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USS Constellation was a 38-gun frigate, one of the "Six Original Frigates" authorized for construction by the Naval Act of 1794. She was distinguished as the first U.S. Navy vessel to put to sea and the first U.S. Navy vessel to engage and defeat an enemy vessel. Constructed in 1797, she was modified several times in succeeding decades, and finally rebuilt beginning in 1853 as the sloop of war USS Constellation (1854).

A painting of a sailing ship at sea. The ship has two masts and the sails are reefed while firing upon with another ship. The ship is sailing toward lower right hand corner of the frame.
USS Constellation by John W. Schmidt
United States
Name: USS Constellation
Namesake: The 15 stars in the contemporary United States national flag[1]
Ordered: 27 March 1794[1]
Builder: David Stodder[2]
Cost: $314,212
Laid down: keel laid December 1795 [3]
Launched: 7 September 1797[2]
Nickname(s): "Yankee Racehorse"
Fate: rebuilt 1853-1854 as USS Constellation (1854)
General characteristics
Class and type: 36-Gun frigate[1]
Displacement: 1,265 tons[1]
Length: 164 ft (50 m) between perpendiculars[2]
Beam: 41 ft (12 m)[2]
Depth of hold: 13.5 ft (4.1 m)[2]
Decks: Orlop, Berth, Gun, Spar
Propulsion: Sail (three masts, ship rig)[4]
Complement: 322 officers and enlisted[5][2]
Armament: Original battery: 28 24-pounders and 10 12-pounders[6]


Historical contextEdit

American merchant vessels began to fall prey to Barbary Pirates, along the so-called "Barbary Coast" of North Africa, Morocco, Tunis (in future Tunisia), Tripoli (in future Libya), and most notably from Algiers (in future Algeria), in the Mediterranean Sea during the 1790s. For several years, President George Washington ignored demands of fellow Americans to free seamen held by Algiers; he had no choice because the country had no navy.[7] Congress responded with the Naval Act of 1794, 25 March 1794.[8] The subsequent passage by Congress of an appropriation act on 9 June 1794 provided funds for the construction of six frigates to be built in six different East Coast ports; however, it included a clause stating that construction of the ships would cease if the United States agreed to peace terms with Algiers.[9][10] (By the time of the conclusion in 1815, of the later War of 1812 with Great Britain, the United States had fought a series of three brief, but savage naval and amphibious wars.)

Design and constructionEdit

Design of the hull of USF Constellation, which it shared with USF Congress.

President Washington assigned construction of US Frigate Constellation to Baltimore and Fell's Point, which were still unincorporated villages in 1794. His selection of Maryland to build Constellation was in response to the logistical assistance on water and land by the state that kept the Continental army supplied with grains, flour and other provisions during the War for Independence. The president selected Federalist Shipbuilder David Stodder to construct the frigate Constellation, rated 36-guns. Federalist mariner Thomas Truxtun was appointed its commander and shipyard superintendent to maintain quality control.[11]

Joshua Humphreys was retained by Washington’s administration to design the frigates. His design was long on keel and narrow of beam (width) to allow the mounting of very heavy guns. The design did not incorporate a diagonal scantling (rib) scheme to limit hogging, but included extremely heavy planking. This gave the hull greater strength than those of more lightly built frigates. Humphreys developed his design after realizing that the fledgling United States could not match for size the navies of the European states. He therefore designed his frigates to be able to overpower other frigates, but with the speed to escape from a "ship of the line" (equivalent to a modern-day "battleship").[12][13][14]

Humphreys had been appointed constructor of frigate United States, and given supervision over the builders of the other frigates. The approved design adhered to the models of vessels built at Middle Atlantic ports, which was referred to as “Cod’s head and mackerel tail” design, that featured maximum beam foreword of the center of a hull, and tapering to a square stern assembly. Constellation had significant deadrise and sharp raking bow and stern sections below the load waterline. Humphreys' frigates sailed well in light or heavy seas in a weatherly manner despite their square-sail rig. The frigates had architectural elements of a French class of razee frigates that were unlike the more burdensome designs of Royal Navy warships. Constructor David Stodder and Joshua Humphreys shared similar backgrounds that included building fast schooners, brigs and ships during the decades-long period of warlike competition between American and Great Britain’s merchant fleets and the ever-present Royal Navy. Humphreys had no involvement in the design of the frigate Chesapeake at Gosport Navy Yard, Portsmouth, VA, which was assigned to Josiah Fox after the constructor selected was reassigned and only five frigates - three of large capacity rated 44-guns and the two frigates rated 36-guns, including Constellation - were of Humphreys’ design.[15]

The United States Frigate Constellation was built under the direction of Colonel David Stodder at his naval shipyard on Harris Creek in Baltimore's Fell's Point maritime community, according to a design by Joshua Humphreys and launched on 7 September 1797, just as the United States entered the Quasi-War with the revolutionary French Republic. (Harris Creek, which flows into the Northwest Branch of the Patapsco River, was later filled in to gain additional land for residential/industrial development and diverted underground to a subterranean storm drain and culvert in the early 19th century. It was situated east of Fell's Point and south of where modern-day Patterson Park, (near Highlandtown), and the community of Canton are currently located.)

