by Rosalie A. Cuticchia, Special to Marblehead Magazine

Some people live beautifully circular lives. They choose their life's work at an astonishingly early age, and then they proceed with skill, tenacity, courage and grace to achieve their goal. Only a few, however, have the privilege of weaving themselves into the historical fabric of our country while they are doing their job. Fewer still, have the imagination and the

The USS Constitution
in Boston Harbor.

commitment to complete the circle of their life's work by making a little history of their own.

When David Cashman was ten years old, his dad built him a boat. Soon thereafter he took him on a tour of the USS Constitution. That day he unwittingly set his young son on an impressive 27-year journey of service in the U.S. Navy, one that would ultimately return him to that very ship as its 62nd commander. "I never forgot about it," Commander Cashman explains from his Marblehead home. "When I went into the Navy, I realized that maybe I could get command of that ship. As soon as I made commander, I always put down the USS Constitution as my first choice."

David Cashman entered the "surface" navy after college. He served six half-year tours of duty on six different ships off the coast of Viet Nam. "The tempo was fast, we worked twenty hours a day, for 45-60 days at a crack," he remembers. "I can remember the first time I put in at Subic Bay for an R & R. I took my shoes off and walked through the grass. It felt so good after being on a steel destroyer for two months."

Commander Cashman had many assignments after the Viet Nam war. He was involved in the early development and testing of the AEGIS surface weapon system, and in 1986 became the first Executive Officer of the new AEGIS Training Center in Virginia. AEGIS is a surface missile system which can be launched from cruisers and destroyers and subsequently directed to the most threatening aircraft by shipboard computers. AEGIS is now on board many ships and is considered state of the art technology.

So it may seem odd, in light of Commander Cashman's high-powered, high-tech naval career, that his goal was to command the oldest commissioned warship afloat. Not so odd, however, when one is a naval historian with a deep respect for an historic warship that was considered state of the art 194 years ago.

"It was high-tech back then," he points out. "Instead of the masts being solid pieces of wood from huge trees, like the Brits, the Americans decided to make them in four quarters using four different trees about 40-44' in length. They staggered them up," he continues, "so that if you took a cannonball hit to the mast, as in the December 29, 1812 Battle of the Java, the cannonball shattered just a quarter of the mast. The crew carried extra pieces with them so that they could feather in a new quarter of the mast at sea. Soon after, the Brits changed their design!"

The Constitution 's hull," he continues, "is 21 inches thick. Most of the ships of that vintage were only 18 inches thick. Those extra 3 inches made a difference, perhaps that's why she's still afloat today. She was in 42 battles and never lost one in three major wars!"

Her 21 inch hull is most assuredly the reason she earned her nickname "Old Ironsides." On August 19th, in the War of 1812, the Constitution withstood fire from the British ship, the Guerrier. The sight of cannonballs bouncing off the Constitution's side prompted a British sailor to shout, "Huzza, her sides are made of iron!" The poem entitled "Old Ironsides," written by Oliver Wendall Holmes in 1830, assured that the apt nickname stayed with her.

Old Ironsides

(September 14, 1830)

Ay, tear her tattered ensign down!
Long has it waved on high,
And many an eye has danced to see
That banner in the sky;
Beneath it rung the battle shout,
And burst, the cannon's roar; --
The meteor of the ocean air
Shall sweep the clouds no more.

Her deck, once red with heroes' blood,
Where knelt the vanquished foe,
When winds were hurrying o'er the flood,
And waves were white below,
No more shall feel the victor's tread,
Or know the conquered knee; --
The harpies of the shore shall pluck
The eagle of the sea!

Oh, better that her shattered hulk
Should sink beneath the wave;
Her thunders shook the mighty deep,
And there should be her grave;
Nail to the mast her holy flag,
Set every threadbare sail,
And give her to the god of storms,
The lightning and the gale!

