USS Constitution is a wooden-hulled, three-masted heavy frigate of the
United States Navy, named by President
George Washington after the
Constitution of the United States of America. She is the world's
oldest commissioned naval vessel still afloat.[Note 1] Constitution
was launched in 1797, one of six original frigates authorized for
construction by the
Naval Act of 1794
Naval Act of 1794 and the third constructed.
Joshua Humphreys designed the frigates to be the young Navy's capital
ships, and so Constitution and her sisters were larger and more
heavily armed and built than standard frigates of the period. She was
built in the North End of
Boston, Massachusetts at Edmund Hartt's
shipyard. Her first duties with the newly formed U.S. Navy were to
provide protection for American merchant shipping during the Quasi-War
with France and to defeat the
Barbary pirates in the First Barbary
Constitution is most noted for her actions during the War of 1812
against the United Kingdom, when she captured numerous merchant ships
and defeated five British warships: HMS Guerriere, Java, Pictou,
Cyane, and Levant. The battle with Guerriere earned her the nickname
of "Old Ironsides" and public adoration that has repeatedly saved her
from scrapping. She continued to serve as flagship in the
Mediterranean and African squadrons, and she circled the world in the
1840s. During the American Civil War, she served as a training ship
for the United States Naval Academy. She carried American artwork and
industrial displays to the Paris Exposition of 1878.
Constitution was retired from active service in 1881 and served as a
receiving ship, until being designated a museum ship in 1907. In 1934,
she completed a three-year, 90-port tour of the nation. She sailed
under her own power for her 200th birthday in 1997, and again in
August 2012 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of her victory over
Constitution's stated mission today is to promote understanding of the
Navy's role in war and peace through educational outreach, historical
demonstration, and active participation in public events as part of
the Naval History & Heritage Command. As a fully commissioned U.S.
Navy ship, her crew of 60 officers and sailors participate in
ceremonies, educational programs, and special events while keeping her
open to visitors year round and providing free tours. The officers and
crew are all active-duty U.S. Navy personnel, and the assignment is
considered to be special duty in the U.S. Navy. Traditionally, command
of the vessel is assigned to a Navy commander. She is usually berthed
at Pier 1 of the former Charlestown Navy Yard, at one end of Boston's
2.1 Change of command
3 First Barbary War
3.1 Battle of
3.2 Peace treaty
4 War of 1812
4.1 Constitution vs. Guerriere
4.2 Constitution vs Java
4.3 Marblehead and blockade
4.4 HMS Cyane and HMS Levant
4.5 Mediterranean Squadron
5 Old Ironsides
5.1 Mediterranean and Pacific Squadrons
5.2 Around the world
5.3 Mediterranean and African Squadrons
5.4 Civil War
5.5 Paris Exposition
6 Museum ship
6.1 1925 restoration and tour
6.2 1934 return to Boston
6.4 Bicentennial celebrations
6.5 1995 reconstruction
6.6 Sailing on 200th anniversary
7 Present day
7.1 Image gallery
11 Further reading
12 External links
Main article: Original six frigates of the United States Navy
Barbary pirates began to seize American merchant vessels in
the Mediterranean Sea, most notably from Algiers. In 1793 alone, 11
American ships were captured and their crews and stores held for
ransom. To combat this problem, proposals were made for warships to
protect American shipping, resulting in the Naval Act of 1794.
The act provided funds to construct six frigates, but it included a
clause that the construction of the ships would be halted if peace
terms were agreed to with Algiers.
Joshua Humphreys' design was unusual for the time, being long on keel
and narrow of beam (width) and mounting very heavy guns. The design
called for a diagonal scantling (rib) scheme intended to restrict
hogging and sagging while giving the ships extremely heavy planking.
This design gave the hull a greater strength than a more lightly built
frigate. Humphreys' design was based on his realization that the
fledgling United States could not match the European states in the
size of their navies. This being so, the frigates were designed to
overpower any other frigate while escaping from a ship of the
Her keel was laid down on 1 November 1794 at Edmund Hartt's shipyard
Boston, Massachusetts under the supervision of Captain Samuel
Nicholson and master shipwright Colonel George Claghorn.
Constitution's hull was built 21 inches (530 mm) thick and her
length between perpendiculars was 175 ft (53 m), with a
204 ft (62 m) length overall and a width of 43 ft
6 in (13.26 m). In total, 60 acres (24 ha) of
trees were needed for her construction. Primary materials used
consisted of pine and oak, including southern live oak which was cut
Gascoigne Bluff and milled near St. Simons, Georgia.
A peace accord was announced between the United States and
March 1796, and construction was halted in accordance with the Naval
Act of 1794. After some debate and prompting by President
Washington, Congress agreed to continue funding the construction of
the three ships nearest to completion: United States, Constellation,
and Constitution. Constitution's launching ceremony on 20
September 1797 was attended by President
John Adams and Massachusetts
Governor Increase Sumner. Upon launch, she slid down the ways only 27
feet (8.2 m) before stopping; her weight had caused the ways to
settle into the ground, preventing further movement. An attempt two
days later resulted in only an additional 31 feet (9.4 m) of
travel before the ship again stopped. After a month of rebuilding the
ways, Constitution finally slipped into
Boston Harbor on 21 October
1797, with Captain James Sever breaking a bottle of Madeira wine on
See also: Naval artillery in the Age of Sail
Constitution was rated as a 44-gun frigate, but she often carried more
than 50 guns at a time. Ships of this era had no permanent battery
of guns such as those of modern Navy ships. The guns and cannons were
designed to be completely portable and often were exchanged between
ships as situations warranted. Each commanding officer outfitted
armaments to his liking, taking into consideration factors such as the
overall tonnage of cargo, complement of personnel aboard, and planned
routes to be sailed. Consequently, the armaments on ships changed
often during their careers, and records of the changes were not
During the War of 1812, Constitution's battery of guns typically
consisted of thirty 24-pounder (11 kg) cannons, with 15 on each
side of the gun deck. A total of 22 cannons were deployed on the spar
deck, 11 per side, each a 32-pounder (15 kg) carronade. Four
chase guns were also positioned, two each at the stern and bow.
Since her 1927–1931 restoration, all of the guns aboard Constitution
are replicas. Most were cast in 1930, but two carronades on the spar
deck were cast in 1983. A modern 40 mm (1.6 in) saluting
gun was hidden inside the forward long gun on each side during her
1973–1976 restoration in order to restore the capability of firing
See also: Quasi-War
John Adams ordered all Navy ships to sea in late May 1798 to
patrol for armed French ships and to free any American ship captured
by them. Constitution was still not ready to sail and eventually had
to borrow sixteen 18-pound (8.2 kg) cannons from Castle Island
before finally being ready. She put to sea on the evening of 22
July 1798 with orders to patrol the Eastern seaboard between New
Hampshire and New York. She was patrolling between Chesapeake Bay and
Savannah, Georgia a month later when Nicholson found his first
opportunity for capturing a prize. They intercepted Niger off the
coast of Charleston, South Carolina on 8 September, a 24-gun ship
sailing with a French crew en route from Jamaica to Philadelphia,
claiming to have been under the orders of Great Britain. Nicholson
had the crewmen imprisoned, perhaps not understanding his orders
correctly. He placed a prize crew aboard Niger and brought her into
Constitution sailed south again a week later to escort a merchant
convoy, but her bowsprit was severely damaged in a gale and she
Boston for repairs. In the meantime, Secretary of the Navy
Benjamin Stoddert determined that Niger had been operating under the
orders of Great Britain as claimed, and the ship and her crew were
released to continue their voyage. The American government paid a
restitution of $11,000 to Great Britain.
Boston on 29 December. Nicholson reported to
Commodore John Barry, who was flying his flag in United States near
the island of Dominica for patrols in the West Indies. On 15 January
1799, Constitution intercepted the English merchantman Spencer, which
had been taken prize by the French frigate L'Insurgente a few days
prior. Technically, Spencer was a French ship operated by a French
prize crew; but Nicholson released the ship and her crew the next
morning, perhaps hesitant after the affair with Niger. Upon
joining Barry's command, Constitution almost immediately had to put in
for repairs to her rigging due to storm damage, and it was not until 1
March that anything of note occurred. On this date, she encountered
HMS Santa Margarita whose captain was an acquaintance of
Nicholson. The two agreed to a sailing duel, which the English captain
was confident he would win. But after 11 hours of sailing, Santa
Margarita lowered her sails and admitted defeat, paying off the bet
with a cask of wine to Nicholson. Resuming her patrols,
Constitution managed to recapture the American sloop Neutrality on 27
March and, a few days later, the French ship Carteret. Secretary
Stoddert had other plans, however, and recalled Constitution to
Boston. She arrived there on 14 May, and Nicholson was relieved of
Change of command
Silas Talbot was recalled to duty to command Constitution and
serve as Commodore of operations in the West Indies. After repairs and
resupply were completed, Constitution departed
Boston on 23 July with
a destination of Saint-Domingue via Norfolk and a mission to interrupt
French shipping. She took the prize Amelia from a French prize crew on
15 September, and Talbot sent the ship back to New York City with an
American prize crew. Constitution arrived at Saint-Domingue on 15
October and rendezvoused with Boston, General Greene, and Norfolk. No
further incidents occurred over the next six months, as French
depredations in the area had declined. Constitution busied herself
with routine patrols and Talbot made diplomatic visits. It was not
until April 1800 that Talbot investigated an increase in ship traffic
near Puerto Plata, Santo Domingo, and discovered that the French
privateer Sandwich had taken refuge there. On 8 May the squadron
captured the sloop Sally, and Talbot hatched a plan to capture
Sandwich by utilizing the familiarity of Sally to allow the Americans
access to the harbor. First Lieutenant
Isaac Hull led 90 sailors
and Marines into Puerto Plata without challenge on 11 May, capturing
Sandwich and spiking the guns of the nearby Spanish fort. However,
it was later determined that Sandwich had been captured from a neutral
port; she was returned to the French with apologies, and no prize
money was awarded to the squadron.
