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Upper Mississippi Brigade articles; photo is UMB at Ft. Osage

A Discussion on the USS Carolina and Crew

by Commander John Dullum, USN

After reviewing the material Richard Williams provided me on the history of the USS Carolina, I decided to find out more about the schooner and her history. I went to the U.S. Navy History Center at the Washington navy yard, keeper of ship histories and research material. Additionally, I used several primary sources from the publication The Naval War of 1812, a Documentary History, 1812 and 1813, plus other sources included in the notes below. According to the Naval History Center and their associates at the National Archives, there are no ship plans of the Carolina available. Because she was a schooner, purpose built as a warship, certain aspects of the ship's looks and construction can be ascertained from other schooners of the period to form a good picture of the Carolina. The following is a discussion on the USS Carolina, its construction, layout, crew and manning.

According to a letter dated 05 Nov, 1812, from Capt. Dent, Commander of the Charleston Navy Yard, the Carolina was contract built as a Warship vice a merchant ship purchased into the navy, "I have purchased ... one new Schooner, will carry 14 guns and ninety men. ... She is a remarkable fine vessel, constructed for war and will sail fast...."1 Since she was constructed as a warship, certain assumptions can be made concerning her construction and looks. The Carolina would be built heavier than a comparable merchant schooner; i.e. her timbers, frame, ribs, knees, bulkheads and beams would be designed to stand the strain of supporting the great weight of cannon on her gun deck and stress of firing them. Additionally, more attention would be made to berthing a large number of men and the supplies needed to support them during long deployments. This is in contrast to a merchant ship that would be designed to hold a large cargo, support a smaller crew (less than 20) and built in such a way as to save money on construction and operating costs for the owner. When taken into service, merchant ships had to be altered physically to be able to withstand the weight of cannon, usually to the detriment of sailing qualities and crew comforts.

At 230 tons2 Carolina would have been a large schooner, though still quite small with only a single gun deck. The main deck or gun deck was exposed to the weather. A single cramped lower deck was located below. Schooners of this period had two masts with fore and aft sails, with the fore-top mast supporting one or two square topsail. Using the drawings of Hamilton and Scourge found in Ghost Ships3 as good examples, Carolina would have looked more like Scourge than Hamilton, though larger by at least 50 tons. She would have had high bulwarks like Scourge vice open railings like Hamilton. Navy ship of the period were painted black, with a single white stripe for each gun deck, in this case a single white stripe for Carolina. Mast and yards were also painted white. Bulwarks, deck fittings, hatchways and gun carriages were painted red. The hull below the water line was painted white, or coppered to discourage marine growth.

The main deck in a schooner ran unbroken from bow to stern without a break. Its design and layout varied from ship to ship according to builder tastes and needs but still had standard features needed to sail and fight the ship. There were six to eight guns divided equally between the sides with numerous swivel guns/blunderbusses mounted atop the railings/bulwarks. There were two or three hatchways allowing access to lower deck. It had a tiller or wheel for steering. Each had a binnacle cabinet enclosing a compass, barometer, half-hour glass and ship's log. There was a windlass used to raise and lower anchors, masts and yardarms, and several storage boxes for tools. A water barrel or scuttlebutt for drinking water was on deck, along with pumps for draining the bilge. And, of course, the masts had their associated cleats and batons for securing ropes and lines. Schooners had a tiller vice ship's wheel for steering. As for the location of deck fittings, it's anybody's guess. Bulwarks of a warship generally had more gunports cut into them than a ship was rated. This gave the Skipper and sailing master the ability to move cannon in order to shift weight to help trim the vessel. Carolina probably had 16 gunports, though she was only rated for 14. Additionally Schooners often had small ports located just above the scuppers for Oars or 'Sweeps' to move the vessel in calm winds. Since Carolina was burned and sunk at the Battle of New Orleans as she could not return up stream, it is doubtful that she had this feature. It is important to note that the aft end of the main deck from binnacle to tiller would have still been called the quarter deck even though there was no break or rise. Some schooners of this period had a raised poop-deck aft of the quarter-deck, designed to give more headroom to the Captain's cabin located below. However, this feature fell out-of-fashion by the time Carolina was built.