-- Oliver Wendell Holmes


In addition to sides of "iron," her remarkable maneuverability, her 44 gun capacity, and 440 man crew, the Constitution was often commanded by military strategists who used psychological warfare to their advantage. On July 17, 1812, one month after Congress had declared war on Britain, the Constitution found itself stuck in a calm off the coast of New Jersey as six British vessels bore down on her. Commander Isaac Hull ordered his crew to begin "kedging." Kedging is a method for moving a ship by carrying out an anchor and then drawing the vessel up to it. Commander Cashman explains, "The crew would bring out the anchor by boat, and then pull the ship toward it to move it down the coast and away from the Brits. That went on for two and one-half days while they were being fire upon."

"Finally, the Brits began kedging to keep up with the Constitution. There was a storm coming," the Commander continues, "and the sails were down. Commander Hull raised the sails up to the yardarms. The Brits couldn't understand why he would do that, but they were so impressed with his kedging maneuver that they did the same thing." When the storm hit, Commander Hull quickly dropped the sails and sailed off. The British ships couldn't get their sails down and remained caught in the storm!

Of the 42 battles the Constitution fought and won, the one which took place on April 3rd, 1814 is particularly meaningful to those of us on the North Shore. Once again, the Constitution was the victim of a light breeze which fell to a dead calm just as two 38-gun British frigates approached. The ship was trapped against the rocky North Shore of Massachusetts, with no sea escape possible. The only negotiable harbor available to the Constitution was that of Marblehead. So Captain Charles Stewart took a chance, ordered all dispensable goods jettisoned (including fresh water and spirits), and sought refuge in the little harbor. The guns of Fort Sewall protected the Constitution as militia from nearby coastal towns rallied to her defense. The British were discouraged, decided not to further test her impressive military defense, and sailed away.

Commander Cashman would like to commemorate the battle at Fort Sewall on the occasion of the Constitution's bicentennial. "It is my dream to put sails on the ship and bring it to Marblehead on her birthday," he explains. "In 1992, she's going into drydock. At that point we can determine if we can get her into such a material condition that we can take her outside Boston Harbor."

The Constitution carried thirty-six sails (approximately one acre). For the bicentennial celebration, Commander Cashman hopes to put up ten or twelve sails. The last time she

Commander David Cashman
at home in Marblehead.

was under full sail was in 1881, although she had sails up on her during her "Thank You" mission from 1931 to 1934. During that mission, she was towed up and down the east and west coasts in gratitude to the school children who had donated their pennies for her restoration. She paid a visit to Marblehead on that sail, to show her appreciation to the harbor and the people who once protected her. The "Thank You" sail was the last time the Constitution was out of Boston Harbor.

"We are very fortunate to have the oldest commissioned warship afloat," Commander Cashman believes. "I think it's our turn to give her a proper bicentennial and get her ready for her third century of service." He continues, "October 21,1997 is the 200th birthday of her launching. We'd like to start the bicentennial on that date, and have it run at least until July 27,1998 when it sails to Marblehead during race week."

Commander Cashman's dream of sailing the Constitution to Marblehead has been preliminarily endorsed by his superior in Washington D.C., and has been received with enthusiasm by local rotary and yacht clubs. But such a vast and costly undertaking requires that a very ambitious and complicated plan falls together. However, if David Cashman's commitment, affections for his ship, and infectious enthusiasm count for anything, the Constitution will sail on its birthday.

The USS Constitution is open every day of the year from 9:30 AM to 3:30 PM and receives over one million visitors a year. Commander Cashman suggests that visitors remember that "our forefathers fought some very significant battles on this ship. Here is where they got maimed when those cannons would jump back and crush their legs. They had no operating rooms so they had to amputate limbs."

The commander continues, "In addition to 450 officers and men, plus 55 marines who fought from those platforms on the masts, the ship carried 30 small boys ages 8 -14, called

USS Constitution
in Marblehead Harbor,
circa 1930.
(Photo courtesy of Bart Snow.)

'powdermonkeys,' who were orphan children. They would do the menial tasks. In the height of battle they had to go down to the bowels of the ship, scoop up the black gunpowder, and bring it up to the men." He explains, "They were very agile, and did not realize the danger of carrying six pounds of powder, and that if there was a fire, or if they tripped, it could cause an explosion."

Most of us have visited the USS Constitution, often with our own 8-14 year olds in tow. But when we did, we probably didn't know about the powdermonkeys." We may have failed to point out that men fought battles from those platforms way up there on the masts. And it's possible that we forgot to tell the story of how Marblehead once provided the USS Constitution with a safe harbor.

