Before Joining USS Constitution
Asa Curtis was born in Scituate, Massachusetts in 1794.
Curtis married his wife Ann on August 13, 1822 in Philadelphia. They had six children, one of whom was named after Curtis’ old captain William Bainbridge.
Weather-beaten and scarred from many years at sea, Asa Curtis had a dark complexion, black hair and hazel eyes. He stood 5 ft 6 ½ inches tall, had a scar across his left cheek and a nick out of his left ear.
Life Aboard USS Constitution
Curtis joined Constitution’s crew on May 27, 1812 as an able seaman. In February 1813, Commodore Bainbridge made him the ship’s acting gunner, but without a warrant from the Navy Department, the promotion was not official. The appointment did mean that he got an $8 raise, from $12 per month to $20. Curtis left the ship sometime after May 1813.
As an able seaman, Asa Curtis was deeply involved in the everyday sailing of the ship. He took turns steering the ship, helped with routine maintenance, worked aloft to take in and make sail, and participated in the hundreds of other details that made the ship run efficiently.
As acting gunner, Curtis took responsibility for all of the ship’s cannons, small arms, gunpowder, shot, and gun tools. In battle, he tended the magazine, making sure the gunpowder was distributed safely and smoothly.
Battles and Engagements
Curtis saw action in battle against HMS Guerriere on August 19, 1812 and HMS Java on December 29, 1812. His battle station was in the Foretop, the platform on the ship’s foremost mast. During the fiercest part of the battle with the Java, he slid down the foretopgallant stay to repair the flying jib halyard, which had been shot away by the enemy.
Asa Curtis went on to a long career in the navy. After leaving Constitution, he served for a time as gunner at the Charlestown Navy Yard and the Philadelphia Naval Asylum, and served in various capacities aboard six different vessels. During a cruise to Brazil on board the USS St. Lawrence, Curtis fell ill and finally succumbed to kidney disease at Rio de Janerio on September 11, 1858. Still a gunner at the time of his death, Curtis had been on active duty for over 48 years. His wife Ann received a pension of $10 a month.