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USS Constellation on the Dismal Coast

Willie Leonard's Journal, 1859-1861

C. Herbert Gilliland

Publication Year: 2013

Today the twenty-gun sloop USS Constellation is a floating museum in Baltimore Harbor; in 1859 it was an emblem of the global power of the American sailing navy. When young William E. Leonard boarded the Constellation as a seaman for what proved to be a twenty-month voyage to the African coast, he began to compose a remarkable journal. Sailing from Boston, the Constellation, flagship of the U.S. African Squadron, was charged with the interception and capture of slave-trading vessels illegally en route from Africa to the Americas. During the Constellation’s deployment, the squadron captured a record number of these ships, liberating their human cargo and holding the captains and crews for criminal prosecution. At the same time, tensions at home and in the squadron increased as the American Civil War approached and erupted in April 1861. Leonard recorded not only historic events but also fascinating details about his daily life as one of the nearly 400-member crew. He saw himself as not just a diarist, but a reporter, making special efforts to seek out and record information about individual crewmen, shipboard practices, recreation and daily routine—from deck swabbing and standing watch to courts martial and dramatic performances by the Constellation Dramatic Society. This good-humored gaze into the lives and fortunes of so many men stationed aboard a distinguished American warship makes Gilliland’s edition of Willie Leonard’s journal a significant work of maritime history.

Published by: University of South Carolina Press

Series: Studies in Maritime History


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pp. 1-3


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p. 5-5


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pp. v-vi

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

This book would not have been published without the generous permission of William Leonard’s descendant, Paul Sweeney, who still possesses the manuscript journal. Stan Berry and John Pentangelo meticulously prepared the working transcript. In addition John Pentangelo, former curator of the Constellation, read a preliminary draft and helped in many ways. ...

Editorial Method

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pp. xi-xii

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pp. 1-5

A three-masted wooden warship floats in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, embraced by modern office towers and market buildings. This veteran of distant seas and other centuries claims the center, while throngs of visitors eat ice cream cones and shop for jewelry or T-shirts in the shadow of its spars. ...

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June 1859

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pp. 6-16

William Leonard had gone to sea once as a thirteen-year old, on a China clipper. Now, at age twenty-one, he joined the Navy. An easy walk from Leonard’s Bunker Hill neighborhood was Charlestown Navy Yard, one of the U.S. Navy’s most important bases. From there ships got under way for duty in the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, the Orient, or the African coast. ...

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July 1859

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pp. 17-24

Being Saturday all hands are very busy cleaning the ship for tomorrow. Several recruits came aboard today from the receiving ship Ohio. Had a run ashore today in the boat. At sundown exercised the men at sending up and down topgallant and Royal yards. ...

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August 1859

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pp. 25-34

We have no wind and the ship is lying like a log on the water, the sea is as smooth as glass, not a ripple to be seen, the sun is very hot. In the afternoon all hands were called to exercise sail. After exercising about an hour the Boatswain piped down. The division bills are out, and that is all that was done this day. ...

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September 1859

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pp. 35-42

All hands scrubbed hammocks this morning. At half past 9 A.M. had a general quarters, after which the divisions bills came out for clothing and the mess bills for small stores. In the afternoon the flag officer went on board the Marion to inspect her; on his arrival on board of her they fired a salute of 13 guns and hoisted his pennant on the mizzen and we hauled ours down. ...

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October 1859

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pp. 43-50

Making active preparations for sea. At sundown sent up Topgallant and royal yards and took in all our boats, after which the Port Watch got the messenger up ready to heave up our anchor. At night the men had a fiddler in the gangway and had a good time. ...

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November 1859

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pp. 51-61

The divisions’ bills are out and the men are busy putting down for clothing. The mess bills are also out. We have got a first rate breeze, giving about seven knots. We sighted and spoke a brig from Rio Janeiro bound to Liverpool 23 days out. We are bound to Prince’s Island, where we are going to water ship. ...

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December 1859

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pp. 62-73

As soon as the hammocks were up, we hove up the anchor and warped in about three quarters of a mile nearer the store ship. After breakfast thirty hands were sent on board the store ship to work, which causes a great deal of growling on their part. The weather is not very healthy here at present, it being very damp and chilly. ...

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January 1860

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pp. 74-81

Sunday and New Year’s day. At half past nine o’clock the divisions were called to quarters for inspection, after which we had a general muster round the capstan. In the evening all hands were called aft to splice the main brace, as is the custom on board of a man of war on holidays. ...

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February 1860

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pp. 82-92

The 1st of January being the first month of the quarter we ought to have the grog and ration money served out, but being very busy all the month, we had no time, we therefore had it served out today. We also signed our accounts, which is done every three months, or quarter. A few remarks about this system here would not be amiss: ...

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March 1860

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pp. 93-97

We had a light wind all this day and very pleasant weather. At seven A.M. a sail was reported from the masthead standing towards us; she proved to be a large coal ship bound for St Paul de Loando. At two P.M. the 1st lieutenant called me aft and took me out of the 3d cutter and put me in the captain’s boat, which is called the gig, ...

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April 1860

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pp. 98-103

Sunday all hands were called to quarters for the usual inspection, after which we had a general muster and the 1st lieutenant read the Articles of War. An English barque sailed today. The U.S. Steam Gun Boat Mohican has been here. She has got a large mail for us. ...

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May 1860

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pp. 104-115

The 1st part of the starboard watch are ashore on liberty. The English Steam Frigate La Forte arrived here today from England. An English gunboat also arrived here; she is named the Trident and she has been on the coast over four years. ...

