coombs joined Constitution’s crew as a seaman on 8 December 1813 at Boston. He remained on board until discharged on 11 July 1815.
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. It was from the ranks of the able seamen that the petty and warrant officers were drawn. The able seaman made $12.00 per month.
On 31 January 1814, “while in the discharge of his duty,” Coombs “accidentally fractured the Patella [knee pan] of the left leg, which has forever disqualified him for doing the duty of a seaman and renders him incapable of earning his living by any labour.” He received a pension of $8.00 per month for this injury in 1825.
Battles and Engagements
Coombs participated in the battle with HMS Cyane and HMS Levant on 20 February 1815. During the engagement he was stationed at gun no. 4 on the forecastle where he served as first sponger.
According to P.R. Hamblin’s 1836 work, United States Criminal History; Being a True Account of the Most Horrid Murders, Piracies, High-way Robberies, &c, George Coombs got into a considerable amount of trouble after his discharge from the navy. According to Hamblin:
This person was a seaman by profession, and served in the navy of the United States, through the late war. He was one of the crew of the Enterprise, when she captured the Boxer, and .was in the battle between the Constitution and the Cyanne and Levant. His general character was good. On the return of the Constitution to port, he formed an illicit connexion with an abandoned woman by the name of Maria Henry. They dwelled together in Clark street at the Northend of Boston, as man and wife.
On the 15th day of June, 1816, the soi disant Mrs. Coombs was somewhat intoxicated; nevertheless they passed the day quietly till late in the afternoon, at which time the lady was sitting on the sailor’s knees. One Eliza Snow was present. Mrs. Coombs requested her’ partner to make a fire, and he peremptorily refused, with an oath. She then said that she would make the fire and get tea, but that he should not partake of it. With that the woman left the room in a passion, and went into the kitchen. He followed her, as much enraged as she, and a quarrel instantly took place. A woman in the next apartment, hearing the noise, looked through a gimlet hole, and saw Coombs strike his paramour down. The sufferer cried murder, and begged him to desist. Howbeit he persisted in striking and kicking her; nay, even stamped on her twice. At last, when the neighbors, attracted’ by the noise, came in, he raised her in his arms, and laid her on a bed.
She said, “George Coombs, you have given me my death wound ; you have killed me.” To one of the bystanders she said she had hurt herself by falling; to another that Coombs had killed her. She then, requested that some one would go for a physician. Coombs refused to stir, but one of the females present went.
When the doctor entered, Coombs was walking about the room much agitated, but not intoxicated. Mrs. Coombs was weak, had no perceptible pulse, and was scarcely able to speak. At midnight she expired. A post mortem examination discovered a bruise on the left side, which had ruptured two blood vessels. The deceased was a robust, strong woman.
For this homicide, George Coombs was brought to the bar of the Supreme Court on the 3rd of December, 1816, on an indictment for murder. He pleaded not guilty.
It appeared in the prisoner’s favor, that the deceased was habitually drunken, given to profane and indecent language, and of a turbulent and furious temper. Coombs had always appeared to be much attached to her, and on the fatal evening said he feared he was about to lose his best friend. On being advised by a man present to abscond, Coombs ordered him to leave the house. He willingly gave money to procure the physic ordered by the physician. After the death of his paramour, he made no attempt to escape, but went to Charlestown and returned again fearlessly. Also, four out of seven of the witnesses to the blows given, were common prostitutes. The person who witnessed the act of stamping, however, was of unimpeached character. Admitting this fact to be true, the act of Coombs was undoubtely a savage murder, but the testimony of this witness was in some degree contradicted by other evidence. The prisoner was acquitted and discharged.