The second of the schooner's two decks was the living quarters for Captain and crew. Like the gun deck it would have run from bow to stern, though a step-down or break may have been present at the bulkhead leading to the Captain's cabin. The deck was divided by several bulkheads separating the Captain's cabin, wardroom and crew berthing and included small storage rooms along the sides. At the aft end, taking up as much as a fourth of the deck was the Captain's cabin. Here the Captain lived and worked in isolation. A typical cabin would have included a small bed, table and chart locker, plus any other item the skipper though proper to include. In smaller ships a breadroom was located aft of the Captain's cabin encompassing the space created by the turndown of the hull and the counter (rear of the ship). Larger schooners often had elegant windows on each side that looked directly into the captains cabin though they did not have stern windows often seen on larger ships like frigates. Immediately forward of the Captain's cabin was the wardroom, a small space for officers' berthing and mess. Usually a ladder leading directly to the quarter deck was located here. Forward of the wardroom was a bulkhead separating the officers berthing from the crew. Crew berthing took up the majority of space forward from the wardroom to the foc'sle. Here the crew hung their hammocks and lived. Located on deck were hatchways and ladders leading to the deck above and the hold below. Separating berthing from the foc'sle was a stove, a large brick and metal hearth used to cook the food. A stove pipe led up from the stove through the main deck. Forward of the stove was the foc'sle and more storage space. Usually the sail-locker, boswain's, steward's and carpenter's lockers were located here. Animal pens could also be kept here during extended deployments. Cables from the anchor also ran down from the hawsers to the cable locker immediately below. Remember that 70 odd crewmen had to live, stow and hang their hammocks here. The space between the main deck and the lower deck in schooners was usually no more than four-and-a-half to five feet high with little or no ventilation except that allowed through the hatchway or gratings. It was cramped, crowded and damp.

Immediately below the lower deck was the hold. Here storage for the ship was kept. Laying on top a layer of rock and sand ballast were all the barrels and crates necessary to keep the crew fed, watered and supplied. Additionally, the gunpowder room, spirit locker, paint locker, cable locker and bilge were located here. The men also kept their sea chests and personnel belongings in the hold. Access to the hold was through hatchways in the lower deck with the more controlled spaces such as the spirit room and gunpowder stores accessed through the officer spaces above. All told, the hold was even more dark, damp and filthy than the deck above.

But how big was Carolina? All sailing vessels of this era were cramped, so it is hard to establish a ship's size. A standard measurement to determine size was a ratio dividing the ship's tonnage by the number of men aboard. For example, the USS Constitution, a ship of 1576 tons had 456 crewmen the day she engaged the HMS Guierrier.4 Using this measurement she had a ratio of 3.4 tons per man and the Constitution was considered a large and spacious ship for her time (a modern aircraft carrier has a 17.2 tons/crewman). Using this ratio on a ship comparable in size to the Carolina may give us an estimated comfort level. The USS Nautilus, a 12 gun schooner was a ship comparable in size and dimensions to the Carolina, but displaced only 180 tons. Built for the Navy in Baltimore, she was a Baltimore schooner, a class of vessel with sharp lines and considerable less bulk than a normal schooner. Converted into a brig and carrying 24 pound caronades, Nautilus had over 90 crewmen and was considered a fast but cramped ship. Because she was so small, only two-thirds of her crew would fit below decks at any one time, leaving one-third of the crew continually exposed to the weather.5 The Nautilus' ratio was 1.9 tons per crewman. The Carolina with a crew of 70 and displacing a larger 230 tons had a ratio of 3.1—more allied to the roomy Constitution than the cramped Nautilus. Still, a berth aboard a larger vessel was usually sought by sailors, and service on a ship the size of Carolina meant constant exposure to the elements what ever the size was.