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June 1860

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pp. 116-121

Today we went ashore in the gig to get some stores for the captain. We are going to sea tomorrow. At sundown, the provisions being all in, sent up Top Gallant and Royal yards. The port watch to work getting up the messenger. At seven o’clock the boatswain piped down hammocks. ...

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July 1860

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pp. 122-127

Sunday. Early this morning we got underway and made all sail for St Paul de Loando. At ten A.M. all hands were called to muster, read the Articles of War and passed round the capstan, after which we had divine service. In the afternoon all hands were to work putting on chafing gear and doing other jobs round the ship. ...

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August 1860

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pp. 128-138

All the respective divisions are drawing clothing and the messes are drawing small stores. In the afternoon the 1st division went ashore to shoot at target, after which we had good run on the beach. ...

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September 1860

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pp. 139-152

Sunday at half past nine A.M. had a division inspection, all hands dressed in blue frocks, white trousers, and hats. At ten A.M. had a general muster, read the Articles of War and passed round the capstan, after which divine service on the gun deck. In the afternoon the men were allowed to visit the other men of war lying in the harbor. ...

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October 1860

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pp. 153-164

At daybreak, the U.S. Store Ship Relief was discovered lying at anchor, off the point. At six o’clock she got underway and stood in, and at half past seven A.M. she came to an anchor, inside of it. She is loaded with stores, and is from the Charlestown Navy Yard. We got a large mail bag from her; I got some letters and papers, which I am very thankful for. ...

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November 1860

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pp. 165-177

1st This morning all hands scrubbed hammocks. This being the day that we are going to give the performance, the company are very busy making preparations for the occasion. In the forenoon we went on board the English Steam Sloop of war Archer, and gave her officers, and men, an invitation to come on board and witness the performance, which they accepted. ...

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December 1860

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pp. 178-187

At six o’clock this morning, sent up the royal yards and got swinging booms alongside. At nine o’clock all hands were called to make sail, after which we hove up the anchor, but there being no wind, we drifted close in to the land and had to let go the anchor again. At 10 A.M., the sea breeze coming in, we again hove it up and went to sea. ...

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January 1861

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pp. 188-204

New year’s Day. Some of our liberty men came off this morning, badly cut up. An English mail boat from Cape Town arrived and sailed from here this forenoon. At 11 A.M. a large four-masted French ship came to an anchor, also two English ships; there is a large English clipper ship hove to about ten miles from the island. ...

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February 1861

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pp. 205-224

At half past nine this morning, the drum beat to general quarters. Exercised the port battery. At half past ten beat the retreat. We are now in our cruising ground. We had several rain squalls during the night. ...

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March 1861

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pp. 225-247

This morning came in very fine, the port watch washed clothes, land in sight all along our lee beam. We are now sailing in five fathoms of water. Three sails in sight, supposed to belong to the squadron. We are steering towards the land, which is Kabenda. It is very warm today. Hands are dressed in white frocks, hats and blue trousers. ...

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April 1861

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pp. 248-277

This morning came in rainy. All hands washed clothes. The English Gun boat Buffalo arrived here, also a Portuguese mail boat. In the afternoon we brought the captain on board the Portsmouth. At 4 P.M. five of us had a stunning supper; we then went on board the Portsmouth. The U.S. Gun boat Sumpter came in at 8 P.M. ...

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May 1861

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pp. 278-296

This morning holystoned all decks, scrubbed paint work. Got out all boats, unbent all the light sails, spread the awnings, flemished down all the rigging, and at 8 A.M. piped to breakfast; it is a delightful day. All hands are dressed in white frocks, hats, and blue trousers. The ship is full of pictorial papers, principally Frank Leslie’s, and they are a rich treat. ...

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June 1861

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pp. 297-321

At four o’clock this morning we squared the yards, and set studding sails on both sides, and at daylight we were within eight miles of Shark’s Point, the mouth of Congo River. We then took in the studding sails, hauled up the courses, furled the royals and hove to. We expect to see one of our steamers at half past 9 A.M. ...

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July 1861

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pp. 322-343

As soon as the hands were turned to, the topmen were sent aloft, to send down the topgallant yards, and masts, also all the rigging, which was going to give the rigging a thorough overhauling fore and aft, rattle and tar down. We (the gig’s crew) are excused from all work after breakfast. ...

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August 1861

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pp. 344-361

The starboard watch washed clothes. This morning a man struck another on the quarter deck. He will be court martialed. Small stores were served out this morning. This forenoon the hammocks were piped into the rigging so as to air clothing. At 2 P.M. the quartermasters rigged up the paraphernalia for a summary court martial. ...

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September 1861

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pp. 362-377

Sunday came in wet and squally. It rained very heavy in the morning watch. The men improved the time by giving themselves a thorough washing, which makes them look two shades whiter. The usual Sunday’s inspection was dispensed with on account of the weather. At 10 A.M. it commenced clearing off. ...

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October 1861

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pp. 378-385

As soon as the hands were turned to, all three decks were holystoned. We were all the morning cleaning the ship for inspection. At 6 A.M. we took our three Lieutenants: B. P. Loyal, W.R. Butt midshipman, and Lieutenant Steven of the Portsmouth, in our boat, and two other gentlemen. ...

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pp. 386-388

William Leonard, paid off from the Constellation on October 10, 1861, went home to Charlestown. On September 5, 1862, he enlisted in the local Hamilton Guard. Two weeks later, on September 18, 1862, he married twenty-two-year-old Mary Moloney. They had six children, of whom three survived to adulthood. ...


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pp. 389-398


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pp. 399-402


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pp. 403-415

E-ISBN-13: 9781611172904
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611172898

Page Count: 432
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Studies in Maritime History