Fortunately for us, there are men and women like Commander Cashman who consider it a privilege to keep reminding us of the significance of this national treasure. They continue to insure its safety, preserve its rich history, and, if David Cashman has his way, they will have the honor of celebrating the 200th birthday of the USS Constitution at sea.

Rosalie Ann Cuticchia is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to Marblehead Magazine.

The USS Constitution Facts & A Little More History


The Revolutionary War had left this country in a very unsettled condition. The new States still thought and acted as Colonies. There were loose notions of cooperation but no real central government with power and money to provide for the Nation's many needs.

In such a state of affairs, no one thought of dealing adequately with a naional defense, still less with that part of belonging to the sea.

Remember, also, that while the American Colonies had many Merchant vessels sailing the oceans before the War of the Revolution, all protection for these ships was by the British Navy. Now, in 1785, all that was left of the Continental Navy had been sold. By the Fall of 1785, not one armed vessel remained in the possession of the United States. Every State had its own Custom House and, to a large extent, made its own Revenue and Navigation Laws. Several States maintained armed vessels for defense and revenue services, but this did not constitute a Navy or even an organized force. During this period, Europe was on the eve of a great upheaval in which, despotic power, as represented by Napoleon, was to engage in a death struggle with the real democracy for which England stood.

Our path was destined to be a thorny one for nearly a generation because we were allied to one nation (England) by blood and tradition, and obligation to the other nation (France) for comfort and aid in our recent war. To make it even more painful, we were forced into a fight with each of these great powers in turn because we lacked the ability to maintain neutrality between them. Our domestic and foreign debt pressed so heavily that we were obliged to submit to many humiliations rather than to spend money on a navy, the only arm capable of earning us a position among nations.

To add to the bitterness of this situation, the Barbary Powers, on the north west coast of Africa, in Algeria, Morocco and Libya, as we know them today, found a new flag upon the high seas, following our peace with Great Britain. In 1785, two American ships were taken by the Moslem Algerian Corsairs. The crews were sold into slavery. It was a clear case of piracy and our country rang to cries of indignation, but we were powerless to extract reparation and had to submit.

In accordance with the well established practice of Christian nations, we attempted the often fatal policy of negotiation and ranson for these crewmen who were now slaves of the Dey of Algiers. Agents were sent to bargain, but the money was too little. The Dey demanded $59,496.00 for twenty-one men or about $2,833.00 each. The agents sailed home.

A religious Order, the Mathurins, was commissioned to negotiate for the captives. The Head of the order was afraid to bid too high for each seaman; he feared that the market value of the Ameriacns would rise and the pirates would seek more American ships. He offered $500.00 each, but to no avail. Years passed and still we haggled over the price of redemption. In 1790, President Washington had the Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, give a full report to Congress about the captives in an attempt to get Congress to appropriate money for a Navy, but Congress did nothing. After all, other large maritime nations, such as England, Holland and Russia, paid annual tributes to these pirates. Why should United States be different?

In 1792, the President suggested a plan for making a treaty of peace with Algiers and obtaining release of the American prisoners there. Congress approved. The sum of $40,000.00 was to be paid for the captives. $25,000.00 more was to be paid for the treaty and annually, $25,000.00 was to be sent as tribute. But the Dey of Algiers refused to see our ambassador. The Dey was afraid that if his pirates became unemployed, they might kill him for putting them in that condition.

During this time, the Portugese and the English were close to the Dey of Algiers and made treaties with him to freeze out this new nation, the United States, from trading in the Mediterranean. In October, 1793, eight Algerine ships appeared in the Atlantic and with a few weeks, had captured eleven American ships and one hundred-six American seamen.

The Masters of thirteen sailing ships petitioned Congress to do something about this situation. Yet, when the petition reached the House, it produced only a small majority in favor of equipping a Naval Force. The opposition was powerful and insistant. There was no idea of forming a permanent Navy, but President Washington finally squeezed through a bill with an eleven vote majority by making a compromise whereby the building if warships would cease if a treaty could be arranged before their completion. On March Z7, 1794, the bill passed "To Provide A Naval Force To Protect The Commerce Of The United States".

