Dates of Service: 7/3/1812 - 6/22/1815
Birth Date: 1786
Death Date: 9/27/1866
William Widgeon was born in Norfolk, Virginia between 1786 and 1789.
Widgeon probably served an apprenticeship with a sailmaker when he was a teenager. He would have had considerable experience before receiving a sailmaker’s warrant in the U.S. Navy.
Widgeon received his sailmaker’s warrant on June 20, 1812. He joined Constitution’s crew in that capacity on July 3, 1812. He left the ship on June 22, 1815, having resigned his warrant on June 12.
The sailmaker was in charge of the ship’s sails and their associated gear. A ship’s suit of sails was typically made ashore by master sailmakers, but the shipboard sailmaker had to be able to repair any damage that might occur from the violence of either the weather or the enemy. Sails of flax or hemp had to be aired frequently to prevent them from rotting, and much of the sailmaker’s time was spent overhauling the sail locker to ensure adequate air circulation and to see that shipboard vermin did not attack the sails. Besides the sails, the sailmaker was expected to make and repair various tarpaulins, wind sails, hammocks, hammock cloths, awnings, and any other canvas items required for the ship. The sailmaker made $20.00 per month and received two rations per day.
Battles and Engagements
Widgeon was one of the few members of Constitution’s War of 1812 crew who served during all of the ship’s battles. He was on board during the engagements with HMS Guerriere on August 19, 1812, with HMS Java on December 29, 1812, and with HMS Cyane and HMS Levant on February 20, 1815. He shared in all the prize money awarded for these victories.
Widgeon wrote to the Secretary of the Navy on June 4, 1815 to resign his warrant. In his letter he said, “My Reason for wishing to quit the Servis may be stated, but I hope it will be Recolected, it was at the commencement of the war I came into the servis, and since I have seen the conclusion of a war in which I volunteered to Serve, I hope to meet with a ready discharge to enjoy the fruits of peace with an anxious famaly and friends who await to Receive me. Permit me to say the continual impaired state of my health at sea make it an object to me to live on shore.” It is likely he resumed sail-making in civilian life, where there was greater opportunity for profit. By the 1850s, Widgeon had moved west to Ohio. He died September 27, 1866 near Canton, Ohio.