Routine patrols again occupied Constitution for the next two months,
until 13 July, when the mainmast trouble of a few months before
recurred. She put into Cap Français for repairs. With the terms of
enlistment soon to expire for the sailors aboard her, she made
preparations to return to the United States, and was relieved of duty
by Constellation on 23 July. Constitution escorted twelve merchantmen
to Philadelphia on her return voyage, and on 24 August put in at
Boston, where she received new masts, sails, and rigging. Even though
peace was imminent between the United States and France, Constitution
again sailed for the West Indies on 17 December as squadron flagship,
rendezvousing with Congress, Adams, Augusta, Richmond, and Trumbull.
Although no longer allowed to pursue French shipping, the squadron was
assigned to protect American shipping and continued in that capacity
until April 1801, when Herald arrived with orders for the squadron to
return to the United States. Constitution returned to Boston, where
she lingered; she was finally scheduled for an overhaul in October,
but it was later canceled. She was placed in ordinary on 2 July
First Barbary War
See also: First Barbary War
The United States paid tribute to the Barbary States during the
Quasi-War to ensure that American merchant ships were not harassed and
seized. In 1801,
Yusuf Karamanli of
Tripoli was dissatisfied that
the United States was paying him less than they paid Algiers, and he
demanded an immediate payment of $250,000. In response, Thomas
Jefferson sent a squadron of frigates to protect American merchant
ships in the Mediterranean and to pursue peace with the Barbary
The first squadron under the command of
Richard Dale in President was
instructed to escort merchant ships through the Mediterranean and to
negotiate with leaders of the Barbary States. A second squadron
was assembled under the command of
Richard Valentine Morris in
Chesapeake. The performance of Morris's squadron was so poor, however,
that he was recalled and subsequently dismissed from the Navy in
Constitution c. 1803–04
Edward Preble recommissioned Constitution on 13 May 1803 as
his flagship and made preparations to command a new squadron for a
third blockade attempt. The copper sheathing on her hull needed to be
replaced, and Paul Revere supplied the copper sheets necessary for the
job. She departed
Boston on 14 August, and she encountered an
unknown ship in the darkness on 6 September, near the Rock of
Gibraltar. Constitution went to general quarters, then ran alongside
the unknown ship. Preble hailed her, only to receive a hail in return.
He identified his ship as the United States frigate Constitution but
received an evasive answer from the other ship. Preble replied: "I am
now going to hail you for the last time. If a proper answer is not
returned, I will fire a shot into you." The stranger returned, "If you
give me a shot, I'll give you a broadside." Preble demanded that the
other ship identify herself and the stranger replied, "This is His
Britannic Majesty's ship Donegal, 84 guns, Sir Richard Strachan, an
English commodore." He then commanded Preble, "Send your boat on
board." Preble was now devoid of all patience and exclaimed, "This is
United States ship Constitution, 44 guns, Edward Preble, an American
commodore, who will be damned before he sends his boat on board of any
vessel." And then to his gun crews: "Blow your matches, boys!"[Note 2]
Before the incident escalated further, however, a boat arrived from
the other ship and a British lieutenant relayed his captain's
apologies. The ship was in fact not Donegal but instead
HMS Maidstone, a 32-gun frigate. Constitution had come alongside
her so quietly that Maidstone had delayed answering with the proper
hail while she readied her guns. This act began the strong
allegiance between Preble and the officers under his command, known as
"Preble's boys", as he had shown that he was willing to defy a
presumed ship of the line.
Constitution arrived at Gibraltar on 12 September where Preble waited
for the other ships of the squadron. His first order of business was
to arrange a treaty with
Sultan Slimane of Morocco, who was holding
American ships hostage to ensure the return of two vessels that the
Americans had captured. Constitution departed and Nautilus departed
Gibraltar on 3 October and arrived at Tangiers on the 4th. Adams and
New York arrived the next day. With four American warships in his
Sultan was glad to arrange the transfer of ships between
the two nations, and Preble departed with his squadron on 14 October,
heading back to Gibraltar.
Philadelphia burning in
Main article: Second Battle of
Philadelphia ran aground off
Tripoli on 31 October under the command
William Bainbridge while pursuing a Tripoline vessel. The crew was
taken prisoner; Philadelphia was refloated by the Tripolines and
brought into their harbor. To deprive the Tripolines of their
prize, Preble planned to destroy Philadelphia using the captured ship
Mastico, which was renamed Intrepid. Intrepid entered
on 16 February 1804 under the command of Stephen Decatur, disguised as
a merchant ship. Decatur's crew quickly overpowered the Tripoline crew
and set Philadelphia ablaze.
Preble withdrew the squadron to
Syracuse, Sicily and began planning
for a summer attack on Tripoli. He procured a number of smaller
gunboats that could move in closer to
Tripoli than was feasible for
Constitution, given her deep draft. Constitution, Argus,
Enterprise, Scourge, Syren, the six gunboats, and two bomb ketches
arrived the morning of 3 August and immediately began operations.
Twenty-two Tripoline gunboats met them in the harbor; Constitution and
her squadron severely damaged or destroyed the Tripoline gunboats in a
series of attacks over the coming month, taking their crews prisoner.
Constitution primarily provided gunfire support, bombarding the shore
batteries of Tripoli—yet Karamanli remained firm in his demand for
ransom and tribute, despite his losses.
Preble outfitted Intrepid as a "floating volcano" with 100 short tons
(91 t) of gunpowder aboard in a final attempt of the season. She
was to sail into
Tripoli harbor and blow up in the midst of the
corsair fleet, close under the walls of the city. Intrepid made her
way into the harbor on the evening of 3 September under the command of
Richard Somers, but she exploded prematurely, killing Somers and his
entire crew of thirteen volunteers.
Constellation and President arrived at
Tripoli on the 9th with Samuel
Barron in command; Preble was forced to relinquish his command of the
squadron to Barron, who was senior in rank. Constitution was
ordered to Malta on the 11th for repairs and, while en route, captured
two Greek vessels attempting to deliver wheat into Tripoli. On the
12th, a collision with President severely damaged Constitution's bow,
stern, and figurehead of Hercules. The collision was attributed to an
act of God in the form of a sudden change in wind direction.
Captain John Rodgers assumed command of Constitution on 9 November
1804 while she underwent repairs and resupply in Malta. She resumed
the blockade of
Tripoli on 5 April 1805, capturing a Tripoline xebec,
along with two prizes that the xebec had captured. Meanwhile,
Commodore Barron gave William Eaton naval support to bombard Derne,
while a detachment of US Marines under the command of Presley O'Bannon
was assembled to attack the city by land. They captured it on 27
April. A peace treaty with
Tripoli was signed aboard Constitution
on 3 June, in which she embarked the crew members of Philadelphia and
returned them to Syracuse. She was then dispatched to
arrived there on 30 July. Seventeen additional American warships had
gathered in its harbor by 1 August: Congress, Constellation,
Enterprise, Essex, Franklin, Hornet, John Adams, Nautilus, Syren, and
eight gunboats. Negotiations went on for several days until a
short-term blockade of the harbor finally produced a peace treaty on
Rodgers remained in command of the squadron, sending warships back to
the United States when they were no longer needed. Eventually, all
that remained were Constitution, Enterprise, and Hornet. They
performed routine patrols and observed the French and Royal Navy
operations of the Napoleonic Wars. Rodgers turned over the command
of the squadron and Constitution to Captain Hugh G. Campbell on 29 May
James Barron sailed Chesapeake out of Norfolk on 15 May 1807 to
replace Constitution as the flagship of the Mediterranean squadron but
he encountered HMS Leopard, resulting in the Chesapeake–Leopard
Affair and delaying the relief of Constitution. Constitution
continued patrols, unaware of the delay. She arrived in late June at
Leghorn, where she took aboard the disassembled
Tripoli Monument for
transport back to the United States. Campbell learned the fate of
Chesapeake when he arrived at Málaga, and he immediately began
preparing Constitution and Hornet for possible war against Britain.