The bill, as passed, gave the President the option of building four ships of forty-four guns each and two ships of thirty-six guns each or of procuring an equivalent force by purchase. Officers and men were also provided for.

There was no Secretary of Navy yet in the Government, so the matter was referred to the Secretary of War, General Henry Knox, who consulted with several well known ship designers and shipbuilders about the properties and lines of the new ships. The ideas and plans of Joshua Humphries, of Philadelphia, were accepted and he was directed to prepare models of the six vessels to be built. Josiah Fox was designated to assist him.

It was decided to have six different shipyards, each in a different city, build the ships so costs, manning and quality could be studied. This is how it worked out:

Constitution 44 guns 1576 tons $302,719. Boston
President 44 guns 1576 tons $220,910. New York
United States 44 guns 1576 tons $229,336. Philadelphia
Chesapeake was changed-Chesapeake 36 guns 1244 tons $220,678. Gosport (Va)
from 44 to 36 guns.-Congress 36 guns 1268 tons $197,246. Portsmouth (NH)
Constellation 36 guns 1265 tons $314,212 Baltimore.

Notes from "The Frigate Constitution", Prof. Ira N. Hollis, Houghton-Mifflin Co. 1931.

A letter from Joshua Humphries to Robert Morris, banker and financier, dated 6 January, 1793, gives Humphries' thoughts on the size and ability of the frigates he is designing:
Sir:- From the present appearance of affairs I believe it is time this country was possessed of a Navy; but as that is yet to be raised, I have ventured a few remarks on the subject.

Ships that compose the European Navies are generally distinguished by their rates; but as the situation and depth of water of our coasts and harbors are different in some degree from those in Europe, and as our Navy, for a considerable time, will be inferior in numbers, we are to consider what size ships will be the most formidable and be an overmatch for those of the enemy; such frigates as in blowing weather could be an overmatch for double deck ships, and in light winds to evade coming to action; or double deck ships that could be an overmatch for double deck ships- and in blowing weather superior to ships of three decks or in calm weather or light winds to outsail them. Ships built on these principles will render those of an enemy in a degree useless, or require a greater number before they dare attack our ships.

Frigates, I suppose, will be the first object, and none ought to be built less than 150 feet keel, to carry twenty-eight 32-pounders or thirty 24-pounders on the gun deck and 12-pounders on the quarter deck. These ships should have scantlings equal to 74's and I believe may be built of red cedar and live oak for about 24 Pounds (L) per ton, carpenters tonnage, including carpenters' , smiths' bill, including anchors, joiners, block makers, mast makers, riggers and rigging, sail makers and sail cloths, suits and chandlers' bill. As such ships will cost a large sum of money, they should be built of the best materials that could possibly be procured. Tne beams of their decks should be of the best Carolina pine, and the lower futtocks and knees, if possible, of live oak.

The greatest care should be taken in the construction of such ships, and particularly all her timbers should be framed and bolted together before they are raised. Frigates built to carry 12- and 28-pounders, in my opinion, will not answer the expectation contemplated from them; for if we should be obliged to take a part in the present European war, or at a future day should we be dragged into war with any powers of the Old Continent, especially Great Britain, they having such a number of ships of that size, that it would be an equal chance by equal combat that we lose our ships, and more particularly from the Algerians, who have ships, and some of much greater force. Several questions will arise, whether one large or two small frigates contribute most to the protection of our trade, or will cost the least sum of money, or whether two small ones are as able to engage a double deck as a large one. For my part, I am decidedly of the opinion the large ones will answer the best.

(signed) Joshua Humphries

From "The Frigate Constitution", Prof. I. N. Hollis, Houghton-Mifflin Co. 1931.


The system of building CONSTITUTION and her sisters was radically different from today's practices. The hull materials and equipment were purchased by the U.S. Treasury Department and supplied to the builders. All labor and unimportant material were procured by Naval Agents, who received a 2.5% commission on approved bills. Her Naval Agent was Gen. Henry Jackson.

The Captain appointed to command the ship was ordered to superintend construction of the vessel and its equipment. Her Prospective Captain was Samuel Nicholson.