The United States signed treaties with Algiers and other Barbary Nations in August 1795 that included tribute, which brought about the release of the imprisoned American mariners who arrived back in America shortly thereafter, and then in accordance with conditions of the Navy Act of 1794, the frigate program was halted.[16] Congress eventually approved the continuance of construction of United States, Constitution and Constellation.[17]

An earlier visitor to the Harris Creek naval shipyard of David Stodder, east of Baltimore Town in 1796, the Duke de la Rochefoucaule-Liancourt, saw the Constellation under construction and noted in his journal: "I thought her too much encumbered with wood-work within, but in other respects she is a fine vessel being built of those beautiful kinds of wood, the ever-green oak and cedar; she is pierced for 36 guns."[18]


The Naval Act of 1794 had specified 36-gun frigates; however, Constellation and her sister-ship Congress were re-rated to 38's because of their large dimensions, being 164 ft (50 m) in length and 41 ft (12 m) in width.[19][20][Note 1]

The "ratings" by number of guns were meant only as an approximation, as Constellation could and did often carry up to 48 guns.[23] U.S. Navy ships of this era had no permanent battery of guns such as modern Navy ships carry. The guns were designed to be completely portable and often were exchanged between ships as situations warranted. Each commanding officer outfitted armaments to his liking, taking into consideration factors such as the overall tonnage of cargo, complement of personnel aboard, and planned routes to be sailed. Consequently, the armaments on ships changed often during their careers, and records of the changes were not generally kept.[24]

Launch and Sea TrialsEdit

US Frigate Constellation was launched on 7 September 1797 and during its sea-trials in 1798 had draft in excess of 22 feet, which denied it entrance into many American ports including Philadelphia, Fell’s Point, Washington and Charleston. The causes were masts of excessive height and 28 24-pder cannon that were installed by the order of the Captain Truxtun. Constellation’s speed was pleasing to Truxtun, but Stoddert was blamed for the excessive sharpness at its hull’s bow and stern.[25]

Quasi-War with FranceEdit

President John Adams oversaw the expansion of the Department of United States Navy on 30 April 1798. His administration initiated an undeclared naval war with France in 1799 to clear America’s coastline of aggressive French privateers. Truxtun, on Constellation, was ordered to wage an aggressive naval war against France.[26]

Constellation vs. L'InsurgenteEdit

On 9 February 1799, under the command of Captain Thomas Truxtun, Constellation fought and captured the frigate L'Insurgente of 36 guns, the fastest ship in the French Navy.[citation needed] The battle started about 18 miles (29 km) NE of the island of Nevis about midday when Constellation spotted L'Insurgente, which cracked on studding sails and attempted to run.[27] L'Insurgente had recently captured Retaliation, a schooner, in November 1798 and three weeks previous had been chased by the Constitution and had escaped. L’Insurgente's orders were to attack only commerce; the captain wanted nothing to do with another warship and tried to flee Constellation. Within an hour of hauling in chase Truxtun was close enough to make private signals to identify if the ship he was pursuing was British or not. With no answer, he proceeded to chase L'Insurgente down, clearing for action and beating to quarters. Truxtun made private signals for the US Navy and again received no answer.[28] Constellation crowded on all sail despite a rising squall that threatened to tear a sail or throw a spar.[29]

Scene depicting the engagement, with the Constellation (left), firing upon the L'Insurgente (right).

Reefing sail just long enough to weather the short squall, Constellation hardly paused but the same was not to be for L'Insurgente as her topmast snapped and slowed her to the onrushing Constellation.[29] Captain Barreaut ordered L'Insurgente to lay up and prepared to fight. Constellation was outfitted with 24 pounder guns that caused her to lean too much to lee due to topweight and thus had to surrender the weather gage to L'Insurgente. She was refitted with 18-pounder long guns in her next refit.[clarification needed] L'Insurgente raised the French Tricolor and Captain Barreaut tried to ask for parley. Captain Truxtun refused to answer as his orders were to attack any French warship or privateer and answered when his last gun could be brought to bear.[30] American warships of this period fired for the hull as did the British and each of the 24 pounders had been double shotted. L'Insurgente fired as per her training at the Constellation's masts and rigging. Constellation's masts were saved when her sail was reduced taking pressure off the damaged mast.[30] L'Insurgente was devastated by Constellation's first broadside with many dead and others deserting their guns. L'Insurgente tried to board and slowed to close but this allowed Constellation to shoot ahead and crossed her bows for a bow rake with another broadside. Constellation crossed to windward and L'Insurgente turned to follow with both crews now exchanging port broadsides instead of starboard.[31] One of Constellation's 24 pounders smashed through the hull of L'Insurgente. L'Insurgente's 12 pounders were not equal to the same task against Constellation's hull. Captain Barreaut had been shown one of Constellation's 24 pound cannonballs and understood that he was in a completely unequal contest with sails down and nothing comparable to reply with many already dead and wounded. He struck colors— the first major victory by an American-designed and -built warship.[32]

Constellation vs. La VengeanceEdit

Constellation sailed under Captain Thomas Truxtun from Saint Kitts on 30 January, and encountered the French frigate La Vengeance, of the La Résistance class (design by Pierre Degay, with 30 x 24-pounder guns and 20 x 12-pounder guns) during the night on 1 February. La Vengeance was outweighed by Constellation but had the heavier broadside, 559 lb (254 kg) to 372 lb (169 kg).[33] La Vengeance attempted to run and had to be chased down.[34] An hour after sunset Constellation came into hailing range and when La Vengeance was ordered to stand to and surrender, she answered with a broadside.[34] After an hour Constellation's foresails failed and had to be repaired; she then overtook La Vengeance and a running battle exchanging broadsides continued.[35] Twice the ships came close enough that boarders were called for on both ships, the second occasion was quite bloody as US Marines in the Constellation shot up the deck of La Vengeance leaving her deck covered in bodies of the dead and wounded, and forcing her boarding party to seek cover. A young Lieutenant standing next to Captain Pitot of the La Vengeance had his arm taken off at this time.[36] Constellation was victorious after a five-hour battle. La Vengeance was so holed in the hull and her rigging so cut up that she grounded outside the port of Curaçao rather than attempt to sail into port for fear of sinking. The French commander just managed to save his ship from capture and - upon returning to port - was so humiliated he later boasted that the American ship he had fought was a much larger and more powerful ship of the line. Despite a heavier broadside Captain Pitot of the La Vengeance accounted that she had fired 742 rounds in the engagement while Captain Truxtun of Constellation reported 1,229 rounds expended.[33] Constellation's rigging and spars were so damaged she dare not try to sail upwind and so went to port in Jamaica. Unable to complete a refit she limped home on a jury rig.[36] After the encounter, the Constellation's speed and power inspired the French to nickname her the "Yankee Racehorse."