The crew became mutinous upon learning of the delay in their relief
and refused to sail any farther unless the destination was the United
States. Campbell and his officers threatened to fire a cannon full of
grape shot at the crewmen if they did not comply, thereby putting an
end to the conflict. Campbell and the squadron were ordered home on 18
August and set sail for
Boston on 8 September, arriving there on 14
October. Constitution had been gone for more than four years.
War of 1812
See also: War of 1812
Constitution during the chase
Constitution was recommissioned in December with Captain John Rodgers
again taking command to oversee a major refitting. She was overhauled
at a cost just under $100,000; however, Rodgers inexplicably failed to
clean her copper sheathing, leading him to later declare her a "slow
sailer". She spent most of the following two years on training runs
and ordinary duty.
Isaac Hull took command in June 1810, and he
immediately recognized that she needed her bottom cleaned. "Ten waggon
loads" of barnacles and seaweed were removed.
Hull departed for France on 5 August 1811, transporting the new
Joel Barlow and his family; they arrived on 1 September.
Hull remained near France and the Netherlands through the winter
months, continually holding sail and gun drills to keep the crew ready
for possible hostilities with the British. Tensions were high between
the United States and Britain after the events of the Little Belt
Affair the previous May, and Constitution was shadowed by British
frigates while awaiting dispatches from Barlow to carry back to the
United States. They arrived home on 18 February 1812.
War was declared on 18 June and Hull put to sea on 12 July, attempting
to join the five ships of a squadron under the command of Rodgers in
President. He sighted five ships off Egg Harbor, New Jersey on 17 July
and at first believed them to be Rodgers' squadron but, by the
following morning, the lookouts determined that they were a British
squadron out of Halifax: HMS Aeolus, Africa, Belvidera,
Guerriere, and Shannon. They had sighted Constitution and were giving
Hull found himself becalmed, but he acted on a suggestion from Charles
Morris. He ordered the crew to put boats over the side to tow the ship
out of range, using kedge anchors to draw the ship forward and wetting
the sails to take advantage of every breath of wind. The British
ships soon imitated the tactic of kedging and remained in pursuit. The
resulting 57-hour chase in the July heat forced the crew of
Constitution to employ myriad tactics to outrun the squadron, finally
pumping overboard 2,300 US gal (8.7 kl) of drinking
water. Cannon fire was exchanged several times, though the British
attempts fell short or overshot their mark, including an attempted
broadside from Belvidera. On 19 July, Constitution pulled far enough
ahead of the British that they abandoned the pursuit.
Constitution arrived in
Boston on 27 July and remained there just long
enough to replenish her supplies. Hull sailed without orders on 2
August to avoid being blockaded in port, heading on a northeast
route towards the British shipping lanes near Halifax and the Gulf of
Saint Lawrence. Constitution captured three British merchantmen, which
Hull burned rather than risk taking them back to an American port. On
16 August, he learned of a British frigate 100 nmi (190 km;
120 mi) to the south and sailed in pursuit.
Constitution vs. Guerriere
USS Constitution vs HMS Guerriere
Constitution and Guerriere in battle.
A frigate was sighted on 19 August and subsequently determined to be
HMS Guerriere (38) with the words "Not The Little Belt" painted
on her foretopsail.[Note 3] Guerriere opened fire upon entering
range of Constitution, doing little damage. After a few exchanges of
cannon fire between the ships, Captain Hull maneuvered Constitution
into an advantageous position within 25 yards (23 m) of
Guerriere. He then ordered a full double-loaded broadside of grape and
round shot which took out Guerriere's mizzenmast. Guerriere's
maneuverability decreased with her mizzenmast dragging in the water,
and she collided with Constitution, entangling her bowsprit in
Constitution's mizzen rigging. This left only Guerriere's bow guns
capable of effective fire. Hull's cabin caught fire from the shots,
but it was quickly extinguished. With the ships locked together, both
captains ordered boarding parties into action, but the sea was heavy
and neither party was able to board the opposing ship.
At one point, the two ships rotated together counter-clockwise, with
Constitution continuing to fire broadsides. When the two ships pulled
apart, the force of the bowsprit's extraction sent shock waves through
Guerriere's rigging. Her foremast collapsed, and that brought the
mainmast down shortly afterward. Guerriere was now a dismasted,
unmanageable hulk with close to a third of her crew wounded or killed,
while Constitution remained largely intact. The British
Hull had surprised the British with his heavier broadsides and his
ship's sailing ability. Adding to their astonishment, many of the
British shots had rebounded harmlessly off Constitution's hull. An
American sailor reportedly exclaimed "Huzzah! her sides are made of
iron!" and Constitution acquired the nickname "Old Ironsides".
The battle left Guerriere so badly damaged that she was not worth
towing to port, and Hull ordered her to be burned the next morning,
after transferring the British prisoners onto Constitution.
Constitution arrived back in
Boston on 30 August, where Hull and his
crew found that news of their victory had spread fast, and they were
hailed as heroes.
Constitution vs Java
Diagram of the battle between Constitution and Java
William Bainbridge, senior to Hull, took command of "Old Ironsides" on
8 September and prepared her for another mission in British shipping
lanes near Brazil, sailing with Hornet on 27 October. They arrived
near São Salvador on 13 December, sighting HMS Bonne Citoyenne
in the harbor. Bonne Citoyenne was reportedly carrying $1,600,000
in specie to England, and her captain refused to leave the neutral
harbor lest he lose his cargo. Constitution sailed offshore in search
of prizes, leaving Hornet to await the departure of Bonne
Citoyenne. On 29 December, she met with HMS Java under
Captain Henry Lambert. At the initial hail from Bainbridge, Java
answered with a broadside that severely damaged Constitution's
rigging. She was able to recover, however, and returned a series of
broadsides to Java. A shot from Java destroyed Constitution's helm
(wheel), so Bainbridge directed the crew to steer her manually using
the tiller for the remainder of the engagement. Bainbridge was
wounded twice during the battle. Java's bowsprit became entangled in
Constitution's rigging, as in the battle with Guerriere, allowing
Bainbridge to continue raking her with broadsides. Java's foremast
collapsed, sending her fighting top crashing down through two decks
Bainbridge drew off to make emergency repairs and re-approached Java
an hour later. She lay in shambles, an unmanageable wreck with a badly
wounded crew, and she surrendered. Bainbridge determined that
Java was far too damaged to retain as a prize and ordered her burned,
but not before having her helm salvaged and installed on
Constitution. Constitution returned to São Salvador on 1 January
1813 to disembark the prisoners of Java, where she met with Hornet and
her two British prizes. Bainbridge ordered Constitution to sail for
Boston on 5 January, being far away from a friendly port and
needing extensive repairs, leaving Hornet behind to continue waiting
for Bonne Citoyenne in the hopes that she would leave the harbor (she
did not). Java was the third British warship in as many months to
be captured by the United States, and Constitution's victory prompted
the British Admiralty to order its frigates not to engage the heavier
American frigates one-on-one; only British ships of the line or
squadrons were permitted to come close enough to attack.
Constitution arrived in
Boston on 15 February to even greater
celebrations than Hull had received a few months earlier.
Marblehead and blockade
Bainbridge determined that Constitution required new spar deck
planking and beams, masts, sails, and rigging, as well as replacement
of her copper bottom. However, personnel and supplies were being
diverted to the Great Lakes, causing shortages that kept her in Boston
intermittently with her sister ships Chesapeake, Congress, and
President for the majority of the year. Charles Stewart took
command on 18 July and struggled to complete the construction and
recruitment of a new crew, finally making sail on 31 December.
She set course for the West Indies to harass British shipping and had
captured five merchant ships and the 14-gun HMS Pictou by late
March 1814. She also pursued HMS Columbine and HMS Pique, though
both ships escaped after realizing that she was an American
Her mainmast split off the coast of Bermuda on 27 March, requiring
immediate repair. Stewart set a course for Boston, where British ships
HMS Junon and Tenedos commenced pursuit on 3 April. Stewart
ordered drinking water and food to be cast overboard to lighten her
load and gain speed, trusting that her mainmast would hold together
long enough for her to make her way into Marblehead,
Massachusetts. The last item thrown overboard was the supply of
spirits. Upon Constitution's arrival in the harbor, the citizens of
Marblehead rallied in support, assembling what cannons they possessed
at Fort Sewall, and the British called off the pursuit. Two weeks
later, Constitution made her way into Boston, where she remained
blockaded in port until mid-December.
