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Washington Navy Yard
Boat Builders and Dry Dock Departments 1823

By : John Sharp


 


This image is a detail of a lithograph circa 1860 which shows the
Washington Navy Yard Boat House and a small boat under construction.
The Yard boat builders of the 1820's
would have worked in a similar environment.


 

Washington Navy Yard Department account book
of the Boat Builders and Dry Dock Departments
With Names, Occupations, Wages, and Work Assignments of
Twenty-three Employees, Dated February and July 1823

Introduction:
      Historians of District of Columbia, American labor historians, and genealogists, should note the Department of the Navy Library has recently added an early 19th century Washington Navy Yard (WNY) Account Book to its collection. This rare account book was almost certainly kept by one of the WNY master mechanics or clerks, and it chronicles the years from 1823 to 1832. This volume is one of the very few surviving department account books from this era. The book records, in considerable detail, the names of employees, the number of hours each worked, their wage rate, and their actual wages. In addition, these pages provide fascinating glimpses of WNY employees' day-to-day work assignments, and the names of the ships and boats they built. For example, in the remarks column we learn that John Green, ship carpenter worked the first week of February 1823: "on the first cutter to replace one taken for the suppression of piracy." The remarks columns even allows for glimpses of the work assigned to young boys and apprentices such as William Ready, who spent most of a week repairing the navy yard mill. The boats referenced in the remarks section were all built to replace boats lost during the efforts of the United States Navy to destroy pirates operating in the West Indies, Mediterranean and off the coast of North Africa. Typically, the naval squadrons assigned to this dangerous duty required light, small vessels with armed crews that could move quickly inshore. The pages transcribed below are an example from this record book. It shows the work of twenty-three employees assigned to the WNY Boat Builders and Dry Dock Departments for the months of February and July 1823.

      WNY mechanics and laborers like most of the workers in the early republic worked long hours. As per diem employees they had no job security and were paid only for time worked. Like other manual workers, they worked "dark to dark" six days per week being the general rule; or about twelve hours in summer and nine hours or so in winter. Especially in the early years, WNY shipbuilding and repair was seasonal with significant reductions in staffing levels during December, January and February. Also, the period of 1799-1820 coincides with the end of the "little ice age". One reason Michael Shiner's Diary is so replete with descriptions of weather is that if the Potomac River or its tributaries froze or there was deep snow, most work for Shiner and his WNY colleagues simply stopped. As mentioned above, winter and especially a very cold winter, usually led to mass layoffs as only the most essential crews would be kept working. Boat building often took place in a covered ship house while the Dry Dock work was exposed to the elements.

      In addition, the wages of those fortunate enough to be kept on were often a constant factor in scheduling work for less money, and meant that constant factor in scheduling work for less money, and meant that fewer naval ships were repaired and invariably, fewer mechanics and laborers were on the Yard payrolls. Weather conditions, and especially any cutbacks in annual naval appropriations, made the workforce particularly vulnerable to economic downturn and prolonged unemployment, which rapidly led men to destitution. Most Yard workers had little savings on which to fall back and imprisonment for debt within the District of Columbia continued as a daily reality and was experienced by hundreds each year. Many WNY workers including Tunis Craven, Commodore Thomas Tingey's son-in-law, spent time in the D.C. debtor's prison.
See article on debt and District of Columbia Debtors Prison

      This WNY department account book was probably required to fulfill mandates for information generated by Board of Navy Commissioners 1815 -1842. The Board had a an authorization to evaluate all the United States Navy Yards, and constantly asked the Commandment of the Washington Navy Yard, Commodore Thomas Tingey to furnish periodic reports on civilian manpower usage. Shortly after its creation, the Board had begun to move toward designating WNY as a manufacturing center for certain types of naval supplies and ordnance. By the 1820's, the Yard officers and master mechanics had begun to track shop work and production. These records while by no means the detailed worker productivity reports that Frederick W. Taylor's envisioned in his Scientific Management, represent one of the earliest Department of the Navy efforts to systematize and centralize the reporting of ship yard production. Today, anyone who reads Commandant Thomas Tingey's letters to the Secretary of the Navy , can see that the Board's creation and its oversight role for federal ship yards must have made the old Commandant's position somewhat complicated as the requirements for information evolved placing evermore demands and restrictions on the old Commodore's independence and discretion.