First Barbary WarEdit

US Frigate Constellation’s second commander was Alexander Murray, a veteran of George Washington’s army, the Continental navy and also, was commander of the prize l’Insurgente. In 1801, Murray was ordered by Acting Secretary of the Navy Samuel Smith to take Constellation from New York to Philadelphia despite the captain’s warning to Smith that the passage up Delaware River was dangerous due to Constellation’s draft of 22 ft. 6 ins. Murray reached Philadelphia, moored Constellation, and assigned a skeleton crew of two officers and fifty seamen. It capsized at low tide, and filled with water. Joshua Humphreys’ yard crews pumped out and repaired the waterlogged hull. Constellation departed Philadelphia for the Mediterranean Sea with the armament supplemented by carronades on its quarterdeck. Commander Murray requested the Navy Department to rerate her as USF Constellation-44.[37]

During the United States' preoccupation with France during the Quasi-War, troubles with the Barbary States were suppressed by the payment of tribute to ensure that American merchant ships were not harassed and seized.[38] In 1801 Yusuf Karamanli of Tripoli, dissatisfied with the amount of tribute he was receiving in comparison to Algiers, demanded an immediate payment of $250,000.[39] In response, Thomas Jefferson sent a squadron of frigates to protect American merchant ships in the Mediterranean and pursue peace with the Barbary States.[40][41]

The first squadron, under the command of Richard Dale in President, was instructed to escort merchant ships through the Mediterranean and negotiate with leaders of the Barbary States.[40]

Constellation returned to the Barbary War 27 February 1802. Sailing with the squadron of Commodore Richard Morris, and later, with that of Commodores Samuel Barron and John Rodgers, Constellation served in the blockade of Tripoli in May 1802. Murray became offensive to the fleet’s captains by stating that since heavy warships were unable to approach Tripoli’s shallow harbor only fast schooners and gunboats were able to solve the problem. The Navy recalled Murray following his assessment of the war that never did conclude successfully. Constellation returned in July 1804 with Hugh Campbell in command, and joined Commodore Preble’s hapless blockade of Tripoli. Constellation sprung a leak and returned to Washington Navy Yard.[42] She cruised widely throughout the Mediterranean in 1804 to show the flag; evacuated in June 1805 a contingent of U.S.Marines, as well as diplomatic personages, from Derne at the conclusion of a fleet-shore operation against Tripoli; and took part in a squadron movement against Tunis that culminated in peace terms in August 1805. Constellation returned to the States in November 1805, mooring at Washington where she later was placed in ordinary until 1812.[1]

War of 1812Edit

Constellation underwent repairs at Washington in 1812-13. It was a great repair, referred to contemporarily as a rebuild, which the frigate required after the accident in 1801, followed by extensive tours of duty in the Mediterranean Sea. Constellation was rebuilt at the Washington Navy Yard during 1812. (A fire during the attack on Washington in August 1814 destroyed the yard’s repair records.) Her repairs are described by Commandant Thomas Tingey in a report to Navy Secretary William Jones that reads in part: “The frigate Constellation, February 1812 was brought to the wharf, and some of her floor timbers replaced with new, and thence rebuilt up entirely new; being much improved by an extension of 14 inches more beam at the main breadth. Her hull being finished, she was masted and careened out on both sides; new copper bolts, which had been driven through her bottom, all rung riveted.”[43]

Constellation’s increase of 14 ins. in its hull’s “main breadth” reduced its draft of 22 ft. 6 ins. to 21 ft. 7 ins., when the ship watered and otherwise ready for sea, which was recorded in 1817 by Captain William Crane, and provided confirmation that Constellation’s added buoyancy was the result of the hull’s greater maximum molded breadth.[44]

USF Constellation, commanded by Captain Charles Stewart, departed Annapolis Roads in a gale, and arrived at Hampton Roads on February 3, 1813 to find that Royal Navy battleships and frigates had set a blockade. Constellation kedged up toward Norfolk, and when the tide rose ran in and anchored between the forts; and a few days later dropped down to cover the forts which were being built at Craney Island. Here she was exposed to attacks from the British force still lying in Hampton Roads, and, fearing they would attempt to carry her by surprise, Captain Stewart made preparation for defense. She was anchored in the middle of the narrow channel, flanked by gun-boats, her lower ports closed, not a rope left hanging over the sides; the boarding nettings, boiled in half-made pitch till they were as hard as wire, were triced outboard toward the yardarms, and loaded with kentledge to fall on the attacking boats when the retaining lines were cut, while the carronades were loaded to the muzzle with musket balls, and depressed so as to sweep the water near the ship.[1][45]

Constellation, which was fully crewed, a battery of 18-pound naval guns in the river’s mouth and twenty-one gunboats guarded Norfolk, Portsmouth and Gosport Navy Yard. Captain Steward requested a new command that Secretary Jones granted after several months of complaints from the navy captain. Constellation remained under siege until the British attacked by land and sea on June 22, 1813.[46] Admiral John Borlase Warren, RN, viewed the situation on Elizabeth River as an opportunity to sack the warehouses and merchant vessels loaded with tobacco at Norfolk, and also to capture Constellation and destroy Gosport Navy Yard. Lord Henry Bathurst, Minister of War and Colonies approved an attack and a corps of 2,500 troops accompanied by a large portion of the ships of Admiral Warren’s North Atlantic Command gathered in Hampton Roads in mid-June 1813. Admiral Warren and troop commander, Col. Sir Sidney Beckwith agreed to an ill-conceived plan of attack, after they had rejected Rear Admiral George Cockburn’s plan that was based on his knowledge of the American defenses and positions of strength. Constellation’s complete crew less fifteen, manned a battery of heavy naval guns, plus several hundred militia and regular army companies situated on sandbar in the mouth of Elizabeth River, defeated the British two-prong attack of 2,500 troops and two waves of small craft of Royal Navy marines and sailors.[47]

