Could You Be a Midshipman?

Ask your students these simple questions to learn how to become an officer-in-training during the War of 1812 for the United States Navy. Do they have the qualifications to be a midshipman in 1812? Are these the same qualifications necessary today? Today the title of midshipman refers to students studying at the United States Naval Academy.

Make your Own Journal like Midshipman Whipple’s

Have your students make and keep a journal by folding lined paper for the inside pages and oak tag or a heavier paper for the cover. Fold the paper and staple or sew ribbon through punched holes along the fold to create a journal-like feel. Students can design their cover as well as Whipple did (see his real journal above for inspiration). To further this activity, explain that Whipple may have used his journal to copy over letters he was writing and sending out. Ask students to write a letter and address them to “My dear friend…”, just like Whipple.

Speaking Trumpet and Sailor's Speak

Make a speaking trumpet (like a megaphone) out of oaktag or posterboard, and practice these Salty Sayings from life at sea that have been integrated into our daily language. Use the megaphone to pass these messages, playing telephone on the playground.

Make Your Own: An Officer's Hat (like Whipple's)

During the early 19th century, all naval officers wore a folding cocked hat or chapeau bras with their full dress uniforms.  The chapeau was flat and crescent-shaped, and it stood 9” to 11” high, and from point to point it could stretch 16” (or more).  Designed to fold flat, the hats could be easily stored in a box or carried beneath the arm. Students can make their own paper versions to wear at special occasions.

Midshipmens' Quarters

Midshipmen served as Constitution's trainee officers. Often the sons of wealthy or powerful families, some were as young as 15. Their duties on board were to study, and write journals. As they learned, though, they also stood watches, and the oldest might even command a captured enemy ship. In front of seamen, midshipmen inspired respect by behaving like the officers they hoped to become. But here, in the cramped space they shared next to the wardroom, they could relax, and be loud and rowdy.

In the Shoes of a Sailor: Meet Pardon Mawney Whipple

Meet Pardon Mawney Whipple, once a Midshipman onboard Constitution during the War of 1812. View with students: his sword, hat, and even a lock of his hair. As a Midshipman, Whipple was an educated, respectable, young man. Not all sailors could read, but Whipple could. Read emotional and gripping excerpts from his journal, with your students to learn about Whipple’s personal views and emotions, and his first hand accounts of such moments in history as the Constitution’s battle with the HMS Cyane and HMS Levant.