USS Constitution is the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world. She became known as Old Ironsides during the War of 1812 when she fought the British Frigate HMS Guerriere and cannonballs fired at her and merely bounced off as if she were made of iron.
The durability of Constitution is attributed to a three-layer sandwich of wood from all across America. The ship’s copper fastenings were constructed by Paul Revere. Constitution was put to sea after two false starts in 1798, four years after construction began.
The USS Constitution is a well-traveled ship, having patrolled the West Indies, Brazil, and the West African coast and participated in the Barbary Wars. The ship is permanently berthed in the Charlestown Navy Yard and ventures out six to eight times a year into Boston Harbor. At one time, it required a crew of 500! Today, it is a fully commissioned ship with a crew of 70. Constitution was considered a super-frigate in that she could out-gun or out-run anything she encountered. Rated at 44 guns, she typically averaged much more than her rating by carrying between 50 and 60 guns. She was crewed by many more men than comparable foreign frigates and had a top speed of 13 knots. Her diagonal riders, supportive ribs running laterally towards her centerline in her bilges, were a huge technological advance, allowing her to carry guns much heavier than other frigates. Today, you can board the ship and also learn more about the warship at the USS Constituion Museum, located on the Freedom Trail.
RAISE THE SAILS In 1991 Commander David Cashman proposed Constitution should sail under her own power to celebrate her 200th anniversary. A donation barrel was placed in front of her gangplank and pennies dropped by school children visiting the ship from all 50 states would pay for new sails and eight miles of rigging. On July 20, 1997, Old Ironsides set sail for the first time in 116 years, recording a top speed of six knots.
PIRATES As one of colonial America’s foremost seaports, Boston saw its share of piracy. In the 17th Century several pirates were hanged in Boston. Pirates were also hung in cages, a practice called gibbeting, on some of the Boston Harbor Islands. These gibbeted pirates were in plain sight of all who sailed by, a warning to all pirates of the welcome their kind would received in Boston. Deciding who was a pirate wasn’t always simple though, given that Boston also supported many privateers (pirates with license to plunder enemies of the King). In fact, one privateer, Capt. Silas Talbot, would eventually become the second Captain of the USS Constitution.
Freedom Trail Foundation tours that feature this site:
Walk Into History Extended Tour (private only)
USS Constitution — Boston National Historical Park
Charlestown Navy Yard
Open for on-board visits:
November 1-March 31, Thursday–Sunday, 10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
April 1-September 30, Tuesday–Sunday 10:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.
October 1-October 31, Tuesday–Sunday 10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
Tours offered every half-hour from 10:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.