Second Barbary WarEdit

Soon after the United States declared war against Britain in 1812, Algiers took advantage of the United States' preoccupation with Britain and began intercepting American merchant ships in the Mediterranean.[48] On 2 March 1815, at the request of President James Madison, Congress declared war on Algiers. Work preparing two American squadrons promptly began—one at Boston under Commodore William Bainbridge, and one at New York under Commodore Steven Decatur.[49][50]

Constellation, attached to the Mediterranean Squadron under Commodore Stephen Decatur, sailed from New York on 20 May 1815 and joined in the capture of the Algerian frigate Mashuda on 17 June 1815. Decatur had learned that Mashuda was cruising in the western Mediterranean. The commodore ordered an attack, and Charles Gordon, commander of Constellation opened fire on Mashuda. Decatur ordered Gordon off and his flagship Guerriere fired several broadsides into the Algerine frigate. One of the Guerriere’s overloaded guns exploded, killing and wounding many of its crew and Decatur had to haul off. The heavily damaged prize was returned to Algiers and Commodore William Bainbridge replaced Decatur.

Treaties of peace were soon reached with Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli. Constellation remained with the squadron under Commodores William Bainbridge, Isaac Chauncey, and John Shaw to enforce the accords. Captain Gordon died aboard Constellation in 1816 and was replaced by William M. Crane, who returned the frigate to Gosport Navy Yard in 1817, where she was placed in ordinary.[51]

Diplomatic missions to South AmericaEdit

In the spring of 1819 Secretary of the Navy Smith Thompson selected Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry for the mission of establishing friendly relations with the government of newly independent Venezuela and negotiating to obtain restitution for United States schooners Tiger and Liberty that the Venezuelans had illegally taken during the revolution. In 1819, by order of US president James Monroe the Constellation sailed for the Orinoco River, Venezuela, along with the frigate John Adams and the schooner USS Nonsuch. Arriving on 15 July the Commodore Perry shifting his flag to the USS Nonsuch and sailed upriver to Angostura to negotiate an anti-piracy agreement. A favorable treaty was signed on 11 August with Vice-President Francisco Antonio Zea in the absence of Simon Bolivar (who was engaged in the liberation of New Granada), but when the little fleet started downriver, many of her crew including Perry had been stricken with yellow fever.

Despite the efforts to reach Trinidad for medical assistance, the commodore died on his 34th birthday on board the USS John Adams shortly after its arrival at Gulf of Paria on 23 August. He was buried in Port of Spain with great honors while USS Nonsuch's crew acted as honor guard.

From 12 November 1819 to 24 April 1820, Constellation served as flagship of Commodore Charles Morris, who was sent on a diplomatic mission to Argentina with President James Monroe’s message that the United States was agreeable to support the Spanish colony’s rebellion. Commodore Morris small squadron included USS John Adams and USS Nonsuch. Constellation cleared Cape Henry 12 November 1819 and arrived in the Rio de la Plata after a sixty-seven day passage. Morris delivered his president’s message to the unstable rebel government and returned to Hampton Roads in April 1820. John B. Nicolson, Constellation’s flag captain, reported his arrival at Gosport and that Constellation, as a sea-boat was as good as he had ever been on board.[52]

US Frigate Constellation, commanded by Charles Ridgely, was then assigned to patrol the west coast of South America, and sailed from New York on 25 July 1820, reaching Rio de Janeiro on 11 November 1820. Constellation remained in Rio seven months replacing a rotten main-mast. Constellation finally reached Valparaiso, Chile on 7 March 1821, where she was attached to the Squadron of Commodore Charles Stewart, and where US Frigate Macedonian was waiting to return to America. Ridgely sailed to Coquimbo to gain the release of two American merchant vessels seized by Thomas, Lord Cochrane, Tenth Earl of Dundonald that were robbed by him of a fortune in gold bars. The Chesapeake was salvaged, crewed by Ridgely and sent off to America with its cargo of copper consigned to his account. His private journal made note of his subsequent self-serving activities, and confirms that at the end of his diplomatic mission to Chile and Peru (an area where disquiet erupted into revolt against Spain) he was a rich officer. Constellation arrived back in New York in July 1822.[53]

Flagship of the West Indies SquadronEdit

Constellation was idle at the New York Navy Yard and at Gosport Yard until 1825, when she was outfitted for sea duty. Melancthon T. Woolsey was her new captain.

In 1825, Constellation was chosen as flagship for Commodore Lewis Warrington and began duty with the West India Squadron to eradicate waning piracy operations in the Caribbean. During an outbreak of yellow fever at Key West, Florida, Warrington moved the squadron's home port to Pensacola, Florida where a permanent base was established. Other ships operating with Constellation during this period in the West Indies were John Adams, Hornet, Spark, Grampus, Shark, Fox and Decoy. Warrington returned to the United States with Constellation in 1826.[54][55] She was badly in need of repairs and was placed in ordinary on 1 August 1827 to await her second rebuild.[56]

During her second rebuild, which took place during the winter of 1828, Constellation was dismantled throughout her midsections and her stern section down to the floor. An increase of 17 inches was made to the hull’s maximum molded breath, and added to the 14 inches increase in Constellation hull’s maximum molded beam made in 1813, altered the hull’s maximum molded breadth of beam from 40 feet in 1797 to 42 ft. 7ins., which was the maximum molded breadth upon her departure from Gosport in 1829. Also installed was the newly developed round transom, an elliptic stern and rudder assembly and a new captain’s cabin. The two increases in Constellation’s maximum molded beam resulted in a reduction of her draft from 22 ft. 6ins. 1801 to 20 ft, 6ins. following her rebuild in 1829.[57]

Two years in the MediterraneanEdit

Constellation returned to sea service 12 August 1829. President Andrew Jackson selected the memorial ship for another diplomatic assignment, which entailed the delivery of his administration’s newly appointed ministers to France and England to their posts of duty. US Frigate Constellation joined the Mediterranean Squadron for a two-year stint that consisted of goodwill calls on the nations situated around this sea’s perimeter, and to watch over American shipping and to collect indemnities from previous losses suffered by U.S. merchantmen.

