Rank(s): Ordinary Seaman
Dates of Service: -
Birth Date: 1/20/1751
Death Date: 10/23/1816
John Jenkins was born on Nantucket on January 20, 1751, the son of Jonathan and Leah (Jones) Jenkins.
Like many young men from Nantucket, Jenkins probably went to sea at a young age. He probably did not have much formal schooling. On several official documents he signed with an “X”.
Ordinary Seaman John Jenkins was transferred to Constitution from the sloop-of-war Hornet at Washington, DC on July 27, 1811. He was promoted to able seaman on June 6, 1813. His enlistment ran out and he reenlisted on June 16. He was demoted back to ordinary seaman on February 12, 1814 and was finally discharged at Boston on June 17, 1815.
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 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, 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.
Jenkins was a member of the afterguard, a body of older, experienced men who worked the lines on the quarterdeck and in the waist.
Battles and Engagements
Jenkins participated in victories over HMS Guerriere on August 19, 1812 and HMS Java on December 29, 1812, receiving $42.62 ½ and $42.30 in prize money for the victories. In 1812 he served as the first sponger for gun no. 14 on the gun deck. He was on board when Constitution captured a British man-of-war schooner and three merchant vessels. He fought in the battle with HMS Cyane and HMS Levant on February 20, 1815. During the engagement he served as third loader on gun no. 14.
Jenkins died of consumption (tuberculosis) at his home on Nantucket on October 23, 1816.