      One important fact that gave great urgency for the WNY to produce small boats during the 1820's, was the increasing amount of piracy. Piracy developed out of the rapid growth of American commerce in Mediterranean, Caribbean, and Gulf waters after the War of 1812 and spurred wide-spread raids on shipping. The pirate activities by the early 1820's had become so open, bold, and flagrant, that the public cried for action. During this decade there were nearly 3,000 corsair attacks alone on American and European merchant ships. During these years, millions of dollars in cargo and shipping was lost, American crews and passengers were often held captive, and in some cases, tortured or killed. Finally, the staggering financial loss spurred the nation to action. In 1822, the United States Navy formed the West India Squadron under Commodore James Biddle to meet the pirates in their own waters head on. It is also important to note that Naval units began a campaign to suppress the slave traffic pursuant to the 1819 act of Congress. Among the naval actions requiring small boat warfare during the 1820's were the following:

1822 -- Cuba. United States naval forces suppressing piracy landed on the northwest coast of Cuba and
           burned a pirate station.
1823 -- Cuba. Brief landings in pursuit of pirates occurred April 8 near Escondido; April 16 near Cayo Blanco;
           July 11 at Siquapa Bay; July 21 at Cape Cruz; and October 23 at Camrioca.
1824 -- Cuba. In October the USS Porpoise landed bluejackets near Matanzas in pursuit of pirates. This
           was during the cruise authorized in 1822.
1824 -- Puerto Rico (Spanish territory). Commodore David Porter with a landing party attacked the town
           of Fajardo which had sheltered pirates and insulted American naval officers. He landed with 200 men in
           November and forced an apology. Commodore David Porter was later court-martialed for
           overstepping his powers.
1825 ---Cuba. In March cooperating American and British forces landed at Sagua La Grande to capture pirates.
1827 --- Greece. In October and November landing parties hunted pirates on the islands of Argenteire, Miconi,
           and Androse.

 

Transcription Method
      This transcription was made from digital images of the WNY department account book pages dated February 2, and July 1, 1823. In transcribing these pages, I have striven to adhere as closely as possible to the original in spelling, capitalization, punctuation and abbreviation including the retention of dashes, ampersands and overstrikes. For the Dry-dock Department page of July 1, 1823 I have in the interest of brevity, transcribed only the department accounts from: 1 to 10 July 1823, plus the provided July wage rates, wage totals and transcribed the remarks for that month.The Washington Navy Yard assigned its employees as required hence employees who worked in the Boat Builders Department in February were moved to the Dry Dock Department in July 1823. I have attempted to arrange the transcribed material in a similar layout to that found on the original pages. The remarks column is most likely written by the department master mechanic or a clerk.

 

Appreciation:
      My thanks to Mr. Glenn Helm, Director of the Navy Library, for first alerting me to the newly discovered 1823 -1832 account book and for his extraordinary efforts over the years in making the wonderful resources of the Navy Library available to everyone.

John G. Sharp
Stockton Ca
 February 14. 2009

 

 




February 2nd 1823
Account of Mens time & how Employed in the Boat-builders Department ---
1823
Fby
Name of
person
Employed
M
3
T
4
W
5
T
6
F
7
S
8
Number
of days
Wages
per
Day
Whole
amt of
pay
Remarks & Objects Employed on &c
Boat for the Tender
                      supert Building
boat to
replace one
taken for
the
suppression
of piracy
days amt
wages
Gradual
imcrease
 
  John
Green
1 ½ . . 1 1 1.40 18.00
  4.90
    2 2.80 on the first
cutter to
replace
one taken
for the
suppression
of piracy
 4
1200
  350
Green on
the first
Cutter
all the
rest on
tenders
except
Beach
  Jesse
Morrison
1 1 1 1 1 ½ 1.20 6.90     4 4.80        
Boy Wm
Naylor
1 1 1 1 1 ½ 1.05 5.94     6.62   . . . . . .  
" John
Murry
1 1 1 1 1 ½ .50 2.75     5 2.50   ½ .25  
Labor Wm
Beach
. 1 1 1 1 ½ 5 .76 3.80 42.29   4 3.04   1 .76  
  February 10 11 12 13 14 15     18.00 Supert   4 1200   2 600  
  John
Green
1 1 ½ . 1 1 1 1.40 7.70     3.50   3 4.20 Sunday
finished
the
Tenders
boat 25th
Feby
  Jesse
Morrison
1 1 1 1 1 1 6 1.20 7.20     6 7.20   . . . .  
Boy Wm
Naylor
1 1 1 1 1 1 6 1.08 6.48     6 6.48   . . . . Naylor
&
Morrison
began to
work 1st
Cutter
on
tuesday
at 11 o
Clock
" John
Murry
1 1 1 1 1 1 6 .50 3.00     3 1.50   3 1.50  
Labor Wm
Beach
. 1 1 1 1 1 6 .76 4.56 44.14   4 3.04   2 1.52  
  February 17 18 19 20 21 22     18.00 Supert     900     900  
  John
Green
½ . . 1 1 1 1.40 4.90           4.90  
  Jesse
Morrison
1 1 1 1 1 1 6 1.20 7.20     6 7.20        
Boy Wm
Naylor
1 1 1 1 1 1 6 1.08 6.48     6 6.48        
  John
Murry
1 1 1 1 1 1 6 .50 3.00     6 3.00        
Labor Wm
Beach
1 1 1 1 1 1 6 .76 4.56 44.14              
  February
& M
24 25 26 27 28 1 6   18.00 Supert   2     6 4.56  
  John
Green
1 1 1 1 1 . 5               4    
  Jesse
Morrison
1 1 1 1 1 1 6         2     5    
Boy Wm
Naylor
1 1 1 1 1 1 6         2     4    
  John
Murry
1 1 1 1 1 1 6               6    
Labor Wm
Beach
1 1 1 1 1 1 6         2     4    
  March 3 4 5 6 7 8 9                    
  John
Green
1 1 1 1 1 . 5                    
Jesse
Morrison
1 1 1 1 1 1 6
  Wm
Naylor
1 1 1 1 1 1 6                    
  John
Murry
1 1 1 1 1 1 6                    
Wm
Beach
1 1 1 1 1 1 6

