Rank(s): Able Seaman
Dates of Service: 6/15/1812 - 12/29/1812
Alexander’s date and place of birth are unknown.
James Alexander enlisted in the Navy on June 15, 1812 and he reported to USS Constitution with the rank of a seaman four days later while it was in port at the Washington Navy Yard. Aboard the Constitution , Alexander was efficient with the skills required to be an able seaman. It was his job and the job of others with this rank, to not only help with the routine maintenance but also to take turns steering the ship at the helm and work aloft to take in the sail and let it out when necessary. Alexander was a member of the starboard watch, and was stationed at gun no. 8 as the second captain.
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.
Battles and Engagements
Alexander participated in the victories over HMS Guerriere , on August 19, 1812, and HMS Java , on December 29, 1812. He was awarded $42.62 ½ and $42.30 in prize money for the victories. He was also on board for the first cruise under the command of Captain Charles Stewart, during which Constitution captured HMS Cyane and HMS Levant . He collected part of the $20,000 and $25,000 prize money for their capture.
He was discharged on June 17, 1814 in Boston, Massachusetts. His date and place of death are unknown.