When reenacting or acting as a historical interpreter, its good to have a few historical dates and stories to share. This series will publish a few.
October 21, 1797 – “Huzzah, her sides are made of iron!” — USS Constitution launched October 21, 1797 in Boston
When the United States won independence from Britain, the young nation found itself without a protector at sea. Algerian pirates boarded U.S. merchant vessels, and both Britain and France harassed American ships and forced American sailors to serve in their navies. In 1794 Congress ordered a fleet of six super-sized frigates; each was to be built in a different port. George Washington named the ship built in Edmond Hartt’s Boston shipyard, Constitution. The hull of Constitution was made of oak planks more than seven inches thick. The ship was designed with diagonal cross-bracing of the skeleton, greatly increasing the strength of her frame. All this structural reinforcement made Constitution a formidable opponent at sea. It also made her heavy. When the ship was ready to be launched in 1797, her weight caused great difficulty. On the first attempt, she moved only 27 feet. Two days later, workers tried again but succeeded in advancing only another 30 feet. The next step was to build a launch site with steeper angles. Finally, on October 21st, workers launched the ship into Boston Harbor.
The Constitution is the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world and was in active naval service for fifty-eight years. In her early years, she was designated the Mediterranean Squadron flagship during the Barbary War between 1803-1805. However, Constitution’s most well-known battles were those related to service during the War of 1812. During her first engagement of the war, while in battle with HMS Guerriere, her guns turned a British warship into a hulk, not worth towing to port, within just a matter of minutes. When British cannonballs appeared to bounce off her thick wooden hull, a sailor exclaimed, “Huzzah, her sides are made of iron!” Ever since, people have referred to the ship by her affectionate nickname “Old Ironsides.” Constitution engaged in two more battles during the war, defeating HMS Java on December 29, 1812, and HMS Cyane and HMS Levant in February 1815.
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