Every sailor on Constitution is part of a 12-strong family called a mess. "Messmates" are not related, but they might as well be, for they are as close as brothers. Each mealtime, they gather in the same spot on the berth deck, spread out a cloth, and sit round it cross-legged to share their food. In a mess, everyone is equal, whatever their age or rank, and they can choose their messmates. This is a rare freedom in a world where officers control almost everything else they do.
Play this multiple choice game to discover the ingredients in some of Constitution sailors’ meals. Take a closer look at some of the ingredients suggested with your students. What would make it difficult, or easier, to take these ingredients with you to sea? Consider the environment, the time out to sea without any port calls (stops ashore), and the technology of 1812.
Have your students view both the “Sailors Eating” and the “Wardroom” scenes in Explore Old Ironsides. Ask students to draw up a compare and contrast chart of their observations. In the wardroom, officers gathered to eat at a table, sat in chairs, and ate off china and crystal. They were served by a sailor assigned to them and could spend their own money on better provisions and drank wine with dinner. Sailors sat cross legged on the deck, ate food cooked in bulk and had more crowded conditions. Can students draw a parallel to different “ranks” at a school and their eating habits or locations? Note: see the annotated scene of the “Wardroom” for authentic artifacts to study.