HMS Cyane and HMS Levant
Main article: Capture of HMS Cyane
Captain George Collier of the Royal Navy received command of the
50-gun HMS Leander and was sent to North America to deal with the
American frigates that were causing such losses to British
shipping. Meanwhile, Charles Stewart saw his chance to escape
Boston Harbor and made it good on the afternoon of 18 December,
and Constitution again set course for Bermuda. Collier gathered a
squadron consisting of Leander, Newcastle, and Acasta and set off in
pursuit, but he was unable to overtake her. On 24 December,
Constitution intercepted the merchantman Lord Nelson and placed a
prize crew aboard. Constitution had left
Boston not fully supplied,
but Lord Nelson's stores supplied a Christmas dinner for the
Constitution was cruising off
Cape Finisterre on 8 February 1815 when
Stewart learned that the
Treaty of Ghent
Treaty of Ghent had been signed. He realized,
however, that a state of war still existed until the treaty was
ratified, and Constitution captured the British merchantman Susanna on
16 February; her cargo of animal hides were valued at $75,000.
On 20 February, Constitution sighted the small British ships Cyane and
Levant sailing in company and gave chase. Cyane and Levant began
a series of broadsides against her, but Stewart outmaneuvered both of
them and forced Levant to draw off for repairs. He concentrated fire
on Cyane, which soon struck her colors. Levant returned to engage
Constitution but she turned and attempted to escape when she saw that
Cyane had been defeated. Constitution overtook her and, after
several more broadsides, she struck her colors. Stewart remained
with his new prizes overnight while ordering repairs to all ships.
Constitution had suffered little damage in the battle, though it was
later discovered that she had twelve 32-pound British cannonballs
embedded in her hull, none of which had penetrated. The trio then
set a course for the
Cape Verde Islands and arrived at Porto Praya on
The next morning, Collier's squadron was spotted on a course for the
harbor, and Stewart ordered all ships to sail immediately; he had
been unaware until then of Collier's pursuit. Cyane was able to
elude the squadron and make sail for America, where she arrived on 10
April, but Levant was overtaken and recaptured. Collier's squadron was
distracted with Levant while Constitution made another escape from
Constitution set a course towards
Guinea and then west towards Brazil,
as Stewart had learned from the capture of Susanna that
HMS Inconstant was transporting gold bullion back to England, and
he wanted her as a prize. Constitution put into
Maranhão on 2 April
to offload her British prisoners and replenish her drinking
water. While there, Stewart learned by rumor that the Treaty of
Ghent had been ratified, and set course for America, receiving
verification of peace at San Juan, Puerto Rico on 28 April. He then
set course for New York and arrived home on 15 May to large
celebrations. Constitution emerged from the war undefeated,
though her sister ships Chesapeake and President were not so
fortunate, having been captured in 1813 and 1815
respectively. Constitution was moved to
Boston and placed in
ordinary in January 1816, sitting out the Second Barbary War.
Charlestown Navy Yard's commandant
Isaac Hull directed a refitting of
Constitution to prepare her for duty with the Mediterranean Squadron
in April 1820. They removed Joshua Humphreys' diagonal riders to make
room for two iron freshwater tanks, and they replaced the copper
sheathing and timbers below the waterline. At the direction of
Secretary of the Navy
Secretary of the Navy Smith Thompson, she was also subjected to an
unusual experiment in which manually operated paddle wheels were
fitted to her hull. The paddle wheels were designed to propel her at
up to 3 knots (5.6 km/h; 3.5 mph) if she was ever becalmed,
by the crew using the ship's capstan. Initial testing was
successful, but Hull and Constitution's commanding officer Jacob Jones
were reportedly unimpressed with paddle wheels on a US Navy ship.
Jones had them removed and stowed in the cargo hold before he departed
on 13 May 1821 for a three-year tour of duty in the
Constitution experienced an uneventful tour, sailing in company with
Ontario and Nonsuch, until crew behavior during shore leave gave Jones
a reputation as a commodore who was lax in discipline. The Navy grew
weary of receiving complaints about the crews' antics while in port
and ordered Jones to return. Constitution arrived in
Boston on 31 May
1824, and Jones was relieved of command.
Thomas Macdonough took
command and sailed on 29 October for the Mediterranean under the
direction of John Rodgers in North Carolina. With discipline restored,
Constitution resumed uneventful duty. Macdonough resigned his command
for health reasons on 9 October 1825. Constitution put in for
repairs during December and into January 1826, until Daniel Todd
Patterson assumed command on 21 February. By August, she had put into
Port Mahon, suffering decay of her spar deck, and she remained there
until temporary repairs were completed in March 1827. Constitution
Boston on 4 July 1828 and was placed in reserve.
Constitution was built in an era when a ship's expected service life
was 10 to 15 years.
Secretary of the Navy
Secretary of the Navy
John Branch made a
routine order for surveys of ships in the reserve fleet, and
commandant of the Charlestown Navy Yard Charles Morris estimated a
repair cost of over $157,000 for Constitution. On 14 September
1830, an article appeared in the
Boston Advertiser which erroneously
claimed that the Navy intended to scrap Constitution.[Note 4] Two
days later, Oliver Wendell Holmes' poem "Old Ironsides" was published
in the same paper and later all over the country, igniting public
indignation and inciting efforts to save "Old Ironsides" from the
scrap yard. Secretary Branch approved the costs, and Constitution
began a leisurely repair period while awaiting completion of the dry
dock then under construction at the yard. In contrast to the
efforts to save Constitution, another round of surveys in 1834 found
her sister ship Congress unfit for repair; she was unceremoniously
broken up in 1835.
On 24 June 1833, Constitution entered dry dock. Captain Jesse Elliott,
the new commander of the Navy yard, oversaw her reconstruction.
Constitution had 30 in (760 mm) of hog in her keel and
remained in dry dock until 21 June 1834. This was the first of many
times that souvenirs were made from her old planking; Isaac Hull
ordered walking canes, picture frames, and even a phaeton that was
presented to President Andrew Jackson.
Meanwhile, Elliot directed the installation of a new figurehead of
President Jackson under the bowsprit, which became a subject of much
controversy due to Jackson's political unpopularity in
Boston at the
time. Elliot was a Jacksonian Democrat, and he received
death threats. Rumors circulated about the citizens of
the navy yard to remove the figurehead themselves.
A merchant captain named Samuel Dewey accepted a small wager as to
whether he could complete the task of removal. Elliot had posted
guards on Constitution to ensure safety of the figurehead, but Dewey
crossed the Charles River in a small boat, using the noise of
thunderstorms to mask his movements, and managed to saw off most of
Jackson's head. The severed head made the rounds between taverns
and meeting houses in
Boston until Dewey personally returned it to
Secretary of the Navy
Secretary of the Navy Mahlon Dickerson; it remained on Dickerson's
library shelf for many years. The addition of busts to her
stern escaped controversy of any kind, depicting Isaac Hull, William
Bainbridge, and Charles Stewart; the busts remained in place for the
next 40 years.
Mediterranean and Pacific Squadrons
Elliot was appointed captain of Constitution and got underway in March
1835 to New York, where he ordered repairs to the Jackson figurehead,
avoiding a second round of controversy. Departing on 16 March
Constitution set a course for France to deliver
Edward Livingston to
his post as Minister. She arrived on 10 April and began the return
voyage on 16 May. She arrived back in
Boston on 23 June, then sailed
on 19 August to take her station as flagship in the Mediterranean,
arriving at Port Mahon on 19 September. Her duty over the next two
years was uneventful as she and United States made routine patrols and
diplomatic visits. From April 1837 into February 1838 Elliot
collected various ancient artifacts to carry back to America, adding
various livestock during the return voyage. Constitution arrived in
Norfolk on 31 July. Elliot was later suspended from duty for
transporting livestock on a Navy ship.
As flagship of the
Pacific Squadron under the command of Captain
Daniel Turner, she began her next voyage on 1 March 1839 with the duty
of patrolling the western coast of South America. Often spending
months in one port or another, she visited Valparaíso, Callao, Paita,
and Puna while her crew amused themselves with the beaches and taverns
in each locality. The return voyage found her at Rio de Janeiro,
Pedro II of Brazil
Pedro II of Brazil visited her about 29 August 1841.
Departing Rio, she returned to Norfolk on 31 October. On 22 June 1842
she was recommissioned under the command of Foxhall Alexander Parker
for duty with the Home Squadron. After spending months in port she put
to sea for three weeks during December, then was again put in
Around the world
In late 1843, she was moored at Norfolk, serving as a receiving ship.
Naval Constructor Foster Rhodes calculated that it would require
$70,000 to make her seaworthy. Acting Secretary David Henshaw faced a
dilemma. His budget could not support such a cost, yet he could not
allow the country's favorite ship to deteriorate. He turned to Captain
John Percival, known in the service as "Mad Jack". The captain
traveled to Virginia and conducted his own survey of the ship's needs.
He reported that the necessary repairs and upgrades could be done at a
cost of $10,000. On 6 November, Henshaw told Percival to proceed
without delay, but stay within his projected figure. After several
months of labor, Percival reported Constitution ready for "a two or
even a three year cruise."
She got underway on 29 May 1844 carrying Ambassador to Brazil Henry A.
