The first time I heard of powder monkeys, we lived north of Boston. We were on one of our historical trips into the city. That day we visited the USS Constitution.
The USS Constitution (Old Ironsides) is the oldest commissioned warship. It was first launched in 1797. Active Naval personal still sail this ship for special occasions. The rest of the time it is available to board. The sailors we talked to said they were very privileged to receive USS Constitution duty. This picture is from americanheritage.com
In their talks, the sailors shared concerning the powder monkeys. Powder monkeys were the boys who were part of the crew. These boys were teen and preteen boys some as young as ten. Their job during battle was to run gunpowder and supplies from the powder magazine (storage) to the guns. Young boys were sought because of their agility and small stature. Being shorter helped them stay below the gunwale. Powder monkeys were a target for sharp shooters. If a shooter could kill or immobilize the powder monkeys, it would greatly hinder the gunner.
This is a powder monkey from the civil war. When the powder monkeys were not in war, they worked in the galley, for the captain or doing odd jobs for the crew. This life was extremely hard for these boys and many were abused. This picture comes from americanchildhoodhist.com