Returning to the United States in November 1831, she underwent minor repairs and departed again for the Mediterranean in April 1832 where she remained until an outbreak of cholera forced her to sail for home in November 1834.

Constellation’s repaired keel hogged badly after years at sea; this was caused by insufficient buoyancy of the hull’s end sections, and probably the result of increases in molded breadth in 1813 and 1828. Constellation entered the yard’s new dry-dock and the keel was lowered onto blocks of varied height that compensated for its hog, to which shipbuilder Frances Grice constructed a false bottom of streaks and planks to curtain its leaks. New planks and copper sheathing were fastened to the streaks on both sides of the capped keel. Constellation left the yard in January 1835.[58]

Flagship in the West Indies againEdit

In October 1835, Constellation sailed for the Gulf of Mexico to assist in crushing the Seminole uprising. She landed shore parties to relieve the Army garrisons and sent her boats on amphibious expeditions. Commodore Alexander Dallas initiated his assignment with a cruise that included independent Venezuela, British Trinidad, Dutch Curaçao, Spanish Havana, and the Mexican ports of Tampico and Vera Cruz, prior to entering the U.S. Naval base at Pensacola, Florida. Constellation spent two years anchored at Pensacola, with the exception of two cruises, a visit to Matamoras and Vera Cruz, Mexico and a second cruise to Tampico, Mexico, where on arrival the British consul delivered 84 boxes of bullion and specie to Dallas. Henceforth, Dallas kept Constellation anchored at Pensacola, serving part of this period in the capacity of flagship. Her officers and seamen filled the needs of other vessels in his squadron during the southern Florida’s Seminole War, the Texas-Mexico War, and also the destabilizing situation caused by the arrival French and British warships in the Gulf, that threatened to attack Mexico.

Constellation was recalled to fix her bottom that was covered by layers of crustaceans. She arrived at the Boston Navy Yard on 24 October 1838.[59]

Constellation in Boston for a third rebuildEdit

Constellation entered the Boston (Charlestown) Navy Yard dry-dock on 16 February 1839, and during her stay there was rebuilt a third time, which included a two-foot reduction in the beam’s breadth to address the stressed bow and stern sections that caused the hull’s hog and bottom to leak. Constellation departed the yard with a maximum molded breadth of beam of 40 ft. 7in, which was seven inches greater than when it was launched in 1797.[60][61]

Constellation’s Pacific Ocean MissionsEdit

The Boston rebuild was urgent because the memorial warship was selected to circumnavigate-the-world on a diplomatic “show of the flag” cruise, although Commodore Lawrence Kearny had secret orders when he went aboard at Rio de Janeiro. Constellation was surveyed in the yard by her temporary commander, George W. Storer, which revealed the inferior work by a labor force disaffected by political favoritism and other destructive labor policies under Commandant John Downes superintendence. Her crew was difficult to recruit also, because the Navy Department had issued a rule that reduced the number of free Blacks in U. S. Navy warships to five percent of the number of a ship’s crew. Constellation departed Boston 9 December 1840 and arrived at Rio de Janeiro on 24 January 1841.[62]

Kearny took command of the memorial frigate, and also the USS Boston, which accompanied him on this cruise. The Boston was ordered to depart for Cape Town and Kearny kept Constellation at Rio, which allowed him to examine Captain Shorer’s surveys prepared during the passage from Boston to Rio, which were highly critical of the guns that Shorer concluded were dangerous to crew. Kearny tested and condemned several guns, and reeled off a list of deficiencies that included the need to caulk the hull, refit the sails and fix the leaks into the wardroom.[63]

The memorial Flagship Constellation began its circumnavigation of the globe from Rio on 6 March 1841, and anchored at Table Bay, near Cape Town on April 6, 3,485 nautical miles and 31 days later with a well-trained crew and a list of condemned guns, a loose rudder, faulty standing and running rigging and poorly cut sails prepared by a survey-team of officers from the Boston and Constellation. Kearny shifted his squadron of two ships to Saldanha Bay where they lay while crewmen repaired the frigate. Constellation and Boston headed east facing the morning sun on 30 July 1841, and made several stopovers, reaching Singapore on 4 November 1841, where rumors of war between Great Britain and United States delayed Kearny until 5 February 1842. Constellation and Boston anchored at Macao, China in the mouth of the Canton River on 23 March 1842. The Opium Wars had been waged since 1839 but after the British subdued the Chinese in the Canton Region, moved to North China.[64]

Constellation’s commodore executed State Department secret orders that offered assurance to the Chinese government of the friendly disposition of the United States, as its policy was to encourage only trade sanctioned by China, but Kearny was urge Americans merchants in Canton to trade in tea. Kearny’s orders were also to instruct those merchants owning American registered carriers to cease operating them in the opium trade under foreign flags. Kearny leaned that principal American opium dealers in China were U. S. State Department consular officials, John P. Cushing, Warren Delano and James P. Sturgis. Kearny mission had two major successes. The Department of State reorganized its consular corps eliminating all nonprofessionals. Secondly, his negotiations with Chinese officials resulted in the extension of British trade concessions to the United States and most other nations.[65]