Wise and his family, arriving at Rio de Janeiro on 2 August after
making two port visits along the way. She sailed again on 8 September,
making port calls at Madagascar, Mozambique, and Zanzibar, and
arriving at Sumatra on 1 January 1845. Many of her crew began to
suffer from dysentery and fevers, causing several deaths, which led
Percival to set course for Singapore, arriving there 8 February. While
in Singapore, Commodore
Henry Ducie Chads
Henry Ducie Chads of HMS Cambrian paid a visit
to Constitution, offering what medical assistance his squadron could
provide. Chads had been the Lieutenant of Java when she surrendered to
William Bainbridge 33 years earlier.
Leaving Singapore, Constitution arrived at Turon, Cochinchina (present
day Da Nang, Vietnam) on 10 May. Not long after, Percival was informed
that French missionary
Dominique Lefèbvre was being held captive
under sentence of death. He went ashore with a squad of Marines to
speak with the local Mandarin. Percival demanded the return of
Lefèbvre and took three local leaders hostage to ensure that his
demands were met. When no communication was forthcoming, he ordered
the capture of three junks, which were brought to Constitution. He
released the hostages after two days, attempting to show good faith
towards the Mandarin, who had demanded their return. During a storm,
the three junks escaped upriver; a detachment of Marines pursued and
recaptured them. The supply of food and water from shore was stopped,
and Percival gave in to another demand for the release of the junks in
order to keep his ship supplied, expecting Lefèbvre to be released.
He soon realized that no return would be made, however, and Percival
ordered Constitution to depart on 26 May.
She arrived at Canton, China on 20 June and spent the next six weeks
there, while Percival made shore and diplomatic visits. Again the crew
suffered from dysentery due to poor drinking water, resulting in three
more deaths by the time that she reached Manila on 18 September,
spending a week there preparing to enter the Pacific Ocean. She then
sailed on 28 September for the Hawaiian Islands, arriving at Honolulu
on 16 November. She found Commodore
John D. Sloat
John D. Sloat and his flagship
Savannah there; Sloat informed Percival that Constitution was needed
in Mexico, as the United States was preparing for war after the Texas
annexation. She provisioned for six months and sailed for Mazatlán,
arriving there on 13 January 1846. She sat at anchor for more than
three months until she was finally allowed to sail for home on 22
April, rounding Cape Horn on 4 July. Arriving in Rio de Janeiro, the
ship's party learned that the Mexican War had begun on 13 May, soon
after their departure from Mazatlán. She arrived home in
Boston on 27
September and was mothballed on 5 October.
Mediterranean and African Squadrons
Further information: Anti-Slavery operations of the United States Navy
Andrew Jackson figurehead as depicted by Harpers Weekly in 1875.
Constitution began a refitting in 1847 for duty with the Mediterranean
Squadron. The figurehead of
Andrew Jackson that caused so much
controversy 15 years earlier was replaced with another likeness of
Jackson, this time without a top hat and with a more Napoleonic pose.
John Gwinn commanded her on this voyage, departing on 9
December 1848 and arriving at
Tripoli on 19 January 1849. She received
King Ferdinand II and
Pope Pius IX
Pope Pius IX on board at
Gaeta on 1 August,
giving them a 21-gun salute. This was the first time that a Pope set
foot on American territory or its equivalent.
Palermo on 1 September, Captain Gwinn died of chronic gastritis and
was buried near
Lazaretto on the 9th. Captain
Thomas Conover assumed
command on the 18th and resumed routine patrolling for the rest of the
tour, heading home on 1 December 1850. She was involved in a severe
collision with the English brig Confidence, cutting her in half, which
sank with the loss of her captain. The surviving crew members were
carried back to America, where Constitution was put in ordinary once
again, this time at the
Brooklyn Navy Yard
Brooklyn Navy Yard in January 1851.
Constitution was recommissioned on 22 December 1852 under the command
of John Rudd. She carried Commodore
Isaac Mayo for duty with the
African Squadron, departing the yard on 2 March 1853 on a leisurely
sail towards Africa and arriving there on 18 June. Mayo made a
diplomatic visit in Liberia, arranging a treaty between the Gbarbo and
the Grebo tribes. Mayo resorted to firing cannons into the village of
the Gbarbo in order to get them to agree to the treaty. About 22 June
1854, he arranged another peace treaty between the leaders of Grahway
and Half Cavally.
Constitution took the American ship H. N. Gambrill as a prize near
Angola on 3 November. Gambrill was involved in the slave trade and
proved to be Constitution's final capture. The rest of her tour
passed uneventfully and she sailed for home on 31 March 1855. She was
diverted to Havana, Cuba, arriving there on 16 May and departing on
the 24th. She arrived at
Portsmouth Navy Yard
Portsmouth Navy Yard and was decommissioned
on 14 June, ending her last duty on the front lines.
See also: American Civil War
Since the formation of the US Naval Academy in 1845, there had been a
growing need for quarters in which to house the students ( Midshipmen
). In 1857, Constitution was moved to dry dock at the Portsmouth Navy
Yard for conversion into a training ship. Some of the earliest known
photographs of her were taken during this refitting, which added
classrooms on her spar and gun decks and reduced her armament to only
16 guns. Her rating was changed to a "2nd rate ship." She was
recommissioned on 1 August 1860 and moved from Portsmouth to the Naval
The earliest known photograph of Constitution, undergoing repairs in
At the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861, Constitution was
ordered to relocate farther north after threats had been made against
her by Confederate sympathizers. Several companies of
Massachusetts volunteer soldiers were stationed aboard for her
protection. R. R. Cuyler towed her to New York City, where she
arrived on 29 April. She was subsequently relocated, along with the
Naval Academy, to
Fort Adams in
Newport, Rhode Island
Newport, Rhode Island for the duration
of the war. Her sister ship United States was abandoned by the Union
and then captured by Confederate forces at the Gosport Shipyard,
leaving Constitution the only remaining frigate of the original
The Navy launched an ironclad on 10 May 1862 as part of the South
Atlantic Blockading Squadron, and they bestowed on her the name New
Ironsides to honor Constitution's tradition of service. However, New
Ironsides's naval career was short, as she was destroyed by fire on 16
December 1865. In August 1865, Constitution moved back to
Annapolis, along with the rest of the Naval Academy. During the
voyage, she was allowed to drop her tow lines from the tug and
continue alone under wind power. Despite her age, she was recorded
running at 9 knots (17 km/h; 10 mph) and arrived at Hampton
Roads ten hours ahead of the tug.
Settling in again at the Academy, a series of upgrades was installed
that included steam pipes and radiators to supply heat from shore,
along with gas lighting. From June to August each year, she would
depart with midshipmen for their summer training cruise and then
return to operate for the rest of the year as a classroom. In June
1867, her last known plank owner William Bryant died in Maine. George
Dewey assumed command in November and he served as her commanding
officer until 1870. In 1871, her condition had deteriorated to the
point where she was retired as a training ship, and then towed to the
Philadelphia Navy Yard
Philadelphia Navy Yard where she was placed in ordinary on 26
Philadelphia Navy Yard
Philadelphia Navy Yard 1874
Constitution was overhauled beginning in 1873 in order to participate
in the centennial celebrations of the United States. Work began slowly
and was intermittently delayed by the transition of the Philadelphia
Navy Yard to League Island. By late 1875, the Navy opened bids for an
outside contractor to complete the work, and Constitution was moved to
Wood, Dialogue, and Company in May 1876, where a coal bin and a small
boiler for heat were installed. The
Andrew Jackson figurehead was
removed at this time and given to the Naval Academy Museum where it
remains today. Her construction dragged on during the rest of
1876 until the centennial celebrations had long passed, and the Navy
decided that she would be used as a training and school ship for
Oscar C. Badger took command on 9 January 1878 to prepare her for a
voyage to the Paris Exposition of 1878, transporting artwork and
industrial displays to France. Three railroad cars were lashed to
her spar deck and all but two cannons were removed when she departed
on 4 March. While docking at Le Havre, she collided with Ville de
Paris, which resulted in Constitution entering dry dock for repairs
and remaining in France for the rest of 1878. She got underway for the
United States on 16 January 1879, but poor navigation ran her aground
the next day near Bollard Head. She was towed into the Portsmouth
Naval Dockyard, Hampshire, England, where only minor damage was found
Her problem-plagued voyage continued on 13 February when her rudder
was damaged during heavy storms, resulting in a total loss of steering
control with the rudder smashing into the hull at random. Three
crewmen went over the stern on ropes and boatswain's chairs and
secured it. The next morning, they rigged a temporary steering system.
Badger set a course for the nearest port, and she arrived in Lisbon on
18 February. Slow dock services delayed her departure until 11 April
and her voyage home did not end until 24 May. Carpenter's Mate
Henry Williams, Captain of the Top Joseph Matthews, and Captain of the
Top James Horton received the
Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor for their actions in
repairing the damaged rudder at sea. Constitution returned to her
previous duties of training apprentice boys, and Ship's Corporal
James Thayer received a
Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor for saving a fellow crew member
from drowning on 16 November.