Although ship's crews varied in size and strength in proportion to the class of vessel,6 all navy crews were organized along similar lines in regard to both function and duty. Where a sailor was located within this hierarchy determined his position. Within the ranks were a myriad of other factors that determined status among fellow Tars. The most significant difference between large and small ship crews was how the Navy filled these positions. On smaller ships like Carolina, critical billets (ex. Surgeon or Gunner) were usually filled by junior personnel that were 'fleeted up' to meet the billet. For example, an experienced Gunner's Mate would fill the position of Gunner on a sloop or schooner. Since all warships had large crews, navies of the period had a dire need for men, skilled or otherwise. And since they competed with the merchant service and privateers, the men relegated to the Navy were not necessarily the finest available. These two factors had a direct outcome on manning the USS Carolina.

The following describes officer and enlisted billets within the Navy in order of precedence: Commanding Officer (Captain, Masters Commandant); Lieutenants; Marine Officers (Captain, 1st/2nd Lieutenant); Warrant Officers (Sailing Master and master's Mate, Midshipmen, Surgeon and Surgeon's Mate, Purser, Chaplain, Boatswain, Carpenter, Sailmaker); Petty Officers (Master-at-Arms, Marine NCO, Cook and Master-at-arms, Coxswain); Able Seaman; Seaman; and, Landsmen.

Commissioned officers appointed by the President were approved by Congress. Charged with commanding a ship and ultimately responsible for the conduct of that ship, they had the legal authority to enforce naval laws and customs. Commanders included the rank of Captain, Masters Commandant, Lieutenants and Sailing Masters (the latter two commanded smaller vessels such as schooners, a division of gun boats or supply ships). A Commanding officer was graced by the name captain regardless of his rank.

Captain: He commanded ships-of-the-line and frigates (ships with more than one gun deck) and navy yards.

Master Commandant: A rank found only in the U.S. Navy, it is equivalent to the British Navy Commander. Junior captains were assigned to command sloops, a ship with only a single gun deck. He had all the power and authority of the rank of captain, but not the prestige.

First Lieutenant: He is the modern-day executive officer, next in power and rank to the captain on a ship: "... a sort of Captains proxy, who did all the work in order that the captain might have all the glory." Responsible for the working of the ship, preservation of discipline, navigation of the vessel, mustering of the crew, the watch and battle bills, he was in command in the absence of the CO.

Lieutenants: The junior officers. Charged with carrying out orders of the commanding officer and wishes of the First Lieutenant, he was responsible for standing quarter deck watch, running divisions, commanding a battery of guns and enforcing discipline. He was next in line to take command in absence of CO and First Lieutenant based on seniority. There were 6 to 8 lieutenants in a ship the size of a frigate; 1-2 in a ship the size of Carolina.

Marine Officer: Captain or Lieutenant, he commanded the marines aboard ship, and was found only on frigates and above.

Warrant Officers: Also known as Standing officers, they held their position by a warrant issued from the Secretary of the Navy. Warrant Officers were divided into three subgroups based on promotion and social considerations: Sailing Master, Masters Mate, and Midshipmen, who considered themselves gentlemen, were wardroom officers and could ultimately rise to command; Surgeon, Surgeon's Mate, Purser and chaplain who could never command, were wardroom officers and gentlemen; and those who were chosen because of a particular duty or skill, but were never considered gentleman, could never command a ship and never associated socially with the wardroom officers. These officers included the Boatswain, Carpenter, Gunner and Sailmaker.

Sailing Master: Responsible to the captain for the safe navigation and conduct of the ship from point to point, was charged with the stowing of stores, ballast and trim of the vessel; maintaining the masts, yards, sails, ropes and lines; all facets of navigation including the charts, instruments and logbook. He oversaw the master's mates, and enlisted men that helped steer the ship and anchor. He oversaw the boatswain and carpenter, their mates, stores and equipment. Often a sailing master's billet was filled by a midshipman fleeted up to the position.

Master's Mates: Junior sailing masters. They served under sailing masters aboard large ships or acted independently on smaller vessels.