The Naval Constructor had the immediate responsibility for the workmen employed, of the material put into the ship, of the launching, and, in general, for all that went toward producing a frigate mechanically perfect and complete in accordance with the plans supplied by the Naval Architect, Mr. Joshua Humphries and his associate, Mr. Josiah Fox. The Naval Constructor was Col. George Claghorn, assisted by Mr. Hartley.

The Builder or Master Mechanic, in whose yard the vessel was constructed, had no responsibility beyond doing good work. The brothers Edmund (Master Builder), Edward and Joseph (Ship Designer) Hartt owned Hartt's Naval Yard, where the ship was built. The area is called Constitution Wharf and is the present site of Coast Guard Base, Boston, on Atlantic Avenue.

Edmund Thayer built the elm gun carriages in the South End of Boston. Issac Harris, who put new masts into CONSTITUTION during the War of 1812, worked as an apprentice in the mast-yard during her construction. The anchors were forged in Hanover, Mass. and her sails were sewn on the Old Granary Building at the corner of Park and Tremont Streets in Boston.

The Skillings Brothers did the wood carving of her figurehead of Hercules and of several onaments for other parts of the ship. Paul Revere supplied the brass, bronze and copper parts for the ship. His proposal to the Secretary of War offered to furnish copper and composition bolts, braces and other parts "as cheap as anyone" and subsequently received $3820.33 for payment. The copper bolts and spikes were forged by a process known only to him.

Notes from "The Frigate Constitution", Prof I. N. Hollis, Houghton-Mifflin Co. 1931 and "The American Sailing Navy", Howard I. Chapelle, Bonanza Books, 1949.


The ship was built in the yard of Edmund, Edward and Joseph Hartt, or as it was called, Hartt's Naval Yard. The area is now called Constitution Wharf. It is on Atlantic Avenue and is the present site of Coast Guard Base, Boston.

Her keel was laid in 1794. Gun carriages of elm were built in the South End by Edmund Thayer. Her sails were sewn in the Old Granary Building at Park and Tremont Streets, Boston.

Paul Revere supplied the copper and composition bolts and braces as well as the copper sheathing. He forged the original bolts and braces but imported the first copper sheathing plates from England. His proposal to the Secretary of War offered to furnish the equipment "as cheap as anyone". For this contract, he received $3820.33.

By the end of 1795, a treaty was signed with Algiers and all work on the ship ceased. The whole question of a Navy was debated in Congress once again. A report by the Secretary of War showed that the frigates were in various stages of completion and that all of them could be completed by year end 1796. The sum of 688,888. had been provided originally and Congress now directed the unexpended balance of the money to be used for completing the three most advanced ships; that the three remaining frigates and all perishables be sold.

Congress and President Washington argued this matter until England and France stepped up their practice of stopping American ships and impressing sailors they claimed had deserted their Navies. In 1797, Congress finally passed the appropriation necessary to complete CONSTITUTION, UNITED STATES and CONSTELLATION.

UNITED STATES was launched on 10 July, 1797, CONSTELLATION on 7 September and CONSTITUTION on 21 October.

The ways of UNITED STATES were too steep. She slid down before all the shores were knocked, injuring her false keel and rudder braces. She had to be hove down for repairs.

Because of the damage to UNITED STATES, the ways of CONSTITUTION were given less inclination and when she refused to move as the shores were removed, Col. Claghorn tried screw jacks. She slid 27 feet and stopped. She was tried two days later but her weight had warped the launching ways. Finally, it was decided to reset the ways and try her again on the October high tides. This time she launched.


