Tuesday, January 6, 2015


6 January 2015: Every once in a while, some creative soul decided to re-write history for some reason, often because it suits their own version of what happened. Rarely does this "revised history" have any bearing on reality or relevance to an actual event.

Back on 28 August 2014, I wrote a piece titled "Bad, no Really bad, history." It dealt with the writing of the Star Spangled Banner and  Francis Scott Key's involvement with the Battle of Baltimore. The mangled version of events had made its way through cyber space and included a beautifully narrated video that was so fictitious, so fabricated, and so egregiously wrong that it made me angry, hence the rant in Maritime Maunder. Well, folks, it's happened again!

There has been an email floating around the cyber world about a ship that's near and dear to my heart for many reasons, USS Constitution, America's Ship of State, and the oldest commissioned warship ship afloat in the world, though come March, she will enter drydock and thus, not be afloat for a few years while major work is accomplished on this 218 year old lady. Here is the story that continues to appear:


The U.S.S. Constitution (Old Ironsides) 
as a combat vessel, carried
48,600 gallons of fresh water
for her crew of 475 officers and men.
This was sufficient to last six months of
sustained operations at sea.
She carried no evaporators (i.e. fresh water distillers).
However, let it be noted that according to her ship's log,
"On July 27, 1798, the U.S.S. Constitution sailed from Boston with a
full complement of 475 officers and men, 48,600 gallons of fresh water,
7,400 cannon shot, 11,600 pounds of black powder and
79,400 gallons of rum."

Her mission: "To destroy and harass English shipping."
Making Jamaica on 6 October, she took on 826 pounds of flour and
68,300 gallons of rum.

Then she headed for the Azores , arriving there 12 November.
She provisioned with 550 pounds of beef and
64,300 gallons of Portuguese wine.
On  18 November, she set sail for England .
In the ensuing days she defeated five British men-of-war
and captured and scuttled 12 English merchant ships,
salvaging only the rum 
aboard each.
By 26 January, her powder and shot were exhausted.
Nevertheless, although unarmed she made a night raid
up the Firth of Clyde in Scotland. Her landing party captured a
whisky distillery and transferred
40,000 gallons of single malt Scotch 
aboard by dawn. Then she headed home.
The U. S. S.  Constitution arrived in Boston on 20 February 1799,
with no cannon shot, no food, no powder,
no rum, no wine, no whisky,
and 38,600 gallons of water.


To anyone even remotely familiar with American history, this whole story falls apart almost at once! Look at the date the fallacious piece offers (likely to add credibility to its nonsense!): "JULY 27, 1798." Well, folks, our country - that would be the United States of America - was NOT at war with England then. We had just begun the "Quasi-war" with France, and with England as the perennial enemy of France, they would have been at least tacitly on our side. And the article continues to add to the preposterousness (is that a real word?) as it goes on. "She defeated five British men of war..." Not so much; in point of fact, Constitution did defeat five British warships in her career, but not until the War of 1812 - which began some 14 years later! Then it says she captured and scuttled or burned 12 English merchants, salvaging only the rum from them. Hmm. Let's see about that: a ship, civilian or navy that attacks the vessels of a foreign country not in a time of war is called  .... a PIRATE! So does that make Old Ironsides a pirate? According to this, it does. I don't think so, friends!

And the bit about ravaging a whiskey distillery in Scotland doesn't even deserve to be debunked; it is so silly as to be totally unbelievable! Finally, at the end, our Ship of State (she wasn't then, but is now!) arrives in Boston with no shot or powder, no liquor but plenty of water! Stupid, silly, and again, totally unbelievable to any with a even the remotest knowledge of ships.

USS Constitution off New Jersey, July 1812
So, where did this come from? Which creative genius started this annoying - but funny -  bit of false history? We did some research and discovered what is probably the genesis of the tale. A couple of U.S. Navy sailors, during a dull news day on a ship during WWII, fabricated the story as a joke to fill some space and circulated it on the ship. From there, it eventually found its way ashore and into someone's archives. It has managed to show up every so often, first as a short "article" in the odd magazine (where there were no fact checkers!) and now, on email. While it does provide a laugh, it also provides fodder for our easily fooled populace who slept through high school history class!

Old Ironsides on her 200th birthday

If you are one of the people sending this email around cyber space, please either stop, or label it for what it is - an imaginative and funny story without a shred of basis in history. End of rant!

                     Fair Winds,
                         Old Salt


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