Midshipmen: An apprentice officer who was technically the lowest ranking warrant, was a young gentleman who often believed their social status made them senior to all but the lieutenants. He was assigned duties assisting the lieutenants and sailing masters, quarter-deck watch, running messages for the captain, and responsible for ship signals.

Surgeon: The ship's doctor was a learned man, responsible to the captain for treating the sick and injured. In charge of the ship's medicine and stores. He held sick call daily at 0900. He was also responsible for inspecting the victuals and spirits, provisions, the cleanliness of the ship and men, and was assisted by a surgeon's mate and loblolly boys (orderlies).

Surgeon's Mate: Junior surgeons were found serving under a surgeon aboard larger ships or acting independently on smaller vessels.

Purser: Often vilified, he was a combined sutler and paymaster responsible to the captain for the pay, ship's stores, provisions and selling slops. He paid officers and men and maintained pay records. He was also responsible for storing and issuing of ships' provisions to all messes and selling slops to the ship's company. Selling slops included but was not limited to the following articles at a mark-up in profit to purser: Clothing (including blue jacket and trousers, flannel shirts and drawers, duck trousers, cotton, wool and silk stockings, shoes, hats, black silk scarves, fancy shirts and vests), small equipment (such as razors, combs, brushes, soap, needles, thread, tin-ware, spoons and knives), plus supplemental rations (including sugar, coffee, tea, tobacco and spices).

Chaplain: The 'Sky' pilot was found only on larger ships. Although he had ecumenical duties, he was usually hired as the ship's school master for the young gentlemen.

Boatswain: He was responsible to the captain for the ships ropes, lines, rigging and anchors, and the making and changing of sail, anchoring and weighing anchor. He was usually the most experienced sailor aboard. Assisted by a team of Boatswain's Mates, his symbol was his silver whistle tied around his neck on a lanyard and boatswain's cane, a colt or starter that he used to 'start' or hit the sluggish sailor miscreant. He commanded the foc'sle in battle and administered the punishment of flogging when so ordered.

Carpenter: "Mr. Chips" was responsible to the captain for all the wood in a ship including the hull, decks, bulwarks, masts, yards, pumps, ladders, gratings, furniture and ship's boats. He was in charge of all carpenter's stores and tools. He inspected daily the hull, pumps, gunports or scuttles, masts and yards and the work done by his assistants. In battle he was located below, ready to plug holes or leaks or repair threatening damage to the hull, masts and yards. He was assisted in his duties by a team of Carpenter's Mates.

Gunner: (Usually large, furry Swedish men with little or no intelligence). He was responsible to the captain for all the guns and small arms, gunpowder, shot, magazine tools and equipment associated with the ship's weapons. He inspected daily the guns, locks, carriages, rope, tackle and blocks, small arms, and stores; and, the magazine and powder storage as needed. He was not allowed to enter the magazine without the permission of the captain. He trained both officers and men in gunnery and the use of small arms and edged weapons. In battle, his station was below in the magazine overseeing the supply of powder and shot. He also insured each gun had the tools needed to service the guns with sufficient amounts of powder, primer, match, flint and shot, and that the slow match was lit and placed properly in tubs beside each gun. He was assisted by a small team of gunner's mates.

Captain's Clerk: Captain's Clerk was usually a gentlemen associated with the captain and appointed by him for the purposes of being his secretary. He oversaw the captain's daily routine, kept his accounts and log, copied orders, letters and other official correspondence. In conjunction with the captain's steward, he managed the captain's mess and stores. Often he was a young gentlemen that lacked the clout to receive a Midshipmen's billet and brought aboard to acquire sea time and experience.

Petty Officers: Below the Officers were the petty officers charged with running the ship. Petty officers were found on all ships and included the Cook, Coxswain, Master-at-Arms, Marine NCO, and mates of the warrant officers. The latter will not be discussed here as they carried out the duties of their seniors discussed above.

Cook: He oversaw the preparation of the crew's food. He was accountable to the captain for the stove and cooking utensils, steep tub and pots and meat issued for a particular meal. He oversaw the preparation and delivery of the meat according to the practices of the Navy. Usually an older sailor, he was never hired for his skills in food preparation. In battle he assured cooking fires were extinguished, then took his place in the foc'sle.

