John Ripley Madison
Rank(s): Midshipman, Master’s Mate
Dates of Service: 6/17/1810 - 7/1/1812, 7/1/1812 - 2/1813
Birth Date: 1795
Death Date: 1/1820
John Ripley Madison was born in Massachusetts in 1795.
Madison’s parents died when he was young, but Commodore Edward Preble looked after him. He served almost 14 months aboard USS Constitution and USS John Adams as a boy before obtaining his midshipman’s warrant in June 1804. Preble placed him in school and used Madison’s pay “to help defray educational costs.”
Madison was a midshipman and served as such when he joined Constitution’s crew on June 17, 1810. He was appointed master’s mate on July 1, 1812.
Midshipmen were officers in training. Drawn from the ranks of the middle class, they went to sea to learn seamanship and leadership. They received some formal training in mathematics, languages, and literature from the schoolmaster or chaplain, but most of their education was hands-on. In time, if they mastered their trade, hey could expect to receive a lieutenant’s commission. A midshipman had no specific duties as such, but would be expected to do whatever was ordered of him. This could include supervising the men aloft, running orders for the officers, co-commanding a division in battle, sending and receiving signals, or standing a watch. In addition to their various shipboard duties, midshipmen were expected to keep a journal of every cruise, in which they recorded essential information and observations. Midshipman were paid $19.00 per month and got only one ration per day.
Master’s mates were assistants to, and under the direction of, the sailing master. A master’s mate was in charge of the log line and glass by which the ship’s speed was recorded. He made regular entries in the log, and saw to the adjustment of the forward sails. He was also to be attentive to the stowage of the anchor cables, making sure they were clean and well-coiled so as to be let out quickly when needed. The master’s mate also had to be well-versed in stowing ballast and provisions in the ship’s hold. He received $20.00 per month and two rations per day.
Battles and Engagements
On August 15, 1812, Constitution recaptured the American merchant brig Adelina, a prize taken by HMS Avenger. Madison “was put on board as prize-master, with orders to take her to the nearest American port. But she was afterwards taken by the Acasta frigate.” The Adelina was turned into a cartel ship by the British, and on October 27, the ship returned to Boston bearing Madison and the other Constitution sailors who had been captured. Madison thus missed both of Constitution’s major engagements.
In February 1813, Midshipman Madison joined the crew of USS Adams, under the command of the newly promoted Captain Charles Morris. In July, Madison received his lieutenant’s commission and was transferred to USS Congress. After a brief Atlantic cruise, the ship spent the remainder of the war in ordinary at Portsmouth Navy Yard. In 1817, Madison was ordered to take command of the schooner Lynx and join the West India Station. As part of this anti-piracy squadron, Lynx captured several pirate vessels in the Gulf of Mexico. On January 21, 1820 Lynx sailed from St. Mary’s, Georgia for Jamaica. Neither the ship nor its crew were ever seen again.