Over the next two years, she continued her training cruises, but it
soon became apparent that her overhaul in 1876 had been of poor
quality and she was determined to be unfit for service in 1881. Funds
were lacking for another overhaul, so she was decommissioned, ending
her days as an active-duty naval ship. She was moved to the Portsmouth
Navy Yard and used as a receiving ship. There, she had a housing
structure built over her spar deck, and her condition continued to
deteriorate, with only a minimal amount of maintenance performed to
keep her afloat. In 1896, Massachusetts Congressman John F.
Fitzgerald became aware of her condition and proposed to Congress that
funds be appropriated to restore her enough to return to Boston.
She arrived at the Charlestown Navy Yard under tow on 21 September
1897 and, after her centennial celebrations in October, she lay
there with an uncertain future.
As a barracks ship in
Boston c. 1905
In 1900, Congress authorized restoration of Constitution but did not
appropriate any funds for the project; funding was to be raised
privately. The Massachusetts Society of the United Daughters of the
War of 1812
War of 1812 spearheaded an effort to raise funds, but they ultimately
failed. In 1903, the Massachusetts Historical Society's president
Charles Francis Adams requested of Congress that Constitution be
rehabilitated and placed back into active service.
Secretary of the Navy
Secretary of the Navy
Charles Joseph Bonaparte
Charles Joseph Bonaparte suggested that
Constitution be towed out to sea and used as target practice, after
which she would be allowed to sink. Moses H. Gulesian read about this
Boston newspaper; he was a businessman from Worcester,
Massachusetts, and he offered to purchase her for $10,000.
The State Department refused, but Gulesian initiated a public campaign
which began from
Boston and ultimately "spilled all over the
country." The storms of protest from the public prompted Congress
to authorize $100,000 in 1906 for the ship's restoration. First to be
removed was the barracks structure on her spar deck, but the limited
amount of funds allowed just a partial restoration. By 1907,
Constitution began to serve as a museum ship, with tours offered to
the public. On 1 December 1917, she was renamed Old Constitution to
free her name for a planned, new Lexington-class battlecruiser. The
name Constitution was originally destined for the lead ship of the
class, but it got shuffled around between hulls until CC-5 was given
the name; construction of CC-5 was canceled in 1923 due to the
Washington Naval Treaty. The incomplete hull was sold for scrap, and
Old Constitution was granted the return of her name on 24 July
1925 restoration and tour
Admiral Edward Walter Eberle, Chief of Naval Operations, ordered the
Board of Inspection and Survey
Board of Inspection and Survey to compile a report on her condition,
and the inspection of 19 February 1924 found her in grave condition.
Water had to be pumped out of her hold on a daily basis just to keep
her afloat, and her stern was in danger of falling off. Almost all
deck areas and structural components were filled with rot, and she was
considered to be on the verge of ruin. Yet the Board recommended that
she be thoroughly repaired in order to preserve her as long as
possible. The estimated cost of repairs was $400,000. Secretary of the
Curtis D. Wilbur
Curtis D. Wilbur proposed to Congress that the required funds be
raised privately, and he was authorized to assemble the committee
charged with her restoration.
The first effort was sponsored by the national Elks Lodge. Programs
presented to schoolchildren about "Old Ironsides" encouraged them to
donate pennies towards her restoration, eventually raising $148,000.
In the meantime, the estimates for repair began to climb, eventually
reaching over $745,000 after costs of materials were realized. In
September 1926, Wilbur began to sell copies of a painting of
Constitution at 50 cents per copy. The silent film Old Ironsides
portrayed Constitution during the First Barbary War. It premiered in
December and helped spur more contributions to her restoration fund.
The final campaign allowed memorabilia to be made of her discarded
planking and metal. The committee eventually raised more than $600,000
after expenses, still short of the required amount, and Congress
approved up to $300,000 to complete the restoration. The final cost of
the restoration was $946,000.
Transiting the Panama Canal 1932
Lieutenant John A. Lord was selected to oversee the reconstruction
project, and work began while fund-raising efforts were still
underway. Materials were difficult to find, especially the live oak
needed; Lord uncovered a long-forgotten stash of live oak (some 1,500
short tons [1,400 t]) at Naval Air Station Pensacola,
Florida that had been cut sometime in the 1850s for a ship building
program that never began. Constitution entered dry dock with a crowd
of 10,000 observers on 16 June 1927. Meanwhile, Charles Francis Adams
had been appointed as Secretary of the Navy, and he proposed that
Constitution make a tour of the United States upon her completion as a
gift to the nation for its efforts to help restore her. She emerged
from dry dock on 15 March 1930; approximately 85 percent of the ship
had been “renewed” (i.e. replaced) to make her seaworthy.
Many amenities were installed to prepare her for the three-year tour
of the country, including water piping throughout, modern toilet and
shower facilities, electric lighting to make the interior visible for
visitors, and several peloruses for ease of navigation. 40 miles
(64,000 m) of rigging was made for Constitution at Charlestown
Navy Yard ropewalk.
Constitution recommissioned on 1 July 1931 under the command of Louis
J. Gulliver with a crew of 60 officers and sailors, 15 Marines, and a
pet monkey named Rosie that was their mascot. The tour began at
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Portsmouth, New Hampshire with much celebration and a 21-gun salute,
scheduled to visit 90 port cities along the Atlantic, Gulf, and
Pacific coasts. Due to the schedule of visits on her itinerary she was
towed by the minesweeper Grebe. She went as far north as Bar Harbor,
Maine, south and into the Gulf of Mexico then through the Panama Canal
Zone, and north again to
Bellingham, Washington on the Pacific Coast.
Constitution returned to her home port of
Boston in May 1934 after
more than 4.6 million people visited her during the three-year
1934 return to Boston
Constitution returned to serving as a museum ship, receiving 100,000
visitors per year in Boston. She was maintained by a small crew who
were berthed on the ship, and this required more reliable heating. The
heating was upgraded to a forced-air system in the 1950s, and a
sprinkler system was added that protects her from fire. Constitution
broke loose from her dock on 21 September 1938 during the New England
Hurricane and was blown into
Boston Harbor where she collided with the
destroyer Ralph Talbot; she suffered only minor damage.
USS Constitution commemorative stamp 150th anniversary issue of 1947
With limited funds available, she experienced more deterioration over
the years, and items began to disappear from the ship as souvenir
hunters picked away at the more portable objects. Constitution
and USS Constellation were recommissioned in 1940 at the request
of President Franklin Roosevelt. In early 1941, Constitution
was assigned the hull classification symbol IX-21 and began to
serve as a brig for officers awaiting court-martial.
The United States Postal Service issued a stamp commemorating
Constitution in 1947, and an Act of Congress in 1954 made the
Secretary of the Navy
Secretary of the Navy responsible for her upkeep.
In 1970, another survey was performed on her condition, finding that
repairs were required but not as extensively as those which she had
needed in the 1920s. The US Navy determined that a Commander was
required as commanding officer—typically someone with about 20 years
of seniority; this would ensure the experience to organize the
maintenance that she required. Funds were approved in 1972 for
her restoration, and she entered dry dock in April 1973, remaining
until April 1974. During this period, large quantities of red oak were
removed and replaced. The red oak had been added in the 1950s as an
experiment to see if it would last better than the live oak, but it
had mostly rotted away by 1970.
Tyrone G. Martin
Tyrone G. Martin became her captain in August 1974, as
preparations began for the upcoming United States Bicentennial
celebrations. He set the precedent that all construction work on
Constitution was to be aimed towards maintaining her to the 1812
configuration for which she is most noted. In September 1975, her
hull classification of IX-21 was officially canceled.
The privately run
USS Constitution Museum
USS Constitution Museum opened on 8 April 1976, and
Commander Martin dedicated a tract of land as "Constitution Grove" one
month later, located at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Indiana.
The 25,000 acres (100 km2) now supply the majority of the white
oak required for repair work. On 10 July, Constitution led the
parade of tall ships up
Boston Harbor for Operation Sail, firing her
guns at one-minute intervals for the first time in approximately
100 years. On 11 July, she rendered a
21-gun salute to Her
Majesty's Yacht Britannia, as
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip
arrived for a state visit. The royal couple were piped aboard and
privately toured the ship for approximately 30 minutes with Commander
Secretary of the Navy
Secretary of the Navy J. William Middendorf. Upon their
departure, the crew of Constitution rendered three cheers for the
Queen. Over 900,000 visitors toured "Old Ironsides" that year.
Constitution entered dry dock in 1992 for an inspection and minor
repair period that turned out to be her most comprehensive structural
restoration and repair since she was launched in 1797. Multiple
refittings over the 200 years of her career had removed most of her
original construction components and design, as her mission changed
from a fighting warship to a training ship and eventually to a
receiving ship. In 1993, the Naval History & Heritage Command
Boston reviewed Humphreys' original plans and identified
five main structural components that were required to prevent hogging
of the hull, as Constitution had 13 in (330 mm) of hog
at that point. Using a 1:16 scale model of the ship, they were able to
determine that restoring the original components would result in a 10%
increase in hull stiffness.