July 1st 1823
Account of Mens Time and How Employed in the Dry dock Department
  Name of
person
Employed
T
1
W
2
T
3
F
4
S
5
S
6
M
7
T
8
W
9
T
10
total
days
wages
per Day
amt of
pay
Q C H. Steers 1 1 1 . 1 4 1 1 X 1 26 1.76 45.76 Wednesday 9th mostly at work on
the ships at roofing
" " J. Easby 1 1 1 . 1 4 1 1 X 1 26 1.76 45.76 Wednesday 16th marina
Carp J. Green 1 1 ½ . ¼ 1 1 X ¾ 22 1.52 35.34 Naylor & Murry each ¾ day on
batteau
" Jn Morrison 1 1 1 . ¾ ¾ ¾ X 1 26 1.52 39.54 Friday 19th Marina
" Wm Teitien ¾ ¾ 1 . ¾ ¾ ¾ X 1 23¼ 1.52 35.34 Naylor & Murray ¼ day at Red
Cutter
" Wm Bayley 1 1 ¼ .   1 1 X 1 24¼ 1.52 37.24 23rd Howard & Bean ¼ day
each making spars for schooner
wild cat
" Rt Bradly 1 1 ½ . 1 1   1 X 1 Dischared
18th {July}
10¾ 1.52 16.34 Sunday finished the Tenders boat
25th Feby
" Geo Bean 1 1 1 . 1 4 1 1   1 24 1.52 36.48 Friday 25th Morrison, Naylor &
Murry ½ day each repairing a
Boat for use of the yard
" Wm Howard 1 1 1 1 . 1 6 1   1 24½ 1.52 37.24 Naylor & Morrison began to
work 1st Cutter on Tuesday at 11
o Clock
" Wm
McDowell
1 1 1 1 . 1 6 1 X 1 21¼ 1.52 33.06 J Easby & W. Easby each 2 days
at the Wharf
app Wm Naylor 1 1 1 1 . 1 6 1 X 1 26 1.36 38.36 Ready at the Washington 4 ½
days repairing of the Yard Mill
  J Murry         .     1 X 1 24 .52 11.44 Bean & Howard each 3 days on
purposes of the yard
Labor Wm Beach ½ . . 1 . 1 6 ¼   1 24 .94 22.56 Beach & Jones each two days on
the purposes of the yard
" Wm Preston 1 1 1 1 . 1 6 120 X 1 24½ 1.00 24.50  
" J Scott 1 1 1 1 . 1 6 1.08 X 1 22¾ .80 18.20 Smith & Scott ¼ days
" Thos Smith 1 1 1 1 . 1 6 50 X 1 22¾ .80 18.20  
" Lewin Jones 1 1 1 1 . 1 6 76 X 1 21 .80 16.80 Jones 1 day
Boy J Steers ¾ 1 1 . 1 1 1 X ½ 22¼ .40 8.90 Jim Steers two days
" Randle Lowe . . . . . . . . .   10 1.14 12.40  
" Wm Ready . . . . . . . . .   10½ 1.24 13.02  

For Contingent & Repairs the deduct
Schooner wild cat  Do  to 4 oars 64 feet at 15                              $ 9.60
  Re days work                                                                    July  $505.00
  In July 660 lbs of iron were used for machinery                        444.97
  For Grooving files                                                        May     142.00
                                                                                        August 300.00
          A. Chavanes  boat building                                           $1389.97