Constellation departed Chinese coastal waters on 22 May 1843, and arrived in Honolulu on 7 July 1843, having covered the distance of 6,409 miles in 47 days for an average speed of 5.68 knots, where Captain Kearny was involved in negotiations that resulted in America’s acquisition of the Hawaiian (Sandwich) Islands. Kearny learned that a visiting Royal Navy commander, the Right Honorable Lord Paulet, had obtained King Kamehameha III agreement to cede his kingdom to Great Britain. Kearny convinced the king to nullify his action and ally his island nation with the United States of America. Constellation departed on 22 August for California, reaching Monterey in 18 days, averaging 6.25 knots; then the old frigate sailed the long leg to Valparaiso in 61 days, rounded the Horn and made a brief stopover at Rio de Janeiro. Constellation dropped anchor in Hampton Roads on 9 May 1844. She was cleaned and stripped of gear, and served as a receiving ship for several months, then, was placed in ordinary in 1845 to wait out fate.[66]

Fate: rebuilt as razeed frigate (later "sloop-of-war")Edit

Several sail-powered frigates, including Constellation, were rebuilt as razee frigates in the 1850s. Constellation, which had been in ordinary at Gosport Navy Yard for eight years, emerged from a great repair in 1853-54 modified, modernized, and rated a razee frigate until 1858, the year that Congress legislated a revised system for classifying Navy warships. Frigates under the new system mounted more than twenty-four guns. The razee frigates Constellation and Macedonian were rated sloops of war as the navy armed them with less than 24 cannon, as were other large and small frigates. (The Navy issued a statement signed by the Secretary of the Navy on May 24, 1954, which was prior to the date the memorial sloop of war was deeded to Baltimore. This memorandum affirmed the rebuilding of Constellation in 1813 and 1853-54. Constellation’s records were accumulated and cataloged by the National Archives and Records Administration in the 1970s, and includes Constellation’s repair data that confirms the rebuilding of it in 1853-54.[67])

Constellation’s repairs cost $277,116 in 1853-54, for which funds were included in the nation’s 1853 annual budget. The amount was significantly less than the cost of the frigate Congress, which was $421,592 in 1841. It is also factual that USS Germantown, which was built in 1846, was the last wooden all-sail warship built for the United States Navy. A Constellation built of all new materials and equipment to John Lenthall’s plan would have cost $600,000 in the mid 1850s, due to the fast-climbing labor costs at the navy-owned shipyards. Constellation retained its razee frigate rate, as did Macedonian, until Congress passed legislation in 1858, which allowed the Navy to rerate the sail-powered frigates. Only President Fillmore had the power to approve the destruction of Constellation and authorize its removal from the Navy Vessel Register, which he did not exercise.[68]

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the United States Congress, the Navy, and the Cities of Newport and Baltimore continued to identify the ship as the 1854 rebuild of the 1797 ship. In the latter half of the 20th century, however, some naval historians insisted that the ship was an 1854 sloop of war, undeserving of its 1797 legacy.

Commemorative copper coins were struck from parts of the USS Constellation, and have become collector's items.[69][70]


