Monday, October 1, 2012

Seaman Stephen Webb, War of 1812

Salem Vital Records, Deaths, page 315
WEBB, Stephen, s. Stephen, killed on board the Constitution in the action with the Java, Dec. 29, 1812, a. 41 y. CR4

I had no idea that a cousin, many years ago, had been killed in the War of 1812.  I knew I had many members of my family tree who had been mariners and privateers during the war.  I knew that one had been captured and imprisoned in England.  I knew that my ancestor’s worried about living along the coast during the war, and fretted about being raided or bombed by the British Navy.  But it wasn’t until I received a message from a reader who was also a WEBB descendant that I found out about Stephen Webb being killed aboard the USS Constitution during her encounter with the British ship HMS Java during the war.

The encounter with the Java took place off the coast of Brazil.  The USS Constitution was prowling for prize ships to capture off the coast.  Upon meeting, the Java sent a cannonade that damaged the rigging, and then a second shot destroyed the helm.  The riggings of the two ships became entangled, so the commander of the Constitution, William Bainbridge, continued to send cannon shots until the Java’s masts collapsed.  The ships drew apart to make repairs, but with an hour the Constitution returned with guns blazing and the Java surrendered. 

Bainbridge burned the Java and sank her, since she was too badly damaged to bring home as a prize.   Both sides suffered many casualties.  Below is an excerpt from the Constitution’s ship surgeon.

Journal of Surgeon Amos Evans on board USS Constitution, 1812 – 13

"29 Dec 1812  "At 8 A.M. discovered two ships to windward of us.  At 9 one of them stood along the shore, the other towards us.   At 10.30 min. within 8 or 9 miles coming up with us.  At 11.30 The Commd supposed the strange sail to be a two decker and made sail away from her: made the private signal of the day which was not answered.  The strange sail hoisted a tri‑coloured signal flag at her main topgallantmast head & kept it flying a long time.  At 12 the sail gaining on us going 10 k.  Lat. ob. 13‑6 S. Long. by chron. 37‑38W.  Hoisted our Ensign & pendant.  The strange ship then hoisted an English Ensign at the peak.  At 1.25 the strange sail gaining on us discovered her to be a Frigate.  At 1.37 took in part of the sail & stood for the enemy, having previously had all clear [sic] for action.  At 1.45 she bore down intending to rake us which we avoided by wearing.  At 4 minutes before 2 P.M. we fired a broadside at her, when she bore up & returned it: she was at that time distant about 1 mile.  She was standing bows on but had hauld down her peak with an intention of wearing, when an order was given to the 3d Division to fire one Gun in order to make her hoist her colours ‑‑ but the whole broadside was fired without stopping.  The action then commenced warmly on both sides.  At 3.15 her maintopmast &  foremast went over the side.  At 4 her mizzenmast went about 10 or 15 feet from the deck.  At this time her fire was stopped & we hauld aboard our fore & main tack [sic] & stood from her to repair our braces, &c.  At 4.25 her mainmast went nearly by the board.   the colours still flying at the stump of the mizzen mast.  At 4.50 wore & stood for the Enemy.  At 5.25 got ahead of her in a raking position & were about giving the order to fire when she struck her colours, at which our crew gave 3 hearty cheers, as they had done when we first beat to quarters & several times during the action.  At 6 sent the cutter with Lieut. Parker on board, which returned with the 1st Lieut Chadds [sic] (the Capt being mortally wounded) who delivered his sword, together with His Majesty's Ship Java rated 38 but mounting 47 Guns ‑‑ Henry Lambert Esq. Capt. Employd during the night in taking the officers & crew from the Ship.  She had about ___ killed & ___ wounded.  The exact number could not be ascertained.  Their own account was ___ killed & 105 wounded.  She had on board Supernumeraries & all were about 450.  She was six weeks from England bound to Bombay.  On board were Lt. Genl Hislop and suite, consisting of Major Walker, & Capt Wood; a Surgeon's Mate, Lt of Marines, & 2 Sea‑Lts passengers, together with Capt Marshall, a master & commander, who all were actively employd during the action.
                           "On our part there were "Killed.‑ Jonas Angrau, Joseph Adams, Patrick Connor, Barney Hart, John Chevers [sic], Seamen; Mark Snow, Jno D. Allen, Wm Cooper, Ord. Seamen; Thos Hanson, Private of Marines. "Wounded.‑ Wm Bainbridge, Commd, Severely; Jno C.Aylwin, Lt. Dangerously; Chs F. Waldo, M. M., Amptd  Thigh; Lewis German, Midn,   Slightly; Peter Woodbury, QrM, Severely; Jno Clements, Seaman, Amptd Leg; Joseph P. Chevers [sic], Seaman, Amptd arm; Joseph Ward,  Seaman, Amptd Thigh; Philip Brimblecomb, Seaman, Amptd arm; Nich. Wextram, Seaman, Slightly; Wm Long, Seaman, Dangerously; Stephen Webb, Seaman, Mortally; Reuben Sanderline, Seaman, Mortally; Wm Weeden, Seaman, Slightly; Enos Bateman, Seaman, Dangerously; Js D. Hammond, Seaman, Slightly; Peter Furnace, Seaman, Severely; Stephen Sheppard, Seaman, Slightly; Abijah Eddy, Seaman, Slightly; Philip Cook,  Seaman, Slightly; Saml Brown, Ord. Seaman, Severely; Danl Hogan, Ord. Seaman, Severely; Th. Williams 3d, Ord. Seaman, Slightly; Jno. Vogel,  Ord. Seaman, Severely; Anthony Reeves, Private Marines, Slightly; Jno. Elwell, Private Marines, Slightly; Mich. Chesley, Private Marines, Slightly. "A few more men slightly wounded, but not sufficiently so to require particular notice.  Employd all night getting the prisoners and baggage on board."