Coxswain: The captain's boatswain was in charge of the captain's gig and crew. Usually a sailor of great experience and respect, he often followed the captain from ship-to-ship along with his steward and clerk.

Master-at-Arms: The ship's police chief had a reputation for being a bully or a stooge, though a fair and honest one was well respected. Responsible for enforcing naval customs, regulations, and captain's orders, he supervised the brig and ships' prisoners. He was also in charge of enemy prisoners taken in battle. He settled minor offenses and disputes. He was assisted by a small team of 'policemen.'

Marine NCO: The senior enlisted marine was in charge of the marines detailed aboard smaller ships like Carolina. Usually a sergeant or corporal, he was responsible for guarding the captain and ship. In port, marines manned the quarter-deck as sentries. At sea, they guarded the Captain's cabin and magazine. In battle, they manned the tops or quarter-deck side rails, boarding parties and landing parties.

Sailors, Able and Ordinary and Landsmen: Below the petty officers were the sailors, Jack Tar, divided between Able and Ordinary. Seamen were divided into divisions, watches and messes. A division was the sailor work center. Here Jack was assigned a specific post based on skill and experience. The division was commanded by a junior lieutenant or warrant and run by the mates. A sailor's day-to-day life was governed by work within the division, but his life was regulated by the watch. All sailors were assigned to a specific watch; either starboard or larboard. The watch was run on 4 hour shifts with 2 two-hour dog watch after the evening meal. Sailors were also assigned to eating messes of between 8-10 men. Association within the mess was voluntary and a sailor could move between messes at leisure or by vote the mess. Since the sailor's mess was a place of leisure and mess mates were trusted friends, the mess and association was of primary importance. Sailors messed with their mates between the guns on the gun deck, but slept by watch and division on the berth deck.

Able Seamen: Able Seamen were the more senior, experienced sailors, receiving two dollars a month extra-pay. The most skillful and experienced hands were assigned to the upper masts and yards (main, fore and aft in that order). The most experienced of these sailors were made captains of their post: true legendary sailors. "Captains of the topmasts," and other able sailors were always in constant demand.

Seamen: Below Able were the Ordinary sailors who were inexperienced hands to the green horns who got sea sick while tied to the dock in Norfolk. Members of this sect were usually assigned to the lower yards, the bowsprit and anchoring details under the supervision of a more experienced hand or mate while they learned their job.

Landsmen: Landsmen belonged to a group of men who did menial tasks outside the sailing of the ship, neither fish nor fowl, thus below the dignity of a sailor. They included the captain's and wardroom stewards, marine detachment, cook's help, surgeon's loblolly boys, greenhorns and ship's boys that were too new, clumsy or stupid to carry out their duties as sailors. They usually messed among themselves and occupied the dark and crank spots of a vessel. Underway they were assigned to a watch bill and in battle to a station.

Since a muster roll or log book has not been found for Carolina, determining manning for her is strictly conjecture. Carolina was manned at Charleston, a station that had a chronic shortage of manpower. Carolina had to compete with the merchant service and the privateers that offered higher wages and bounties than the navy. Additionally, Charleston had a high rate of desertion.

Her first commander was LT Lawrence Kearney, a newly commissioned lieutenant when given command of Carolina in April, 1813. In the summer of 1813, LT Kearney was transferred to command USS Farret to make room for LT John Henley, a more senior Lieutenant.7 The Carolina's first Lieutenant is unknown as is the Sailing Master and other wardroom officers. Carolina's first purser was Matthew Reardon, the clerk to Captain Dent. Reardon was pulling double duty until a purser could be found for the Carolina, though it is unknown if he stayed on through New Orleans.8 Of her other warrant officers, they were probably mates fleeted-up to fill vacant billets.