Three hundred scans were completed on her timbers using radiography to
find any hidden problems otherwise undetectable from the
outside—technology that was unavailable during previous
reconstructions. The repair crew used sound wave testing, aided by the
United States Forest Service's Forest Products Laboratory, to
determine the condition of the remaining timbers that may have been
rotting from the inside. The 13 in (330 mm) of hog was
removed from her keel by allowing the ship to settle naturally while
in dry dock. The most difficult task was the procurement of timber in
the quantity and sizes needed, as was the case during her 1920s
restoration, as well. The city of Charleston, South Carolina donated
live oak trees that had been felled by
Hurricane Hugo in 1989, and the
International Paper Company
International Paper Company donated live oak from its own
property. The project continued to reconstruct her to 1812
specifications, even as she remained open to visitors who were allowed
to observe the process and converse with workers. The $12 million
project was completed in 1995.
Sailing on 200th anniversary
Constitution sails unassisted for the first time in 116 years.
Walter Cronkite takes the helm.
As early as 1991, Commander David Cashman had suggested that
Constitution should sail to celebrate her 200th anniversary in 1997
rather than being towed. The proposal was approved, though it was
thought to be a large undertaking since she had not sailed in over
100 years. When she emerged from dry dock in 1995, a more
serious effort began to prepare her for sail. As in the 1920s,
education programs aimed at school children helped collect pennies to
purchase the sails to make the voyage possible. Her six-sail battle
configuration consisted of jibs, topsails, and driver.
Commander Mike Beck began training the crew for the historic sail
using an 1819 Navy sailing manual and several months of practice,
including time spent aboard the Coast Guard cutter Eagle. On 20
July, Constitution was towed from her usual berth in
Boston to an
overnight mooring in Marblehead, Massachusetts. En route, she made her
first sail in 116 years at a recorded 6 knots (11 km/h;
On 21 July, she was towed 5 nautical miles (9.3 km; 5.8 mi)
offshore, where the tow line was dropped and Commander Beck ordered
six sails set (jibs, topsails, and spanker). She then sailed for
40 minutes on a south-south-east course with true wind speeds of
about 12 kn (22 km/h; 14 mph), attaining a top recorded
speed of 4 kn (7.4 km/h; 4.6 mph). Her modern US
naval combatant escorts were the guided missile destroyer Ramage and
frigate Halyburton. They rendered passing honors to "Old Ironsides"
while she was under sail, and she was overflown by the US Navy Flight
Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels. Inbound to her permanent
berth at Charlestown, she rendered a
21-gun salute to the nation off
Fort Independence in
Officers and crew of
USS Constitution (July 2005)
The mission of Constitution is to promote understanding of the Navy's
role in war and peace through active participation in public events
and education through outreach programs, public access, and historic
demonstration. Her crew of 6 officers and 46 enlisted participate
in ceremonies, educational programs, and special events while keeping
the ship open to visitors year-round and providing free tours. The
crewmen are all active-duty members of the U.S. Navy, and the
assignment is considered to be special duty. She entered dry dock in
May 2015 for a scheduled restoration, before returning to
Constitution is berthed at Pier One of the former Charlestown Navy
Yard, at one end of Boston's Freedom Trail. She is open to the public
year-round. The privately run
USS Constitution Museum
USS Constitution Museum is nearby,
located in a restored shipyard building at the foot of Pier Two.
Constitution typically makes at least one "turnaround cruise" each
year, during which she is towed into
Boston Harbor to perform underway
demonstrations, including a gun drill; she then returns to her dock in
the opposite direction to ensure that she weathers evenly. The
"turnaround cruise" is open to the general public based on a "lottery
draw" of interested persons each year.
Naval History and Heritage Command
Naval History and Heritage Command Detachment
responsible for planning and performing her maintenance, repair, and
restoration, keeping her as close as possible to her 1812
configuration. The detachment estimates that approximately 10–15
percent of the timber in Constitution contains original material
installed during her initial construction period in the years
In 2003, the special effects crew from the production of Master and
Commander: The Far Side of the World spent several days using
Constitution as a computer model for the fictional French frigate
Acheron, using stem-to-stern digital image scans of "Old
Ironsides." Lieutenant Commander John Scivier of the Royal Navy,
commanding officer of HMS Victory, paid a visit to Constitution
in November 2007, touring the local facilities with Commander William
A. Bullard III. They discussed arranging an exchange program between
the two ships.
Constitution emerged from a three-year repair period in November 2010.
During this time, the entire spar deck was stripped down to the
support beams, and the decking overhead was replaced to restore its
original curvature, allowing water to drain overboard and not remain
standing on the deck. In addition to decking repairs, 50 hull
planks and the main hatch were repaired or replaced. The restoration
continued the focus toward keeping her appearance of 1812 by replacing
her upper sides so that she now resembles what she looked like after
her triumph over Guerriere, when she gained her nickname "Old
Ironsides". The crew of Constitution under Commander Matt Bonner
sailed Constitution under her own power on 19 August 2012, the
anniversary of her victory over Guerriere. Bonner was
Constitution's 72nd commanding officer.
On 18 May 2015, the ship entered Dry Dock 1 in Charlestown Navy Yard
to begin a two-year restoration program. The restoration planned to
restore the copper sheets on the ship's hull and replace additional
deck boards. The Department of the Navy provided the $12–15 million
expected cost. After the restoration was complete, she was
returned to the water on 23 July 2017. In November, 2017,
Commander Nathaniel R. Shick relieved Commander Robert S. Gerosa Jr.,
who had spent most of his command while the ship was dry docked, in a
ceremony held on board Constitution to become the ship's 75th
USS Constitution underway
USS Constitution in 2015
Constitution fires a
21-gun salute toward Fort Independence
Constitution sails into
USS Constitution in dry dock for restoration work in 2016
^ a b HMS Victory is the oldest commissioned vessel by three
decades, but she has been in dry dock since 1922.
^ This was the instruction for the gun crews to blow on their slow
matches to make them white hot for igniting a cannon. The modern-day
equivalent might be "prepare to fire".
^ The words painted on the sail were in reference to the Little Belt
Affair, when USS President had fired on HMS Little Belt the year
before. Captain John Rodgers of President had mistakenly identified
Little Belt as Guerriere, and Captain James Dacres of Guerriere had
written a challenge of combat to him.
^ The Advertiser reported that the
Secretary of the Navy
Secretary of the Navy had ordered
her to be sold or broken up. Martin presents a valid argument and
explanation of Navy procedures for aging ships as to why this was not
true and must have been misreported.
^ a b c d e "Constitution". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting
Ships. Navy Department, Naval History and Heritage Command. Retrieved
4 March 2016.
^ a b c d e f g h i "US Navy Fact
File – Constitution". United
States Navy. 7 July 2009. Archived from the original on 16 July 2017.
Retrieved 3 March 2016.
^ a b Jennings (1966), p. 36.
^ "Miscellaneous Photo Index". www.navsource.org. Retrieved 20 July
^ a b c d Hollis (1900), p. 39.
^ a b "FAQ: How big is Constitution?".
USS Constitution Museum.
Retrieved 10 September 2013.
^ "Log Lines". Research and Collections at the USS Constitution
Museum. Retrieved 21 August 2015.
National Park Service
National Park Service (9 July 2010). "National Register Information
System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park
HMS Victory Service Life".
HMS Victory website. Archived from the
original on 28 August 2012.
^ Allen (1909), pp. 41–42.
^ Beach (1986), pp. 26–27.
^ Beach (1986), p. 29.
^ Toll (2006), pp. 49–53.
^ Beach (1986), pp. 29–30, 33.
^ Allen (1909), pp. 42–45.
^ a b Hollis (1900), p. 48.
^ "USS Constitution". Naval Vessel Register.
^ Jennings (1966), pp. 10–11.
^ "A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional
Documents and Debates, 1774–1875". Library of Congress. Retrieved 17
^ "Launching the New U.S. Navy". National Archives. Retrieved 17
^ Allen (1909), p. 47.
^ Hollis (1900), pp. 55–58.
^ Reilly, John (31 May 2001). "Christening, Launching, and
Commissioning of U.S. Navy Ships". Naval History & Heritage
Command. Retrieved 14 October 2015.
^ Jennings (1966), p. 7.
^ Jennings (1966), pp. 17–19.
^ Reilly, Jr., John C. "The Constitution Gun Deck". Naval History
& Heritage Command. pp. 1–13. Retrieved 17 September
^ "FAQ – Guns on board USS Constitution". USS Constitution
Museum. Archived from the original on 28 August 2012.
^ "Cannon Misfires At
Boston Pier". Chicago Tribune. 2 February
^ Jennings (1966), p. 44.
^ Martin (1997), pp. 24–26.
^ Allen (1909), pp. 69–71.
^ Martin (1997), p. 33.
^ Allen (1909), p. 105.
