Rank(s): Able Seaman
Dates of Service: -
Byas’ place and date of birth are unknown.
William Byas joined Constitution’s crew as an able seaman on July 17, 1813. In 1814, he was assigned to gun no. 7, pass shot and sail trimmer as a part of the quarterdeck division. In 1814, he was promoted to cook and was the junior petty officer in charge of preparing meals for the crew. On February 12, 1814, he was demoted to ordinary seaman. He was discharged on July 6, 1815.
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.
Napoleon’s maxim maintains that an army marches on its stomach, but sailors, too, were very particular about their food. The cook therefore occupied an important position aboard ship. The cook did not truly cook, in the sense of making original dishes from scratch. On the contrary, his role was more supervisory than participatory. He oversaw the steep tub, the barrel in which the salt meat was allowed to soak before cooking. He tended the fire in the camboose (stove) to ensure the food was roasted, baked, or boiled properly, and oversaw the scouring of the copper boilers in which the crew’s rations were prepared. The selling of slush, the grease and fat that rose to the surface of the boilers during cooking, was his special privilege, but he first had to provide the boatswain with all that was needed for lubricating various moving parts on the ship. The cook received $18.00 per month.
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.
Battles and Engagements
Byas participated in a war cruise, capturing a small British man-of-war and three merchantmen. He participated in the battles with HMS Cyane and HMS Levant and received $22.19 in prize money.
Byas’ place and date of death are unknown.