  1. ^ Officially in congressional documents Constellation was a 36-gun frigate.[21] Chapelle states the Constellation and the Congress were re-rated to 38's during construction by Humphreys because of their large dimensions.[19]
    Canney references Chapelle when rating Constellation a 38-gun frigate, but also questions "... exactly what Humphreys had in mind with rating these ships as 44- or 36-gun frigates when the number of ports certainly did not correspond to the rating and, in fact, the ships rarely carried their rated batteries, reflecting contemporary usage. That first U.S. Secretary of the Navy, Benjamin Stoddert re-rated the Constellation and the Congress to 38's once he compared the dimensions of the two ships with the also recently completed USF Chesapeake, which had been reduced in size from a 44 to the extent that she was smaller.[20]
    Other sources, such as Lardas & Bryan, use the official ratings and note, "The US Navy officially carried only three rates of frigate during the period 1794–1826: 44-gun, 36-gun, and 32-gun. The rating was independent of the size of the ship or the weight of its armament, but important in terms of crew size, pay, and money spent to support the ship."[22]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Constellation". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Navy Department, Naval History and Heritage Command. Retrieved 8 February 2017. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Chapelle 1949, p. 536
  3. ^ Returns, Navy Yard, Baltimore, RG94, Entry 19, National Archives; Sec/War Pickering report to Congress, 12 December 1795, War Department Letters on Naval Matters, American State Papers [ASP], Naval Affairs, Vol. 1.
  4. ^ Joshua Humphreys, Frigate specifications, ASP, Naval Affairs Vol. 1, 57-64; Letter, Humphreys to Sec/War Knox, May 12, 1794, Humphreys Letters Books; also, USS Constellation Orders, Muster Rolls, Stores, etc., Thomas Truxtun Papers, 1797-1798, MS679, Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP), Philadelphia, PA.
  5. ^ Sec/War to Congress, Jan. 12, 1797, Navy affairs under the War Department, Naval Documents, Quasi War (QW), Vol, 1, 187-191.
  6. ^ Truxtun to Sec/Nav Stoddert, 16 August 1798, Truxtun Letter Book, HSP; Sec/Nav McHenry to Capt. Staats, Fort Whetstone, 27 July 1797, RG45, MF-739, NARA.
  7. ^ Letter, Thos. Jefferson, Paris to John Adams, London. July 11, 1786, BW, Vol. 1, 10,11 & 22, 23; also, Report, Secretary of State to Congress, Dec. 9, 1991 with encls, BW, Vol. 1, 26-34.
  8. ^ Allen (1909), pp. 41–42.
  9. ^ Beach (1986), p. 29.
  10. ^ An Act to provide a Naval Armament. 1 Stat. 350 (1794). Library of Congress. Retrieved 17 February 2011.
  11. ^ Letter, Secretary Knox to David Stodder, July 22, 1794, War Office, Naval Correspondence, 1791-1798, RG45, MF739, NARA, DC; War Office to Thomas Truxtun, Aug. 7, 1794, Ibid, MF739; Report, Secretary of War, Construction of Frigates under the Act of 27 March 1794, Dec. 27, 1794, BW, Vol. 1, 91; Returns of the Navy Yard, Baltimore, RG94, Entry19, Box101, NARA, DC.
  12. ^ Toll (2006), pp. 49–53.
  13. ^ Beach (1986), pp. 29–30, 33.
  14. ^ Allen (1909), pp. 42–45.
  15. ^ Report, Humphreys, Progress of Building Frigates, 23 Dec. 1794 & Secretary of War to Congress, 29 December 1794, ASP Naval Affairs Vol. 1, 6-8.
  16. ^ Release of Americans by Algiers, State Dept. Records, Consular Div., Vol. 1, Part 1, April 1785 to July 1795, QW, Vol. 1, 226, 117.
  17. ^ State Dept. Records, Consular Reports, BW, Vol. 1, 116, 117; “An Act Supplementary to an Act entitled An Act to provide Armament of March 27, 1794,” passed April 20, 1796 Statutes, Vol.1, 453,454, BW, Vol. 1, 150.
  18. ^ Francois Alexandre Frederic duc de La-Rochefoucauld-Liancourt, Travels Through the United States of North-America, the Country of the Jroquois and Upper Canada, in the Years 1795, 1796 und 1797, Volume 2, R. Phillips, London, 1799, p.343
  19. ^ a b Chapelle (1949), p. 128.
  20. ^ a b Beach (1986), p. 32.
  21. ^ Number of vessels in service, and estimates of repairing and fitting for service those in ordinary, including frigate Constellation, S. Doc. 91, U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, 12th Congress, 1st session, 1812.
  22. ^ Lardas, Mark (2008). American Light and Medium Frigates 1794–1836. Oxford: Osprey. p. 31. ISBN 1-84603-266-0. OCLC 183265266. 
  23. ^ Roosevelt (1883), p. 53.
  24. ^ Jennings, John (1966). Tattered Ensign The Story of America's Most Famous Fighting Frigate, U.S.S. Constitution. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell. pp. 17–19. OCLC 1291484. 
  25. ^ Truxtun to McHenry, 23 June 1798 and to Stoddert, 16 August 1798, AM695, Truxtun Letter Books, HSP; Letter, James Buchanan to Pickering, 5 September 1799, QW, vol. 1, 159, 160.
  26. ^ Orders Sec Stoddert to Truxtun, 10 (2) & 31 August 1798; 3 & 10 November 1798 & 16 January 1799, RG45, Reel M-149, Nimitz Library, Annapolis, MD.
  27. ^ Toll (2006), p. 114.
  28. ^ Toll (2006), p. 115.
  29. ^ a b Toll (2006), p. 116.
  30. ^ a b Toll (2006), p. 117.
  31. ^ Toll (2006), p. 118.
  32. ^ Toll (2006), p. 119.
  33. ^ a b Toll (2006), p. 135.
  34. ^ a b Toll (2006), p. 132.
  35. ^ Toll (2006), p. 133.
  36. ^ a b Toll (2006), p. 134.
  37. ^ Letters: Humphreys to S. Smith. 20, 22 April & 3 May 1801, Humphreys Letter Book, HSP; Sec/Nav Robert Smith to Murray, 31 Oct. 1801, QW, Vol. 7, 295; Murray to R. Smith, Nov.24, 1801, 298.
  38. ^ Maclay and Smith (1898), Volume 1, pp. 215–216.
  39. ^ Allen (1905), pp. 88, 90.
  40. ^ a b Maclay and Smith (1898), Volume 1, p. 228.
  41. ^ Allen (1905), p. 92.
  42. ^ SecNav R. Smith’s report to Congress, 28 June 1806, BW, Vol. 6, 357-8; Edward Preble’s reports to Thomas Jefferson, January 1, 1805 and 1806, CXLVI, folder 25411, Library of Congress.
  43. ^ Thomas Tingey to Secretary William Jones, 15 October 1814, ASP, Vol. 1-342; also, Admiral John R. Hefferman to James Foster, reference City of Baltimore and its deed of custody, with memorandum signed by the Secretary of the Navy, Dept. ref. Op-291R1/HPD; Ser1005P29, dated May 24, 1954.
  44. ^ Logbook of USF Constellation, 1817, Huntington Library, San Marino, CA; Also, Logbook No. 2, RG24, NARA, Washington.
