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.
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.
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.
USS CONSTITUTION SYSTEM OF CONSTRUCTION
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.
USS CONSTITUTION SOME NOTES ON BUILDING, ETC.
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.
USS CONSTITUTION MATERIALS - WHERE FROM?
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
TIMBERS USED IN CONSTRUCTION
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.
Why LIVE OAK?
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.
USS CONSTITUTION FINANCING -- THE BUILDING OF CONSTITUTION
AND HER FIVE SISTERS
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,
Hon. James M. Henry, Secretery of War.
NOTES FROM THE LOCAL NEWSPAPER
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
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