Records state that she had 70 crewmen of good new England stock.9 According to Capt. Dent, CO of the Charleston Navy Yard who built and manned the Carolina, he was desperately short of men to fill the her crew. On 16 February 1813, he wrote to Secretary of the Navy William Jones: "The Schooner Carolina is ready for Sea, half-manned, and requires an Active Lieutenant for a Commander. She is a very fine vessel, and I think will sail fast: eight midshipmen, two surgeon's mates are very much wanted on this station."10 One of the two surgeons was for the Carolina as the other was need for USS Nonsuch, a schooner on the Charleston station whose commander had refused to cruise without one. Through May 1813, Capt. Dent could not fill the crews of the USS Carolina, Nonsuch and gunboats. Because of the British blockade and the need to protect inshore traffic around Carolina, he transferred the crew of the Carolina to the Nonsuch, gunboats and blockships to get some service from them. However, orders by Secretary Jones in April 1813 to disband most of Charleston's gunboats freed up sailors to man the two schooners and few remaining gunboats. By the time she was transferred to New Orleans, Carolina was considered fully manned. Where they came from is not determined. It is probable that they came from the disbanded gunboat crews and from recruiting details in the south where the blockade left many merchant sailors ashore. It is also possible that the "New England Sailors" came from blockaded frigates of the Northern Station and transferred to Charleston before she departed for New Orleans. This was not unprecedented as Capt. Bainbridge of the USS Constitution sent many of his sailors to LT Perry on Lake Erie because the blockade in Boston.11

The following lists what Carolina probably had at the time she arrived in New Orleans based on a ship of her class. It will be filled as more information becomes available: (Line officers) Commanding Officer: LT John D. Henley, and First Lieutenant: ?; (Warrant officers) Sailing Master: ?, 2 Midshipmen, Surgeon's Mate: ?, Purser: ?, Boatswain: ?, Carpenter: ?, Sailmaker: ?; and, (Petty Officers) Master-at-Arms: ?, Marine NCO: ?, Cook: ?, Coxswain: ?, Seaman and Landsmen: ?.


  1. Dudley, Naval War of 1812, A Documentary History, Vol. I, p.584

  2. Ship construction, layout and appearance is based on The American Sailing Navy, American Sailing Ship and Baltimore Clipper.

  3. Cain, Ghost Ships, drawing of Schooners Hamilton and Scourge.

  4. Roosevelt, Naval War of 1812.

  5. McKee, A Gentlemanly and Honorable Profession, 138.

  6. The majority of this section comes from three documents: the 1818 Rules, Regulations and Instruction for Naval Service, Sealife in Nelson's Time, and A Gentlemanly and Honorable Profession. The former, though dated after 1815 actually codifies shipboard regulations and duties for the Navy of our period, a reflection of no change of life on the Carolina in 1815.

  7. Dudley, Naval War of 1812, A Documentary History, 2:143-144 footnotes.

  8. Naval War of 1812, A Documentary History, 2:37.

  9. Roosevelt, Naval War of 1812, 462

  10. Dudley, Naval War of 1812, A Documentary History, 2:37.

  11. CDR T. Martin, USN(Ret), "A Loved and Respected Machine," Naval History Magazine (August 1997): 43.


  1. Emily. Ghost Ships. Beaufort Books, 1983.

  2. Chapelle, Howard. History of the American Sailing Ship. Bonanza Books, 1932.

  3. _____. History of the American Sailing Navy. Bonanza Books, 1949.

  4. _____. Baltimore Clipper. Sweetman Co., 1968.

  5. Dudley, William, ed. Naval War of 1812, A Documentary History, 2 Volumes. Naval Historical Center, 1992.

  6. Martin, T. CDR, USN(Ret.). "A Loved and Respected Machine" Naval History Magazine (August 1997): Bicentennial article on USS Constitution.

  7. Masefield, John. Sea Life in Nelson's Time. Conway Maritime Press, 1984.

  8. McKee, Christopher. A Gentlemanly and Honorable Profession: A History of the Naval Officer Corps 1798-1815. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1991.

  9. Roosevelt, Theodore. Naval War of 1812. Putnam Books, 1882.

  10. Rules, Regulations and Instruction for Naval Service (1818).

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