Title: Navy Seaman, War of 1812; Centenarian
Birthdate: March 27, 1764
Death Date: April 3, 1868
Plot Location: Naval 2, Row 12, Grave 21

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Among the members of “the Century Club” at Mount Moriah, only two are men. Both were Navy veterans, both served during the earliest years of our country’s naval history, and both were cared for in their later years at the Philadelphia Naval Asylum and Hospital.

Unfortunately, the claim that both were actually over 100 years old might be disputed. As with Thomas Johnson, the Asylum (an old term for a nursing home) recorded a certain age when Jeremiah was admitted but it doesn’t mathematically correspond to the age recorded when he passed away. 

The obituary shown below has some typographical errors but whether he was 103 or 104 or some other age, his story is part of the story of the Navy. It starts with one document that lists his name  as a Revolutionary War pensioner, and another that raises the possibility that he had a wife named Mary.

Born in the coastal town of Kennebunk, Maine, Jeremiah grew to love sailing. He went to sea at age 11 as a cabin boy aboard the merchant brig Enterprise, sailing to the West Indies. In 1798 he joined the Navy.

There was a series of confrontations with French ships in the Caribbean which history has dubbed the Quasi-War, an undeclared war from 1798-1801. French ships harassed and captured over 300 U.S. merchant ships and tried to hinder American trade with Britain. A groundswell of protests from the business community forced Congress and the country to reconsider its stance of neutrality. As a result, the Navy’s fleet mushroomed from three vessels to 55 in 1798.

The USS Constellation was one of those, and Jeremiah was part of the original crew. Their first battle came in February of 1799 off Nevis Island, West Indies against the French 40-gun frigate L’Insurgente. Decades later, Jeremiah was interviewed at the Naval Asylum by a biographer about this incident because it was America’s first victory against a foreign naval vessel.

His vantage point was the Constellation’s Main Top, above the deck, where he helped rig the sails. This is how he described it:

“After cruising sometime we made a large sail, and as we neared, she had hoisted her flag. We then threw out the private signal, and she not answering it, [we] cleared ship for action. She then hauled down our flag, and run up the French, and as soon as we saw the first flutter of her flag we all felt like new men, as we knew we should have a fight sure. We stood along within good hailing distance, and hailed her several times. We received a few shot in answer, we speaking that language replied at once, and then went fairly into it, broadside for broadside.”

On another occasion, Jeremiah was on board the USS Enterprise when it captured eight French privateers and freed 11 US merchant ships in the West Indies. By 1800 Napoleon was in control and diplomatic relations with France became more hospitable.

Life on the sea was Jeremiah’s life, and the Navy let him live it to the fullest. During the War of 1812 he was captured and ordered to serve in the British Navy. He refused to fight against his own country so he was imprisoned, as were some 6500 other Americans who weren’t released until the war was over in 1815.

Over the next quarter-century he served on at least five different Navy ships: the USS Guerriere, Franklin, Fairfield, Natchez, and North Carolina. Some of them sailed to the Mediterranean where the young nation used its new fleet to impress other countries and enhance trade discussions. At other times they patrolled off the coasts of North and South America to protect American interests, especially in times of political instability.

Jeremiah ended his seafaring ways when he entered the Naval Asylum on May 8, 1840. Burials originally took place on the Asylum grounds but, starting in 1865, they were moved to Mount Moriah, so most likely this is Jeremiahs’ original place of interment.

Japanese maple tree in front of a monument at Mount Moriah Cemetery

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