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John Clements

Rank(s): Able Seaman

Dates of Service: -

Birth Date: 12/28/1788

Early Life
Clements was born on December 28, 1788 in Salem, Massachusetts.

Early Experience
Clements first went to sea in 1808.

Clements joined Constitution from the merchant service as an able seaman on October 28, 1812 while the ship was in Boston. He was discharged on March 18, 1813.

The able seaman was an 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.

Interestingly, when a man entered a ship, he rated himself according to his abilities, but woe to the man who overrated himself. The boatswain and other officers would soon learn the truth and the man would be disrated to his proper position. 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 and many received a $20.00 bounty on enlistment.
According to Clements’ pension application, he served for some months as the Captain of the Maintop after John Hall became sick and was therefore entitled to pay of $18 per month.

Battles and Engagements
Clements’ battle station was in the maintop, and he was there during the December 29, 1812 engagement with HMS Java. Unfortunately, during the action, “his leg was shot off by which an amputation above the knee joint was rendered necessary.” As a result of his injury he was given a medical discharge certificate signed by Surgeon Amos Evans and approved by Captain Bainbridge on March 18, 1813. He received $42.30 in prize money.

Clements received a pension of $9.00 per month for his wound. For a time after his discharge he worked as a shoemaker in Salem. He appealed for an increase in pension in 1820 in a letter sent from Boston. The next letter about Clements states that he was committed to a New York City jail, the Bridewell, as a vagrant. It is not clear whether this was a criminal sentence or a civil commitment to the Almshouse affiliated with the prison. He was placed under guardianship of Paul Upton of Salem in 1823. He apparently moved from Salem to Boston to New Haven and back prior to 1831 around the time of Upton’s death. Joel Powars of Salem was next appointed as his guardian. Clements asked Powars to help him gain admission to the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Naval Asylum in 1836.

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