30 Dec 1812  Repairing damages, "which were trifling..." ‑‑ getting baggage out of Java.

31 Dec 1812  1500 Fired Java and blew her up: "...not so grand as that of the Guerriere..."

 1 Jan 1813  11.50 Dropped kedge anchor outside Sao Salvador harbor ‑‑ "...Hornet ran alongside, mannd the top & saluted us with three cheers which we returned..." ‑‑ 1900 anchored in harbor ‑‑ began landing prisoners, which were paroled on the condition that they return to England.

 3 Jan 1813  Captain Lambert died, as did Stephen Webb."

The lasting legacy of Seaman Stephen Webb lives on at the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston, where a re-enactor at the USS Constitution Museum tells about the battle as Stephen.  At the museum website is a database of crew who served aboard Old Ironsides during the War of 1812.  You can order a printout of their biographies for $25 each.  There is also a research library at the museum with a manuscript collection. 

Genealogy (First two generations are probable):

Generation 1: John Webb, born about 1615 in England, died on 19 May 1670 in Northampton, Massachusetts; married about 1640 in Northampton to Ann Bassett who died 26 August 1677 in Northampton.  Seven children.

Generation 2: John Webb, born about 1642 in Massachusetts, and died 3 April 1720 in Northampton; married on 12 December 1665 in Boston to Susannah Cunliffe, daughter of Henry Cunliffe and Susannah Unknown.  Two sons.

Generation 3: Jonathan Webb, born about 1690, and died before 1765; married on 23 March 1714 in Salem, Massachusetts to Priscilla Bray, daughter of Robert Bray and Christian Collins.  She was born 11 March 1690 in Salem.  Nine children.

Generation 4:  Stephen Webb, born 13 February 1722 and died 24 March 1796; married first on 27 November 1746 to Elizabeth Best (no children); married second to Mary Tyler (ten children), and married third to Mary Bears. 

Generation 5: Stephen Webb, born about 1769 in Salem and died 29 December 1812 on board the USS Constitution. Not married.  He was my first cousin 7 generations removed.  I descend from Mary Webb, sister to Stephen (1722 -1796) above.  Mary Webb (1724 – 1790) married Joseph Cloutman in 1747 in Salem.

For more information:

The U.S.S. Constitution Museum’s website has Surgeon Amos Evans’ Lecture Notebooks. See

Copyright 2012, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

1 comment:

  1. you should save the newspaper article as an example that is rare. He is called Stephen Webb Jr. despite the fact his father was already dead. In that case, he was no longer a junior. In colonial times, I've never seen such a case. Ever. I wonder if another Stephen Webb from the family was older than he and still alive and hence the term junior. Perhaps a cousin that was older.