The Ship’s Chaplain

In the days of sail, the naval chaplain served in an unusual place. In addition to being responsible for the religious guidance and instruction for the crew, the chaplain was also often responsible on larger ships to serve as a sort of schoolmaster for the midshipman and master’s mates learning their craft. While the chaplain was considered of the same social class as the commissioned officers, and was part of the wardroom with them, he was also a quasi-civilian member of the ship’s company, always set a little bit apart in the established hierarchy of the chain of command.

Chaplains’ uniforms typically differed greatly from those of regular line officers, and had a much more civilian appearance overall. In particular, they typically did away with the flashy brass buttons and gold lace that featured so prominently on officers’ uniforms, in keeping with their role as members of the clergy.

The Texas Navy Association recently received a number of items from the estate of William “Billy Bob” Crim (1927-2016) of Kilgore, a former TNA Board Member. Billy Bob served as a Marine during World War II and Korea, and belonged to numerous other historical and professional organizations as well, including the Marine Corps Association, the Marine Corps Aviation Association, the Marine Corps Historical Foundation, the Navy League, and the U.S. Naval Institute.


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One of the items the TNA received was this watercolor by the late Bruce Marshall, depicting a Texas Navy chaplain from the period of the second Texas Navy. I believe this image has never been previously published. The uniform guidelines for chaplains established in March 1839, read as follows:

Plain black coat, vest and pantaloons, to be worn over boots or shoes; or, black breaches and silk stockings with shoes. Coat to have three black-covered buttons under the pocket-flaps and on the cuffs.

If you have any interest in the Texas Navy, or military uniforms of that period generally, please check out Marshall’s Uniforms of the Republic of Texas and the Men that Wore Them, 1836-1846, available in the TNA Ship’s Store.