Joseph Smith, the author of these seven letters, was born in 1790 and entered the U.S. Navy as a midshipman in January 1809. During the War of 1812, he served under Lieutenant (later Master Commandant) Thomas Macdonough. In July 1813, Smith was commissioned as a lieutenant. As first lieutenant of the brig Eagle , he performed heroically in the decisive Battle of Lake Champlain in September 1814.
Joseph Smith later served on the frigate Constellation as part of Commodore Stephen Decatur's squadron during the Second Barbary War, 1815. He married Harriet Bryant of Maine in 1818. They had four children.
The remainder of Smith's duty at sea included service at Navy yards in Boston and Portsmouth; on the frigate Guerrière in the Mediterranean and Pacific; as first in command on Isaac Hull's flagship, Ohio ; and as squadron commander on the frigate Cumberland . During this time, he was promoted to master commandant (1827) and then Captain (1837). In 1846, Joseph Smith became chief of the Navy's Bureau of Yards and Docks. He remained chief of the Bureau until 1869, and afterwards served for two years as president of the Navy's retiring board. He died in 1877.
Joseph Smith's friend (and the recipient of these letters), David Geisinger, was born in 1790 in Frederick County, Maryland. After his appointment as midshipman in November 1809, he served for two years on the brig Syren , and when the War of 1812 commenced, on the frigate Constitution . Geisinger joined the sloop-of-war Wasp , which made its first cruise in May 1814, and received praise from Master Commandant Johnston Blakeley (1781-1814) for his conduct during the Wasp 's victory over the HMS Reindeer in June 1814.
David Geisinger became a lieutenant in December 1814, and as first lieutenant of the brig Fire Fly , he traveled to the Mediterranean in May 1815 as part of Commodore Deacatur's squadron during the Second Barbary War. Afterwards, Geisinger served on the frigate Macedonian (1815, North Atlantic and Boston); ship-of-the-line Independence (1816, Boston); corvette John Adams (1818-1820, West Indies and the Gulf of Mexico); and frigate Constitution (1820-1824, Mediterranean). Over the next 10 years, he served at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, commanded the sloop-of-war Peacock for a round-the-world diplomatic cruise, and received a promotion to master commandant (March 1829).
From 1834 to 1850, Geisinger successively commanded a naval rendezvous in Boston, frigates Brandywine and Columbia (in the Mediterranean), and a squadron in East India from the frigate Congress . He received his captaincy in May 1838. In 1850, he took command of the U.S. Naval Asylum in Philadelphia, where he remained until 1855. Geisinger was married to Catherine Russell Pierce of Maryland; they had at least four children. He died in 1860 at the age of 70.