Masts - White pine - Unity, Maine (Mass. until 1820)
Anchors - Forged Iron - Hanover, Mass.
Sails - Flax - Grown in R.I. Sewn in Boston, Mass.
Rigging - Tarred Hemp - Made in Boston, Mass.
Hull Parts - White Oak Knees - Kennebec Valley, Maine
White Oak Planking - Abington, Mass.,
Merrimac Valley, Mass.,
Kennebec Valley, Maine.
Live Oak - Sea Islands off Georgia:St. Simons, Blythe, Glover and Blackbeard.
Yellow Pine - South Carolina and Georgia
Copper Composition - Boston, Mass. (Paul Revere)
Castings, Spikes and Bolts
Copper Hull Sheathing England - Imported by Paul Revere
Cannon - 24 pounders England, Maryland and Rhode Island

Frames - Live Oak and Red Cedar
Floor Timbers - Live Oak
Stern Post - Live Oak
Stern Frames - Live Oak
Upper Piece of Stem - Live Oak
All the Frames (except Lower Pieces) - Live Oak
First, Second & Third Futtocks - Live Oak
Three-Fourths of Top Timbers - Live Oak
Stanchions - Live Oak
Counter Timbers - Live Oak
Bow Timbers - Live Oak
Hawse Pieces - Live Oak
Knight Heads - Live Oak
Breast Hooks - Live Oak
Partners for Masts & Knees - Live Oak
One-Fourth of Top Timbers - Red Cedar
Half-Top Timbers - Red Cedar
Half Counter Timbers - Red Cedar
Keel - White Oak
Keelson - White Oak
Beams - White Oak
Ledges - White Oak
Carlings - White Oak
Side Planking - White Oak
Bottom Planking - White Oak
Ceiling Planking - White Oak
Deck Planking Under The Guns - White Oak
Dead Woods - White Oak
Lower Stem Piece - White Oak
Wales - White Oak
Water Ways - White Oak

Deck Planking - Carolina Pitch Pine

Tree Nails - Heart Locust

Source: American State Papers, Congress of the Unites States. From the First Session of the First to the Second Session of the Thirteenth Congress, Inclusive. March 3, 1789 to March 3, 1815.


The Live Oak tree (Quercus Virginiana), is a sprawling semi-evergreen tree. It is a member of the Beech family. Its wood was used in wooden shipbuilding because of its great density, tremendous tensile strength and resistance to rot. Because the limbs of this tree are very large and flare out from a big trunk, it can supply the various shapes needed to construct the frames and knees used in the wooden ships.

It grows along the coast from Norfolk down through Florida and along the Gulf coast into lower Texas. Also, it is found in a few areas in north-western Mexico and along the west coast of Cuba.

Aside from maritime use, there was not much need for this wood except for hubs, wheels and axels of heavy cart wheels, cogs and screws in mill wheels, submerged piles and locks, and water wheels. The wood finished in a warm light brown color and was used for beams in household staircases and for decorative pieces in parquet flooring.

Live oak made the best caulking mallets and hawsing beetles. Today, there is little use for Live Oak except for the occasional small boat or shrimper.

At times of the year, it weighs almost 75 pounds per cubic foot, the heaviest of all the oaks. The weight of a 70 foot branch, extending horizontally, without touching the ground, must be measured in tons.

Most of the old live oak forests have been cut down over the years for coastal living and recreational areas and the great trees now exist in gardens, parks, and along the old roads in quiet towns and plantations.

Density and Specific Gravity of Some North American Wood Commonly Used in Shipbuilding.
Type of Wood Specific Gravity Density in Pounds per Cubic Foot
Red Cedar .44 41.1
Yellow Pine (short leaf) .47 44.0
Pitch Pine .47 43.9
Tamarack (hackmatack) .49 45.8
White Oak .60 56.1
Live Oak .80 74.9

Water 1.00 62.4

From "Live Oaking. Southern Timber For Tall Ships", Virginia Steele Wood, Northeastern University Press, Boston, 1981.


Part of the money came from loans procured from the Bank of the United States. Chartered by an Act of Congress, March 2, 1791, this bank was created to finance the infant government. By a regionally divided vote of the House of 39 to 20, with only three affirmative votes from the Southern States, the Act was passed. Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, wrote a powerful treatise on the necessity and constitutionality of the Bank, which persuaded President Washington to finally sign the bill into law.

An original offering of $10,000,000. of Capital Stock in the Bank was so attractive to investors that all the available shares were subscribed for within an hour of the Bank's opening. The investment proved to be an excellent buy, returning dividends of 83% over the first eleven years of the Bank's history. Shipbuilding loans from the Bank totaled $711,700., and were repaid in annual installments.

