USS Constitution (Old Ironsides) sails Boston waters again after a 2-year restoration

The USS Constitution is a wooden-hulled, three-masted heavy frigate of the United States Navy, named by President George Washington after the Constitution of the United States of America.

Firing 17-gun salute in Boston Harbor in 2014. U.S. Navy photo by Seaman Matthew Fairchild

She is the world’s oldest commissioned naval vessel afloat. Constitution was launched in 1797, one of six original frigates authorized for construction by the Naval Act of 1794 and the third constructed.

Joshua Humphreys designed the frigates to be the young Navy’s capital ships, and so Constitution and her sisters were larger and more heavily armed, and built than standard frigates of the period.

Now the public can see the USS Constitution as she hasn’t been seen since 1797…well, since her last restoration, anyway. Since 2015 “Old Ironsides” has been in dry dock for her first major restoration in over twenty years.

Restoration in progress. Photo: Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston

Constitution was built in the North End of Boston, Massachusetts at Edmund Hartt‘s shipyard.

Her first duties with the newly formed U.S. Navy were to provide protection for American merchant shipping during the quasi-War with France (caused by the U.S. failure to live up to the terms of our treaty with France; our unique way of thanking them for helping us achieve our independence from Britain), and to defeat the Barbary pirates in the First Barbary War.

Constitution is most noted for her actions during the War of 1812 against the United Kingdom, when she captured numerous merchant ships and defeated five British warships: HMS Guerriere, Java, Pictou, Cyane, and Levant.

In drydock. Photo credit:
USS Constitution Museum

The battle with Guerriere earned her the nickname of “Old Ironsides” and public adoration that has repeatedly saved her from scrapping.

She continued to serve as flagship in the Mediterranean and African squadrons, and circled the world in the 1840s. During the American Civil War, she served as a training ship for the United States Naval Academy. She carried American artwork and industrial displays to the Paris Exposition of 1878.

Constitution was retired from active service in 1881, and served as a receiving ship until being designated a museum ship in 1907. In 1934, she completed a three-year, 90-port tour of the nation.

Constitution sailed under her own power for her 200th birthday in 1997, and again in August 2012 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of her victory over Guerriere.

Charlestown Navy Yard

The restoration took place at the Charlestown Navy Yard, where, for the past two years, visitors have been able to view Constitution out of water. They have watched as skilled ship restorers and riggers work to preserve and make “Old Ironsides” new again.

The restoration has been financed in part with federal funds from the National Maritime Heritage Grant program, administered by the National Park Service, through the Massachusetts Historical Commission.

Featured image is a painting by Michel Felice Corne depicting battle action between USS Constitution and HMS Guerriere on August 19, 1812. Courtesy of the U.S. Navy – Naval History and Heritage Command.

See Charlestown Navy Yard website.

See USS Constitution Museum website.

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