Rank(s): Marine Lieutenant
Dates of Service: -
Birth Date: 11/9/1794
Death Date: 11/15/1839
Contee joined Constitution’s crew as a second lieutenant on June 11, 1812. He was promoted to first lieutenant on July 24, 1812. He was discharged between March 3, 1813 and April 5, 1813.
The junior lieutenants each had command of a watch. The men in the watch were under the lieutenant’s care and command. He was to keep a list of all the officers and men in his watch. When mustered, he examined the men to make sure they were well clothed, clean, and sober. He regularly visited the lower decks to make sure the sentries were at their posts, that no tobacco was smoked between decks, and that there were no unenclosed candles lit. While at sea, a junior lieutenant was not to change the ship’s course without the captain’s permission, unless it was to prevent a collision or other accident. In battle, the lieutenants were stationed with their divisions on the spar deck or gun deck. The youngest lieutenant exercised the men with small arms and in battle oversaw their use. In addition, all lieutenants were required to keep a journal or log, a copy of which was to be delivered to the Navy Office at the end of a voyage.
The first lieutenant was the captain’s second in command to whom great power and responsibility were delegated. In the Captain’s absence he was in command of the ship. A 44-gun frigate carried between 4 and 6 lieutenants. The senior lieutenant was called the First Lieutenant (equivalent to the Executive Officer today). He did not stand watch like the rest of the crew, but was, like the captain, always available. It was the first lieutenant’s duty to see that the captain’s orders were carried out satisfactorily. The smooth running of the ship depended on his organizational skills. It was he who created the watch and quarter bills and who oversaw the ship’s maintenance. All others in the ship reported to the first lieutenant, who in turn made regular reports to the captain. During special or delicate evolutions (such as getting underway or anchoring), he had command of the ship. In battle, most commands were passed from the captain to the first lieutenant. All told, the first lieutenant was a very busy man; he rarely left the ship and then never overnight. For his trouble the lieutenant received $40.00 per month and three rations per day.
Battles and Engagements
Contee participated in victories over HMS Guerriere on August 19, 1812 and HMS Java on December 29, 1812. For his service he was awarded two Congressional Silver Medals and shared with the crew $100,000 in prize money. He reported himself “very unwell and confined to my room” in February 1813. He later resigned on September 15, 1813.
He resigned around September 15, 1813. Contee received a sword as a prize for participating in the War of 1812 from the State of Maryland in 1831. He died on 15 November 1839 at Pleasant Prospect Plantation in Maryland.