 

ENDNOTES

Sources All employee addresses from The Washington Directory compiled by Judah Delano, William Duncan Company, Washington DC 1822.
Ellen C. Collier Instances of the Use of United States forces abroad 1798-1993 Naval Historical Center web page
http://www.history.navy.mil/wars/foabroad.htm for information on non declared wars of the 1820s

George Bean: is listed on the WNY 1819-1920 payroll as a mast maker at $1.58 per diem.
Washington Navy Yard 1819-1820 Payroll

William Beach is listed on the WNY 1819-1920 payroll as a laborer at $1.00 per diem.
Washington Navy Yard 1819-1820 Payroll

Robert Bradley: Carpenter 4e btw K & L Street

J. Easby: Quartermen Carpenter is probably John W. Easby the son of William Easby another possibility is James Easby William Easby's brother

William Easby (January 22, 1791 - July 29, 1854): Master Boat Builder at the Navy Yard E Street btw 8 & 9 e N Yrd Biography of William Easby

William Howard: Carpenter 2e btw A & Bn Cap Hill William Howard is listed on the WNY 1819-1920 payroll as a mast maker at $1.58 per diem.
Washington Navy Yard 1819-1820 Payroll

Randolph Lowe: Carpenter S.W. Corner 6C & I Navy Yard

William Mc Dowell: Ship Carpenter 11e near Navy Yard Bridge

James Morrison: Ship Carpenter 7e btw G & I Street Navy Yard. James Morrison is listed on the WNY 1819-1920 payroll as a mast maker at $1.58 per diem.
Washington Navy Yard 1819-1820 Payroll

William Naylor is listed on the WNY 1819-1920 payroll as a mast maker at $1.58 per diem.
Washington Navy Yard 1819-1820 Payroll

Henry Steers: Ship Carpenter 9e btw L. and M Streets Navy Yard

Batteaux: (the plural) came in different sizes, known generally as 3-handed, 4-handed or 5-handed according to the crew needed to propel them. There were undoubtedly many variations in design, but all were characterized by a flat bottom made up of pine boards laid lengthwise, with battens nailed across to hold the bottom together. Oak frames, usually made from natural crooks, fastened the bottom to the pine planks that formed the sides of the vessel. These craft were propelled by poles and oars, with a small sail used when the wind permitted. The bateaux were typically smaller and lighter than most, boats because of the shallow and often constricted channels on the coast of Africa in which they had to navigate.

Cutters: were small single-masted vessels, fore-and-aft rigged, with two or more headsails, a bowsprit, and a mast set further back than in a sloop used to carry armed sailors a small cannon and light stores.

Schooner Wild Cat:
      The first Wild Cat, a schooner, was purchased at Baltimore, Md., late in 1822 for service with the "mosquito fleet" formed by Commodore David Porter to suppress the pirates then ravaging seaborne commerce in the West Indies. She was probably outfitted at Norfolk, Va., late in 1822 and commissioned early in 1823, Lt. Charles W. Skinner in command.

Wild Cat was one of eight, shallow-draft Chesapeake Bay schooners acquired to give the West Indies Squadron the capability of pursuing pirates into the shoal waters along the coasts of Cuba and Puerto Rico, where the freebooters sought refuge from justice. On 15 February 1823, she departed Hampton Roads in company with the other ships of Commodore Porter's squadron. After a brief stop at St. Thomas on 4 March, she and her consorts headed for the coast of Puerto Rico the following day. For the next 18 months, she intermittently patrolled the northern coast of Cuba and Puerto Rican waters searching for pirates and escorting convoys of merchantmen.

By the fall of 1823, yellow fever broke out among the crews of the squadron and reached almost epidemic proportions. Key West became untenable as a base, and most of the ships returned nort--Wild Cat among them. Later in 1823, she completed repairs at WNY see the notes for Account of mens time and how Employed in the Dry Dock Department dated July 1, 1823 and recruited replacements for her decimated crew. Early in 182--after the yellow fever subside--she returned south with the squadron and resumed her antipiracy patrols and merchant convoy cruises. She continued that duty until the summer of 1824 when another bout with yellow fever began. Early in June, she was sent ahead of the squadron to carry word to Washington that the dreaded disease had once again forced the squadron to depart its station. Wild Cat returned to the West Indies that fall and resumed the campaign against the pirates. However, her return to duty proved brief for, during a storm in October, she sank with all hands.
      Source: Naval Historical Center web page

 

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