When a 22-year-old Pardon Mawney Whipple received his midshipman’s warrant in December of 1812, the war between America and Britain was well underway. By 1813 USS Constitution had already met with, and defeated, HMS Guerriere and HMS Java. Whipple was assigned to Constitution, then under the command of Captain Charles Stewart. He started this book in 1813, intending, as he wrote, to “take a copy of my letters which will in some future day afford to myself the gratification of reviewing the scenes of past life.”
The letters Whipple wrote give a unique and intimate view of what happened aboard USS Constitution during the War of 1812, showing both the excitement and horrors the men felt. Not every moment was spent fighting other ships, and Whipple’s letterbook gives us a glimpse at what else Constitution and her men did during these times, as well as protocols followed after a battle was over and the emotions of the crew at various times. It also contains a copy of the Parole of Honor Whipple carried with him when delivering the prisoners captured from HMS Pictou and the merchant vessel Lovely Ann. This parole was an oath taken by the captured men, acknowledging themselves to be prisoners of war and pledging their “word and honor not to bear arms in the service of Great Britain against the United States…until duly discharged.”
In February 1815, Whipple was present for the battle against HMS Cyane and HMS Levant. His letter about the particular event gives a detailed description of what took place, his responsibilities afterwards, and the damage suffered by the two British ships.
Though he left Constitution in 1815 after the war ended, Whipple continued to write in this letterbook until 1820, during which he served on three other ships–USS Washington, USS Columbus, and USS Spark.
Courtesy of the USS Constitution Museum
Image: Capture of H.M. Ships Cyane & Levant, by the U.S. Frigate Constitution, Lithograph by James Queen after a painting by Thomas Birch