Dates of Service: -
Death Date: 5/17/1871
William Love Steele was born in Pendleton, South Carolina on October 22, 1796, the son of William and Esther Love Steele.
Steele received his midshipman’s warrant in the US Navy on January 1, 1812. He first reported for duty to USS Chesapeake on September 22, 1812 and served on board until the vessel’s capture by HMS Shannon on June 1, 1813. Sent to Halifax as a prisoner, Steele was exchanged in December and returned to Boston.
Steele joined Constitution’s crew at Boston on May 6, 1814. He was discharged when the ship was paid off at Boston on June 16, 1815.
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, they 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.
Battles and Engagements
Steel participated in Constitution’s victory over HMS Cyane and HMS Levant on February 20, 1815. He shared in the prize money awarded for the capture, receiving $126.93 for Levant, as well as an equal portion for Cyane.
Steele seems to have never served on active duty after the War of 1812. In July 1815, he requested a furlough from the Secretary of the Navy to go on a merchant voyage to Europe. He last appears on the Navy Register, an annual list of officers, in 1818. He returned home to South Carolina and, in 1834, was elected to the state legislature. After his term he became the tax collector for Pendleton District. By 1855 he was living at a place called Horse Shoe, in the Pickens District. In that year he applied for “Bounty Land” that was given to veterans of the War of 1812.
According to his daughter Lula, “He drew a pension a few years after the Civil War [but] on account of being a democrat and the bitter feeling of the Radical party the pension was discontinued to his party.” In truth, the old sailor died before he could receive the pension. He died on May 17, 1871 at Walhalla in Oconee County (formerly Pickens District), South Carolina. As his obituary said, “his death is the severance of another link connecting us with the virtuous past. His wife outlived him by at least nine years. As late as 1937, their daughter continued to attempt to claim money she thought was owed to Steele, but without success.