Vouching for an unsung specialist, 174 years ago today
Below we see a letter of recommendation of one Asa Curtis from Commodore William Montgomery Crane to SECNAV John Young Mason, on this day in 1844.
Mr. Asa Curtis, Gunner in the Navy, has requested that I would give my opinion of him to the Department. This officer entered the Navy in 1812, was on board the Constitution at the capture of the British frigates “Guerriere” and “Java”; he afterwards served with me five years – two at the Boston Navy Yard, and three years at sea on board two ships of the line and a frigate. I found him a capable and meritorious officer, and I take pleasure in recommending him to the notice of the Department.
If you haven’t heard of Curtis, you should have.
Born in Scituate, Massachusetts in 1794, Curtis not only served on Constitution, joining the famous warship as an able seaman at age 18, but also on the sloop-of-war Ontario, the frigate Constellation, and the 74-gun ships of the line North Carolina and USS Delaware, among others.
Importantly, the meticulous Curtis left behind detailed notes and logs on everything from watchbills, cordage tables and dimensions to tacking, mooring and gunnery surveys on these vessels, all of which provide some of the most thorough information about the early 19th Century Navy as could be asked for.
In all, his career spanned 46 years, most of it underway, and died in 1858 while on the 50-gun frigate USS St. Lawrence in Brazilian waters during the punitive expedition to Paraguay over the Water Witch incident.
As for Crane, who recommended him for further service his own career ranged from fighting the Barbary pirates to being installed as the first Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance (and Hydrography) and, for the latter, Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane Division is named in his honor.