^ Colledge and Warlow (2006), p. 306.
^ Winfield (2007), p. 213.
^ Hollis (1900), pp. 64–65.
^ Martin (1997), pp. 38, 40.
^ Jennings (1966), p. 60.
^ Jennings (1966), p. 70.
^ Allen (1909), pp. 184–185.
^ "A Cutting-Out Expedition, 1800". Naval History & Heritage
Command. 25 October 1999. Archived from the original on 6 October
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^ Hollis (1900), pp. 66–68.
^ Martin (1997), pp. 63–66.
^ Maclay and Smith (1898), Volume 1, pp. 215–216.
^ Allen (1905), pp. 88–90.
^ a b Maclay and Smith (1898), Volume 1, p. 228.
^ Allen (1905), p. 92.
^ Toll (2006), p. 173.
^ Toll (2006), p. 176.
^ Allen (1905), p. 137.
^ Toll (2006), p. 180.
^ Maclay and Smith (1898), Volume 1, pp. 241–242.
^ Allen (1905), p. 142.
^ Toll (2006), p. 183.
^ Maclay and Smith (1898), Volume 1, p. 244.
^ Allen (1905), pp. 143–145.
^ Hollis (1900), pp. 88–89.
^ Maclay and Smith (1898), Volume 1, pp. 248, 250.
^ Allen (1905), pp. 167–172.
^ Maclay and Smith (1898), Volume 1, pp. 264–267.
^ Martin (1997), p. 99.
^ Allen (1905), pp. 184–197.
^ Maclay and Smith (1898), Volume 1, pp. 272–284.
^ Hollis (1900), pp. 111–112.
^ Allen (1905), pp. 206–209.
^ Allen (1905), p. 199.
^ Hollis (1900), p. 115.
^ Martin (1997), pp. 115–116.
^ Toll (2006), pp. 250–251.
^ Hollis (1900), p. 117.
^ Maclay and Smith (1898), Volume 1, p. 300.
^ Toll (2006), pp. 261–262.
^ Hollis (1900), pp. 118–20.
^ Allen (1905), pp. 268–69.
^ Jennings (1966), p. 168.
^ Hollis (1900), p. 120.
^ Maclay and Smith (1898), Volume 1, p. 305.
^ Martin (1997), pp. 122–126.
^ Allen (1905), pp. 272–273.
^ Hollis (1900), pp. 124–125.
^ Martin (1997), pp. 128, 130–131.
^ Hollis (1900), pp. 125–131.
^ Maclay and Smith (1898), Volume 1, pp. 331–333.
^ Hollis (1900), pp. 142–146.
^ Roosevelt (1883), p. 83.
^ Hollis (1900), pp. 146–48.
^ Jennings (1966), p. 211.
^ Toll (2006), p. 344.
^ Roosevelt (1883), pp. 83–88.
^ Jennings (1966), p. 216.
^ Hollis (1900), pp. 154–57.
^ Roosevelt (1883), pp. 88–89.
^ a b Toll (2006), p. 348.
^ Jennings (1966), p. 224.
^ Roosevelt (1883), pp. 89–90.
^ Roosevelt (1883), pp. 90–91.
^ Hill (1905), p. 160.
^ Toll (2006), pp. 352–53.
^ Toll (2006), p. 350.
^ Roosevelt (1883), p. 94.
^ Toll (2006), p. 354.
^ Hollis (1900), pp. 177–178.
^ Hollis (1900), pp. 178–179.
^ Toll (2006), p. 376.
^ Jennings (1966), p. 235.
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^ Hollis (1900), p. 186.
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^ "Defeat of HMS Java, 1812". Naval History & Heritage Command. 25
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^ Hollis (1900), p. 188.
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^ Jennings (1966), p. 239.
^ Toll (2006), p. 448.
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^ Gardiner (2006), pp. 170–171.
^ a b Martin (1997), pp. 191–192.
^ Tracy (2006), p. 89.
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^ a b c Hill (1905), p. 175.
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USS Constitution Timeline". United States
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^ a b Hollis (1900), pp. 224–225.
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^ a b c Jennings (1966), p. 256.
^ a b Martin (1997), pp. 253, 255–256.
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^ a b c Carpenter (1897), p. 282.
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^ "United States". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Navy
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to
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World War I
Wilhelm Carpelan (1915)
Juan Sebastián Elcano⛵ (1927)
Frying Pan (1929)
Capitan Miranda (1930)
Amerigo Vespucci⛵ (1931)
Colo Colo (1931)
Belle Poule⛵ (1932)
North Carr (1933)
Abraham Crijnssen (1937)
MTB 102 (1937)
HA. 19 (1938)
World War II
Almirante Grau (1941)
North Carolina (1941)
RML 497 (1941)
Almirante Juan Alejandro Acosta (1942)
American Victory (1942)
Francisco Zarco (1942)
Ignacio L. Vallarta (1942)
Juan de la Barrera (1942)
Lee A. Tregurtha (1942)
Mariano Escobedo (1942)
Mariano Matamoros (1942)
New Jersey (1942)
San Andrés (1942)
Valentín Gómez Farías (1942)
Cassin Young (1943)
Comandante Bauru (1943)
Gordon Jensen (1943)
Jesús González Ortega (1943)
Juan N. Álvarez (1943)
Manuel Doblado (1943)
Pin Klao (1943)
Rajah Humabon (1943)
Santos Degollado (1943)
Suboficial Castillo (1943)
The Sullivans (1943)
Sultan Kudarat (1943)
LST-510, Cape Henlopen (1943)
Alferez Sobral (1944)
Comandante General Irigoyen (1944)
El Fateh (1944)
HA. 62-76 (1944)
Hai Shih (1944)
Jeong Ju (1944)
Kao Hsiung (1944)
LCT 7074 (1944)
Little Rock (1944)
Magat Salamat (1944)
Manuel Gutiérrez Zamora (1944)
Miguel Malvar (1944)
Sierra Madre (1944)
Trần Khánh Dư (1944)
Wi Bong (1944)
Yan Gyi Aung (1944)
Francisco de Gurruchaga (1945)
Hai Pao (1945)
Hwa San (1945)
Jeong Buk (1945)
Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. (1945)
PT 617 (1945)
PT 658 (1945)
PT 796 (1945)
Te Yang (1945)
Wilhelm Bauer (1945)
Gay Archer (1952)
Nantucket II (1952)
Washtenaw County (1952)
Mikhail Kutuzov (1954)
K-3 Leninsky Komsomol (1957)
Ang Pangulo (1958)
Gorch Fock (1958)
Rio Negro (1958)
Charles F. Adams (1959)
Turner Joy (1959)
Corsaro II (1960)
Kitty Hawk (1960)
São Paulo (1960)
Simon Fraser (1960)
Wilhelmus Zakarias Yohannes (1960)
Cape Jacob (1961)
Diamond State (1961)
Empire State VI (1961)
Jeanne d'Arc (1961)
Hermenegildo Galeana (1962)
High Point (1962)
Nicolás Bravo (1962)
Río Tuxpan (1962)
Almirante Camara (1963)
Daniel Webster (1963)
Mount Washington (1963)
Sam Rayburn (1963)
Ciudad de Rosario (1964)
Green Mountain State (1964)
Punta Alta (1964)
Simon Lake (1964)
Trieste II (1964)
Dewa Kembar (1965)
Gem State (1965)
Grand Canyon State (1965)
Gregorio del Pilar (1965)
Keystone State (1965)
Pacific Tracker (1965)
Peder Skram (1965)
Abou El Barakat Al Barbari (1966)
Almirante Saboia (1966)
Hang Tuah (1966)
Louis S. St-Laurent (1966)
Seaway Endeavour (1966)
Sir Tristram (1966)
5 de Noviembre (1967)
Admiral W. M. Callaghan (1967)
Alberto Navarette (1967)
Andrés Bonifacio (1967)
Enrico Toti (1967)
John F. Kennedy (1967)
Valle del Cauca (1967)
Vittorio Veneto (1967)
African Meeting House
Boston Children's Museum
Boston Convention and Exhibition Center
Boston Navy Yard
Boston Public Garden
Boston Public Library
Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum
Citi Performing Arts Center
Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate
Franklin Park Zoo
Institute of Contemporary Art
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Massachusetts State House
Museum of Fine Arts
Museum of Science
New England Aquarium
New England Holocaust Memorial
Old North Church
Paul Revere House
Samuel Adams (Whitney)
Shipwrecks and maritime incidents in 1879
20 Feb: Ralph Creyke
10 Mar: Bonnie Dundee
18 Apr: Great Republic
21 May: Esmeralda; Independencia
22 Nov: Waubuno
21 Dec: Adelphoi
28 Dec: Agnes Irving
16 Jan: USS Constitution
24 Jan: HMS Active
27 Jan: USS Supply
31 Jul: Pericles
Unknown date: Covadonga
Coordinates: 42°22′19.5″N 71°03′20.08″W / 42.372083°N
71.0555778°W / 42.372083;