  45. ^ Roosevelt (1883), pp. 162–163.
  46. ^ Letter, Stewart to Jones, undated to Sec/Nav received 22 April 1813, RG45, MF149; also, Stewart to Jones, 12, 21, 22 May 1813, RG45, MK-125, NARA.
  47. ^ Admiralty Secretary Croker to Warren, 17 May, Warren to Croker, 24 June, Cassin to Jones, 23 June, Captain Barrie RN to his mother, 23 June 1813, Documents of the Naval War of 1812, Edited by the Dept. of the Navy, Vol. 2, 359, 360, 384,385; Beatty to General R. Taylor, 25 June 1813, Virginia Historical Record, 135, 136.
  48. ^ Maclay and Smith (1898), Volume 2, pp. 4–5.
  49. ^ Maclay and Smith (1898), Volume 2, p. 6.
  50. ^ Allen (1905), p. 281.
  51. ^ Letter, Decatur to Sec/Nav Crowninshield, 17 June 1815, Captain’s letters, RG45, MF-125, NARA; Decatur’s reports to Crowninshield, ASP Vol.1. 296-397; W. Bainbridge to Crowninshield, 14 September, and to Gordon, 5 October 1815, RG45, MF-125; letter, Chauncey to Crowninshield, 13 September 1816, RG45, MF-125; Letters, Navy Commissioners to Cassin, 5 & 30 March 1818, RG45, Entry 216, NARA, Washington, DC.
  52. ^ Log of the U. S, Frigate Constellation, 12 November 1819 to 30 June 1820, Huntington Library, San Marino, California; Autobiography of Charles Morris, 192-194.
  53. ^ Letters, Ridgely to Sec/Nav Thompson, 21 July, 11 August, 3 October, and 11 November 1820, Ridgely Letter Book & Private Journal, LC; Constellation’s Logbook No 2, RG24, NARA; Letters, Ridgely to Thompson, 7, 8, 31 March, 7 April and 18 May 1821, and 27 April 1822, RG45, MF-125, NARA.
  54. ^ Wheeler (1969), pp. 167–171.
  55. ^ "Warrington". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Navy Department, Naval History & Heritage Command. Retrieved 2 April 2011. 
  56. ^ Warrington to Sec/Nav Southard, 15 February, 10 March, 22 June 1825, RG45, MF-125; letter, Southward to Warrington, 24 May 1825, RG45, MF-149; Ridgely to Navy Commissioners, 16 February 1827, RG45, Entry213; Lt. Williamson, Gosport to Navy Commissioners, 17 July 1827, RG45 Entry213; Navy Commissioners to James Barron, commandant, Gosport Navy Yard, 24 July 1827, RG45 Entry216, NARA.
  57. ^ Offsets, dated 1828, Library, Naval Heritage & History Command, Navy Yard, Washington, DC; Navy Commissioner John Rodgers to Barron, 22 November, 10 &15 December 1827, 1, 5 January, 21, 23 February, 22 July, 1 August, 16 December 1828; Francis Grice to Barron, 8 December 1827 & 16 December 1828, RG45, Entry220; Navy Commissioner John Rodgers To Barron, 19, 26 November, 7 December (2), 1827, 5 January, 22 July, 1 August, 19 December 1828, RG45, Entry216; Samuel Humphreys to Rodgers, 1, 2 January 1828, RG45, Entry224; Returns of Repairs to Vessels, RG19, Entry5, 1:171; Constellation’s Repairs,, 1828-29, Subject Files PI, Box 520, Folder 2, RG45, Entry464, NARA; U.S. Navy Annual Report, 1819, 159.
  58. ^ Constellation Repairs, RG19, Entry5, 171, 172; also, Subject Files PI, Box 521, RG45 464, NARA.
  59. ^ Constellation logbooks Nos. 10 &12, RG24; Letters, Dallas to Sec/Nav Dickerson, 1835-37, RG45, MF125, NARA. Navy Annual Report, 1835. 368, 379-80 and 1836, 442-43.
  60. ^ Three drawings referenced C&R 107-13-4, 4A and 4B are on file at the National Archives, College Park, MD, which vandals have overwritten false information, and were drafted before, during and following its period in the Boston yard’s dry- dock and confirm Constellation’s shape and maximum molded breadth of 40 Ft. 7 after its rebuild there in 1839-40.
  61. ^ Letter, Commandant Downes to Navy Commissioners, 24 October 1838; Josiah Barker, Survey of the Frigate Constellation and accompanying letter; Downes to Commissioners, 11 December 1838, Charlestown Yard daily work journal; Downes to Morris, 28 August 1839, with drawing of keel CR no 107-13-4A, and drawing of her reduction in breadth, prepared at Boston, CR no. 107-13-4B, RG181, NARA, Walham, MA; Constellation’s Bimonthly Repair Record, Subject File, AR, Box 92, RG45 Entry 464, Boston, 1838-1840, NARA, Washington, DC.
  62. ^ Downes to Sec/Nav Paulding, 8, 11, 22 October 1840. RG45, MF-125; Boston Yard’s Daily Journal, 9 November 1840; Downes to Navy Commissioners, 23 November; Storer to Downes, 9, 10, 12, 15 November, RG181, NARA, Waltham; Downes to Navy Commissioners with survey and Storer’s letters & surveys, 25 November 1840, RG45, Entry220, NARA; Paulding’s Circular Letter, re Blacks: dated 13 September 1839, NARA, Washington DC.
  63. ^ Kearny to Paulding, 25, 26 February, RG45, MF-125; Kearny to Navy Commissioners, 4 March 1841, RG45, Entry220, NARA.
  64. ^ Letters, Kearny to Paulding. 6 March & to Sec/Nav Badger, 21 April; letter with Survey by Commander Long et al, dated 6 & 12 April 1841; also Kearny to Badger, 11 June, 20 & July 1841; to Sec/Nav Upsher, 26 March 1842, East Indies Squadron Letters, RG45, Roll1, NARA, Washington.
  65. ^ Orders, Paulding to Kearny, 2 November 1839, Kearny to Secretary of the Navy, 23 September, 15 November, 13 December 1842, and 16 January, 25 February, 21 April, 5, 19. May 1843; Kearny to Governor Ke, 15 March; Kearny to Daniel Webster, 21 April; Kearny to American Merchants & others, 18 May 1843, East Indies Squadron Papers, RG45, Roll 1, NARA, Washington.
  66. ^ U. S. Commercial agent to Kearny, 7 & 11 July; Kearny to King Kamehameha, 11 July; Kearny to Governor Kekaulluohi, 14 July; King Kamehameha to Kearny, 19 July; Kearny to Paulet, 17 July 1843, Kearny to Sec/Nav, 2 September, 16 March, and 1 May 1844, East Indies Squadron Papers, R45, Roll 1; Gosport Navy yard clerk Young, 10 May 1845 to 1852, RG71, Entry 91, NARA, Philadelphia.
  67. ^ Rear Admiral John R. Hefferman to James Foster, reference City of Baltimore and its deed of custody, a memorandum signed by the Secretary of the Navy, Dept. ref. Op-291R1/HPD; Ser1005P29, dated May 24, 1954.
  68. ^ Navy Annual Reports for 1852-1855; Constellation’s cost of $277,116 for 1853-54 rebuild: Report of Cost and Time of Repairs of Vessels of the Navy, Senate Resolution, 27 May 1858, RG19, Entry49; USF Congress: Costs of various ships, RG45, Entry276 NARA; Senate Resolution of 27 May 1858, RG19, Entry49, Bureau of Yards & Docks, NARA; Opinions, Attorney General of the United States, 1857, 8:504-11.