Every sailor on Constitution is part of a 12-person 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.
Guess the Ingredient
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.
Every sailor on Constitution was part of an 8-13 person group called a mess, and they referred to each other as “messmates.” Have your students ever heard of a “mess hall” or “scuttlebutt?” These words, in addition to many others, come from life on a ship. Encourage students to pick a word or phrase from our list of Salty Talk and research its roots. Many of the words and phrases like “learn the ropes,” “mind your P’s & Q’s,” and “pipe down,” have maritime roots or became popular on ships.
Activity: Salty Talk: Sailor’s Sayings in Today’s English Language
Daily Diet Intake
Have your students record a detailed log of what they eat during a 24-hour period, including snacks and beverages. Afterwards, compare examples of your students’ Daily Diet Logs to the food that was allotted to a sailor aboard Constitution in 1812. How is a sailor’s daily diet different than a student’s? What has changed over time, and why? Take this activity a step further to include the intake of calories per day, comparing a student’s intake of calories to an 1812 sailor’s, and even to a modern combat ration.
Activity: 1812 Sailor’s Weekly Diet Chart
Resource: Daily Calorie Intake of an 1812 Sailor and a Modern Combat Ration Chart
This ship’s biscuit is real! A sailor kept it as a souvenir, writing “Constitution” and recording the date, 1861 on it. Why do your students think a sailor saved this? Can you imagine saving a piece of bread today? What do we save instead as souvenirs? If you want try ship’s biscuit for yourself, check out the recipe.