Financing for the estimated $247,000. needed for the annual expense of keeping the ships in service is noted in the First Session of the Third Congress, where additional duties were levied for this purpose:

.... An additional duty of 1% on all goods which now pay a duty of 7.5%... (Cabinet wares, buttons, saddles, leather gloves, hats of beaver or felt or mixed, millinary, ready made, castings of iron, slit or rolled iron, leather, tanned or tawed*, canes, walking sticks, whips, etc., etc.)

An additional duty of 5% on all stone and eathernware, marble, slate, bricks, and such that are imported (they were taxed at 10% already), etc., etc...

An additional duty of three cents per bushel of salt, twenty five cents per ton on all ships and vessels not of the United States, and six cents per ton on all ships of the United States engaged in foreign trade.

( Taw: To tan with alum or salt as opposed to tanning with tannic acid.)

Copy of typewritten letter founds in archives of Dukes County Historical Society, Edgartown, Mass. where George Claghorne, constructor of CONSTITUTION lived.

Navy Yard, Boston, September 24, 1797.


Having before stated to you my intention of launching the frigate CONSTITUTION on the 20th instant, tne necessary preparations were made to that end; and, at the time appointed, all the blocks and shores were removed, with fuIl expectation of her moving gently into the water.

She, however, did not start until screws and other machinery had been applied; and then she moved only about twenty-seven feet. Concluding that some hidden cause had impeded her progress, and the tide ebbing fast, I decided it to be most prudent to block and shore her up, and examine carefully into the cause of her stopping. I found that the part of the ways which had not before received any of the weight, had settled about half an inch, which added to some other cause, of no great importance in itself, had occasioned the obstruction.

The next day, after due preparation, the ship was raised two inches, in fifty minutes, by means of wedges, her bilgeways were then taken out, and the apparent defects removed. All things being in order, a second attempt was made on the 22d instant; and, upon the removal of her supports, she moved freely for about thirty-one feet, and then stopped. On this unexpected event, as she was somewhat advanced on the new wharf, which was built for her to pass over only, and not to rest upon, I judged it advisable to suspend any further operations, although it might have been possible, with the machinery previously prepared, to have pressed her into the water; but if she had been constrained twenty or thirty feet further, and then have stopped, her situation would have been critical, on a foundation by no means solid: accordingly she was perfectly secure in her new situation.

On examining the ways erected on the new wharf, I find they have both settled abaft about one and five-eighths of an inch; which circumstance, as it could not have been foreseen, the descent of the ways was not calculated to overcome, which solely occasioned her to stop.

I had formed the inclined plane upon the smallest angle that I conceived would convey the ship into the water, in order that she might make the plunge with the least violence, and thereby prevent any strain oe injury; I must now give the ways more descent, which will remedy the defect occasioned by the settling of the new wharf; and I am fully confident that the next trial, at the high tides in October, will be attended with success; in the mean time, I shall proceed in completing the ship on the stocks.

Your favor of the 10th came to hand on the 17th instant. I am, very respectfully, your humble servant,

George Claghorne.

Hon. James M. Henry, Secretery of War.


Boston Gazette: August 28, 1797
Friday last, the cable of the Constitution frigate was conveyed on the
shoulders of two hundred and twenty-three men from the walk to navy yard.
It was preceded by Col. Claghorn and attended by a party of drums and fifes
and three American ensigns.

Boston Gazette: September 6, 1797
The United States Frigate Constellation was launched at Baltimore, Maryland,
on Thursday the 7th instant, without any accident happening. The United States
Frigate Constitution is to be launched in this town on Wednesday next, at
eleven o'clock.

Boston Gazette: September 11, 1797
The Constructor has the honor to inform his fellow citizens that the Frigate
Constitution is to be launched into her destined element on Wednesday, the
20th instant, at eleven o'clock.

Boston, Monday, September 28, 1797
We were in hopes this day to have announced the launch of the Frigate
Constitution:- but after two attempts, on Wednesday and Friday last, to set
her afloat, she stuck and now remains in perfect safety on the ways on which
she was constructed.

Boston, Monday, October 23, 1797
Saturday last, about half after twelve o'clock, the United States Ship
Constitution enter'd her destined element - she had a fine launch without
any accident happening - after which there was a Federal discharge of
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