1. The Constitution was one of the six original frigates authorized for construction by the Naval Act of 1794 during the administration of George Washington.
2. The Constitution is indeed a national ship regarding her construction. The vessel is designed to be powerful enough to outfight any enemy warship approximately her same size, and yet fast enough to outsail a larger opponent. She is made from the lumber from over 2,000 trees from Maine to Georgia. The Constitution is also armed with cannons cast in Rhode Island, and fitted with copper fastenings provided by the famous Boston smith Paul Revere.
3. The vessel was finally launched after the third attempt. During the first attempt the ship stuck after moving only 27 feet. After two days they tried again only to have the vessel stick again after another 31 feet. In order to have a successful launch workers made the launchng ways steeper. Captain James Sever used a bottle of Madeira to finally launch the Constitution.
4. In 1796, the ship begins a long distinguished career defending the United States through the “Quasi-War” with the French in the West Indies. In the Mediterranean Sea the Constitution mounts five different attacks on Tripoli, served with much distinction during the War of 1812, and has shown her flag in many, many ports of call.
5. The ship is the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world as it has remained part of the U.S. Navy since her launching day on October 21, 1797.
6. Today the Constitution can be visited in Charlestown at the historic Charlestown Navy Yard. Adjacent to the ship is the USS Constitution Museum which serves as the memory and educational voice of “Old Ironsides.” Family-friendly, hands-on exhibits share the stories of the vessel and those who shaped her history.
7. Back on January 18th the museum purchased at auction four paintings. One of the works of art included a depiction of the USS Constitution in battle with the British ship Guerriere on August 19, 1812 at the very moment the Constitution earned her nickname “Old Ironsides. The artist is George Ropes, Jr. of Salem, Massachusetts. Since it was completed in 1813, the painting is considered to be among the earliest image of this seminal battle.
8. The four paintings will be rotated on and off display beginning May 14 and will be available for use as aids in educational programs, reproduced on products made available in the museum’s gift shop, and will be central to the Museum’s battle theater presentation. You can see an image of all four paintings here.
9. Prior to becoming the property of the USS Constitution Museum the paintings belonged to the Woburn Public Library in Woburn, Massachusetts where they were being stored in a vault. The decision was made to sell the paintings at auction in order to fund an expansion and renovation of the library’s historic structure and because the paintings have no real connection to Woburn.
10. Paintings like these four new acquisitions were for the American citizens during the early 1800s akin to photographs or newspaper accounts of the day.
11. The historic fight with HMS Guerriere took place 600 miles east of Nova Scotia on August 19, 1812. At some point during the battle somone saw a British shot bounce off USS Constitution’s side, and shouts, “Huzzah! Her sides are made of iron!” resulting in a nickname of “Old Ironsides” that exists even today.
12. Following the battle depicting in Ropes’ paintings the HMS Guerriere had to be sunk because it so badly damaged. The victory for the Americans was very great in that they had seen many defeats up to that point during the War of 1812.
13. Much later in her naval career word gets out that the Navy intends to “scrap” the Constitution. A student at the time, Oliver Wendell Holmes quickly writes and publishes a poem we remember today as Old Ironsides. Due to an inspector’s report and public outcry the Navy directs the refurbishment of the ship.
So, if you are in the vacinity of the Charlestown Navy Yard between May 14th of this year and November 14th head on over to the USS Constitution site and view unique images of history.
The website for the USS Constitution Museum website is here
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