A carpenter is a tradesman who works with wood. Naval carpenters were therefore important officers onboard wooden ships.
Since a carpenter was potentially the most important skilled tradesman aboard a wooden ship, he was also usually the highest ranking of them, typically on a level with the gunner and the bosun. He would be assisted by the carpenter’s mate (often an apprentice) and the carpenter’s crew (usually seamen with additional duties). Due to the similarity of the tasks, the caulker would also be under the carpenter’s direct command.
The carpenter’s main job was the maintenance of the hull and wooden parts of the standing rigging. He would schedule and execute or oversee any tasks of maintenance, repair or changes aboard the ship. The carpenter was not a sailor and would not be expected to take part in the daily tasks of running the ship.
Aboard the Obra Dinn
The Obra Dinn carried two American carpenters: Winston Smith and his mate, Marcus Gibbs. No seamen were mustered as carpenter’s crew and no caulker was listed on the crew manifest either. Neither of the two men survived the voyage.