Before Joining USS Constitution
Philip was born in Marblehead, Massachusetts on December 17, 1786 to Philip and Hannah Brimblecom.
Like many Marblehead boys, Brimblecom spent some of his early years fishing for cod. In 1809, he gave up the hook and line and shipped on board his uncle’s schooner, the Springbird, for a voyage to Spain. Here his life took a turn for the worse. Taken by a French privateer off the coast of Spain, Brimblecom’s ship was impounded by the French government. Unemployed, with nowhere to go, he signed on board a French merchant ship bound for the Indian Ocean. Four days out, a British cruiser took the ship and Brimblecom found himself a prisoner of the Royal Navy. He was sent to England and imprisoned.
In October 1810, Philip managed to get a letter to his mother Hannah, in which he described his ordeal. In 1810, American was not yet at war with England, and Americans should not have been held as prisoners of war. Hannah sent Philip’s protection certificate and baptismal record to the American consulate in London to prove that her son was an American citizen. The consul responded that the English considered Brimblecom a prisoner of war because he had been captured while serving on a French privateer. Not liking this response, Hannah had a friend write to Secretary of State James Madison, requesting his help.
Meanwhile, the British took Brimblecom from prison and forced him to serve on board HMS Marlin. Not able to wait for a diplomatic resolution, he made his escape in 1812 and signed on board a ship destined for Newburyport, Massachusetts. Continuing his string of bad luck, the ship wrecked on the Orkney Islands. Brimblecom and others traveled from there to Scotland, where he shipped on board an American brig. But by then, America had declared war on Britain, and on the way across the Atlantic the British captured Brimblecom again. They took him to Newfoundland, where he was exchanged in September 1812.
Brimblecom had two sisters and two brothers. We don’t know if he ever married.
At age 16, Brimblecom stood 5 feet 4 inches tall and had a light complexion.
Life Aboard USS Constitution
A free man on American soil, Brimblecom immediately signed on to Constitution as an able seaman, entering the ship on September 25, 1812. He was discharged at Boston on March 13, 1813.
As an able seaman, Philip Brimblecom 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.
Battles and Engagements
Brimblecoms’s battle station was at the No. 1 long gun where he worked as 1st Loader. As he strained to sponge his gun during the battle with HMS Java on December 29, 1812, an enemy cannon ball shot away his left arm at the elbow. He recovered from the wound, but was forever crippled.
With only one arm, Brimblecom failed to find work as a seaman, and twice wrote the Navy seeking employment and for an increase in his $6 per month pension, which he and his mother relied on. He complained that “some of the rest that was wounded with me has had an addition to their pension money.”
Brimblecom was given a job at the Charlestown Navy Yard in 1816, and at the Portsmouth Navy Yard the following year. By 1820 he was unable “to do anything for a living,” and, since he had “no friends on earth,” he asked the government to take his request “into consideration and look after a poor distressed crippled sailor” who “for 22 long months…[has] never seen a well day.” The response, if any, to his final request is unknown.
Philip Brimblecom died February 1, 1824 in Marblehead, Massachusetts. He was only 38 years old.