21 October 2014: Big day today! Two major anniversaries to celebrate, but we're going to look at them separately since they each deserve the spotlight! So, first up: USS Constitution was launched today in 1797. Happy birthday, old girl . . . or should I say, "Old Ironsides." Yes, the Hartt Shipyard in east Boston slid our Ship of State into the waters of Boston Harbor 217 years ago!
|Oil on Canvas by Paul Garnett, on display in USS Constitution Museum|
She was built as a result of the Naval Act of 1794 signed by George Washington in recognition of the fact that our newly independent country needed a navy to deal with foreign enemies, most notably (at that time) the Barbary Pirates of North Africa. Six frigates were authorized and built in varying locations including Boston (Constitution), Philadelphia (United States), Baltimore (Constellation), and others. Three of the six were designated as "heavy" frigates, meaning that they would carry at least 44 guns which would fire a 24 pound iron ball; and three as lighter frigates of 36 to 38 guns. As a matter of practicality, none ever carried their rated allotment; it was always more, sometimes by as many as ten!
Constitution fought at Tripoli, the third flagship sent over to deal with the pirates - Edward Preble was the commodore in charge of that fleet and acted most aggressively against the Barbary corsairs. But it was in the War of 1812 that Constitution really earned her stripes . . . and her nickname, Old Ironsides.
Perhaps one of her most famous fights occurred in February of 1815, technically after the war was over, against two Royal Navy frigates, HMS Cyanne and HMS Levant. She took them both but Levant was recaptured by the British before she got back to a U.S. port as a prize.
After serving as a training ship, barracks, and very nearly being scrapped, she assumed her role as good will ambassador, a role she has performed brilliantly for many years from her berth in historic Charlestown Navy Yard. She was named "Ship of State" a couple of years ago and continues to shine! She sailed under her own sails for the first time in over 100 years in October of 1997, in celebration of her 200th birthday. I was there!
It was an awe inspiring event and then, in recognition of the 200th anniversary of her victory over HMS Guerierre, she sailed again in 2012, albeit in a very light breeze and remained in Boston Harbor.
USS Constitution Museum, in the Navy Yard, acts as the "voice" of Constitution and is privately funded, not being an agency of the federal government. the museum is marvelous, and not to be missed if you find yourself in Boston!
USS Constitution is the OLDEST SHIP AFLOAT IN THE WORLD. What about HMS Victory, I heard someone mumble? Well, Victory is indeed older, but she is also resting comfortably in concrete in Portsmouth Royal Dockyard in England. Constitution is afloat and indeed, was underway just about 1 month ago, albeit with a tug alongside. She will be going into drydock for a refit next March and is expected to remain dry for a couple of years. Then she will be back in the water to carry on.
|coming into drydock|
Incidentally, Constitution is carried on the rolls of commissioned U.S. Navy and is manned by active duty Navy sailors and officers!
"I feel a strong predelection [sic] for the Constitution. I think . . . she will be a most fortunate ship; and I am sometimes good in my predictions . . ." Tobias Lear, consul general to the Barbary Regencies in a letter to Capt. John Rodgers, 16 October 1804.
Here is an image of America's Ship of State as she celebrated the bi-centennial of the War of 1812:
Now of course, any of you quick at figures will recognize that the ship is now 220 years young and, for a lady of those accumulated years, looks amazingly great! And she just finished a 26 month overhaul in the Charlestown Navy Yard, returning to the water just about a month ago, In fact, she made a celebratory birthday cruise (turnaround) yesterday (20 October) to great fanfare.
So big party in Boston today with cake and music! Happy Birthday, Old Ironsides; you look mahvelous!
Until next time,