first published on April 23, 2019 by Josh
In the year 1785, Barbary Pirates started seizing American merchant vessels in the Mediterranean Sea. In 1793, eleven American merchant vessels were taken with their crews and stores being held for ransom. The United States of America, being only an infant as a nation, made the decision to begin sending American Warships with the merchants to protect them. The Naval Act of 1794 was signed as a result, and funding was procured to build six frigates to protect merchant vessels.
Knowing that America was still a young country that couldn’t produce the naval superiority required to win a straight up fight, Joshua Humphreys stepped in to design the six frigates. His design created ships that were outside of the norm for naval vessels at the time. Each ship was designed with heavy planking that would allow the smaller number of frigates to stand against the constant barrages of a larger number of naval vessels, while still keeping the ships fast enough to escape their enemies should they encounter resistance that they could not compete with.
On 1 November 1794 at Edmund Hartt’s shipyard in Boston, Massachusetts the keel of the USS Constitution was laid down and construction began. A peace accord would be reached with the Algiers in March of 1796 before the naval frigates could be completed, but through political prompting Congress would agree to complete the three ships closest to construction. As a result, the United States, Constellation, and Constitution would be completed with the USS Constitution being released into the Boston Harbor on 21 October 1797. Constitution’s hull was built 21 inches thick and her length between perpendiculars was 175 ft, with a 204 ft length overall and a width of 43 ft 6 in. In total, 60 acres of trees were needed for her construction. Primary materials consisted of pine and oak, including southern live oak which was cut from Gascoigne Bluff and milled near St. Simons, Georgia.
Over the course of her direct combat service for the United States of America, the USS Constitution would engage in battle 33 times without ever faltering or failing to come out as the victor in battle, earning her the title of Old Ironsides and America’s Ship of State. The video below, created by the U.S. Navy and Jocelyn Vallery tells the tale of the world’s oldest commissioned Naval Vessel.