Title: Navy Petty Officer, War of 1812
Birthdate: March 27, 1764
Death Date: April 4, 1868
Plot Location: Naval 2, Row 12, Grave 21; GPS: 39.93652, -75.2401
Jeremiah Miller was born in Kennebunk, Maine but his date of birth has been given as either 1764, 1773, or 1774. He went to see at age 11 as a cabin boy aboard the merchant brig Enterprise, sailing to the West Indies.
In 1798, after many voyages as a merchant seaman, Jeremiah joined the United States Navy aboard the 38-gun frigate USS Constellation, shown below. In February 1799, on its first cruise, it sailed into the Caribbean Sea with orders to attack French privateers who were harassing American merchant ships in what became known as the undeclared “Quasi War.”
Years later, while a resident of the Naval Asylum, Jeremiah described to a biographer the Constellation’s baptism of fire. It was the U.S. Navy’s first victory against a foreign naval vessel in ship-to-ship combat. Miller’s vantage point was the Constellation’s Main Top, above the deck, where he helped rig the sails.
“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, 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.”
The Constellation chased the 40-gun French frigate L’Insurgente through a storm. After receiving several raking broadsides from the Constellation, the French captain finally struck his colors and surrendered his ship. The battle lasted an hour and fourteen minutes.
Later during the Quasi War, Jeremiah was a Boatswain aboard the USS Enterprise, which captured eight French privateers and freed eleven US merchant ships in the West Indies. While serving during the War of 1812, he was imprisoned at England’s notorious Dartmoor Prison for refusing to fight against his own country after being forcibly impressed into the British Navy.
After the war he served on the USS Guerriere and was Boatswain’s Mate and Captain of the Forecastle aboard the USS Franklin. He also served on the USS North Carolina, USS Fairfield, and USS Natchez.
Petty Officer Miller entered the Naval Asylum at Philadelphia on May 8, 1840. He died on April 4, 1868 which means he may have been 94 or as old as 104.
According to his obituary, as a beneficiary at the Naval Asylum, “Jeremiah was known to all visitors, and was noted for several eccentricities, one was his fondness for decorating his person with various colored ribbons; but his most singular idea was that he would never die, asserting that he had been dead for forty days, was raised from the dead, and would never die again. But the sentence passed upon Adam has been executed, and the old tree has fallen.”
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