Saturday, January 05, 2008

Iron Men and Wooden Ships?

Cast- iron livers, anyway. John McLoughlin recently sent me a lengthy note on the water and rum consumption of the men of the Revolutionary War frigate The USS Constitution, better known as "Old Ironsides" I was going to excerpt it but it is too good to cut.

"The U.S.S. Constitution, as a combat vessel,
carried 48,600 gallons of fresh water for her crew of 475
officers and men. This was sufficient to last six months of
sustained operations at sea. She carried no evaporators (i.e.
fresh water distillers!).

"However, let it be noted that according to her ship's log, "On
July 27, 1798, the U.S.S. Constitution sailed from Boston with
a full complement of 475 officers and men, 48,600 gallons of
fresh water, 7,400 cannon shot, 11,600 pounds of black powder
and 79,400 gallons of rum."

"Her mission: "To destroy and harass English shipping."

"Making Jamaica on 6 October, she took on 826 pounds of flour
and 68,300 gallons of rum.

"Then she headed for the Azores, arriving there 12 November.
She provisioned with 550 pounds of beef and 64,300 gallons of
Portuguese wine.

"On 18 November, she set sail for England. In the ensuing days
she defeated five British men-of-war and captured and scuttled
12 English merchant ships, salvaging only the rum aboard each.

"By 26 January, her powder and shot were exhausted.
Nevertheless, although unarmed she made a night raid up the
Firth of Clyde in Scotland. Her landing party captured a whisky
distillery and transferred 40,000 gallons of single malt Scotch
aboard by dawn. Then she headed home.

"The U.S.S. Constitution arrived in Boston on 20 February, 1799,
with no cannon shot, no food, no powder, no rum, no wine, no
whisky, and 38,600 gallons of water."


Matt Mullenix said...

THAT was the Greatest Generation!

Aye me hearties!

PBurns said...

Per-capita alcohol consumption in Revolutionary war days was off the hook, in part due to the poor quality of the water and the fact that beer and rum were less likely to give you the trots than booze was.

Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Constitution, did the first temperance pamphlet which was also one of the first big American best sellers.

When the "Demon Run" forces finally got national Prohibition passed in 1919 (it had passed earlier in many states), alcohol consumption fell through the floor to the point that alcohol sanitariums (dry tanks and wet-brain homes) had to find a new line of business as TB wards. Murder and other violent crime also fell during the Prohibition years -- a fact obscured by America's love of a good mafia tale.

Prohibition changed the way an entire generation thought about alcohol to the point that per-capita alcohol consumoption did not reach pre-Prohibition levels until the early 1970s.


Mike Spies said...

I find it curious that an American ship of the line - at a time when the US and Great Britain were at war - would stop in Jamaica to take on stores.

At that time Kingston, Jamaica was a prized colony and the operations center for the British Southern Fleet.

Might be worth the risk, though, in order to take on tens of thousands of gallons of J. Wray and Nephew Appleton Rum.

Sub-comment. In the wonderful days, water stores were very commonly foul. Rum and brandy were the preferred beverages, though I don't think they made pina coladas.

Anonymous said...

Alcohol added a lot to the calorie content of their diets