Rank(s): Able Seaman
Dates of Service: -
Birth Date: 1771
Death Date: 1/3/1813
Stephen Webb was born in Salem, MA in about 1771, the son of Stephen Webb. The famous Salem diarist Reverend William Bentley wrote that Stephen and his wife were both “descended from antient & reputable families of said Salem.”
On August 4, 1811, Seaman Stephen Webb transferred to USS Constitution from USS Essex at Norfolk, VA.
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 and many received a $20.00 bounty on enlistment.
Battles and Engagements
Webb was on board during the battle with HMS Guerriere on August 19, 1812. During the battle with HMS Java, Webb served as the first captain to gun no. 4 on the forecastle. In the heat of the action he was “burnt all over…& had his left thumb shot off together with an extensive contusion wound of the face.” Despite Surgeon Evans’ best efforts, Webb died from his wounds on January 3, 1813 while the ship was on its way back to the United States. Captain Bainbridge said “he was a brave good sailor,” while Reverend Bentley wrote in his diary that he “was a good seaman and one of good prospects.”
After Webb’s death, his wife, Hannah Gale Webb, also a native of Salem, immediately requested a pension. At the time of Stephen’s death, the Webb family consisted of three daughters, two of which were under 16 years of age in 1814. The famous Reverend William Bentley, the pastor of Salem’s Second Church, provided a letter attesting that Stephen and Hannah’s marriage ceremony took place in his church on June 7, 1795. Bentley, himself, it seems, officiated. An amateur historian and one of New England’s earliest genealogists, Bentley was careful to mention, in a letter on Hannah’s behalf as well as in his deposition, that both Hannah and Stephen were “descended from the premitive [sic] families of New England” [June 18, 1813].
Hannah received a pension of $6 per month (half a seaman’s pay) payable at Boston starting on January 1, 1814. She continued to receive the pension sporadically until her death in January 1846. Hannah never remarried after Stephen’s death. A letter sent on Hannah’s behalf in 1837 attested to an infirmity brought about by a “stroke of the palsy.” In 1846, representatives of Hannah’s two surviving daughters, through a representative, sent a letter to the pension office asking if they were entitled to a continuance of the pension, since, they claimed they had never married. The result of this request is unknown.