Chapter 1 The First U.S. Naval Establishment
She was beautiful in her youth. Her fine lines and graceful sheer, her lightly scrolled and upturned head, the classic quarter galleries and restrained carvings gracing her 18th-century transom stern-all flowed together flawlessly in this magnificent creature of the sea. Her lofty rig spread more sail than any European frigate. In fact, she was larger in every way than most of her contemporary kind. The British Royal Navy saw her not as a frigate, but as a ship stronger than any of its fifth-rate ships-of-the-line.
To understand what is meant by the term “fifth rate,” and where Constitution and her sisters fit into the naval categories of power of the day, let’s take a brief look at the British rating system. In the first decade of the 19th century the British had more warships than any other country-so many large and formidable sailing fortresses that they proudly rated them according to size and power.
Ratings of these heavy ships were determined by a combination of firepower and size, which, of course, were interdependent. A first rate was a ship with three gun decks; thls did not include the exposed weather deck, which carried carronades. With 32-pounders on the lowest deck, 24-
THE FIRST U.S. NAVAL ESTABLISHMENT 1
pounders on the middle deck, and 18-pounders on the upper gun deck, plus carronades, a first-rate ship mounted 100 to 120 guns. At 190 to 200
feet in length and up to 2,000 tonnage capacity by 1804, the first rate.
of which there were ten in the Royal Navy-was larger and heavier than
any other kind of warship, and more unwieldy. The fammous HMS Victory,
Lord Nelson’s flagship at Trafalgar (1805), was a first-rate ship-of-the.line built in 1783.
The second rates were slightly less imposing than the first rates, with between 80 and 100 guns of similar size on three gun decks, and of generally less than 2,000 tonnage. Because they lacked the impressive power of the first rates and were relatively poor sailers, being high-sided for their shorter length, these ships were not especially popular. In 1804, 37 second rates were listed in the Royal Navy-many of these from earlier years.
The third rates mounted fewer than 80 guns, on two gun decks. The most popular third rate was the famous 74-gun ship, an ideal compromise among firepower, speed, and agility, and considered the most useful in the line of battle. In 1804, the Royal Navy listed 94 of these ships. The 74s carried 24-pounders, generally on their gun decks. The largest of these 74s were about 180 feet on deck. The smallest of the third rates was a 64-gun ship, generally considered a bargain-basement 74-yet in 1812 the British had 41 of them, many held over from the 18th century. Fourth-rate ships were two-deckers of 50 to 60 guns. The 50s were considered too small for the battle line, but toward the end of the 18th century they were revived for duty as patrol and squadron-command ships. They were virtually the same as frigates, although their guns were distributed on two gun decks below the weather deck. Nineteen were on the British list in 1793.
Finally, there were the fifth-rate ships: frigates carried fewer than 50 guns and but one gun deck, but always gunned on the spar deck. In 1812, the British had 63 of the 36-gun frigates, the most popular of the fifth-rate ships. It also had 16 of the 38-gun frigates built between 1801 and 1812, as well as a number of44s. These frigates weren’t strong enough to stand up ship for ship with the new heavy 44-gun frigates of the young American
OLD IRONSIDES 2 (Picture)
THE FIRST U.S. NAVAL ESTABLISHMENT 3
Navy. But they were versatile and could be used for patrolling, cruising,
blockading, convoying, and apprehending smugglers.
In addition, the British Navy had also converted many captured foreign
frigates, particularly French frigates, which it used to round out its fleet in the early 1800s. The largest of these were 40-to 44-gun frigates-a decent size, but not the most durable, since they were generally constructed of pine or other fast growing wood, rather than ofEnglish oak.
Altogether, in 1812, when USS Constitution sailed in her most successful year of the naval war against Great Britain, the British Royal Navy consisted of 1,017 warships of all classes. The United States Navy counted 18, none larger than Constitution.
I make this brief diversion into the types and styles ofBritish warships
at the beginning of the 19th century to point out the ridiculous disparity
between the naval establishments of Great Britain and the struggling states
ofAmerica. The states were united mostly in name, and at the turn of the
century they suffered collectively the indignities of British arrogance
toward the wayward colonies.
To provide ship crews for the Royal Navy, which was embroiled in an
interminable war of attrition with France under Napoleon, the Admiralty
relied on impressment. The press gangs made routine excursions into
waterfront establishments-pubs and taverns, even conveniently located
homes-to “recruit” their crewmen. Merchant vessels at sea, however,
were an even more convenient source of experienced sailors. That
American ships carried sailors speaking the same language, who still bore
the taint of rebellion, made American-flagged ships a special target.
In the late 18th and early 19th century the American merchant marine
tried desperately to establish reliable foreign trade relations. The coastal and developing inland states of the poverty-stricken union depended almost entirely upon the continuity of selling export commodities abroad: tobacco, flour, timber, salted fish, sugar, cotton, even newly built ships. This was a precarious life-support system, especially since Europe was at war.
America’s expanding merchant fleet of modest but well-built ships was
manned by well-paid American crews wary of being snatched away by Royal
OLD IRONSIDES 4
Navy boarding gangs. Admittedly the attraction of becoming an American sailor had encouraged many a British tar to desert his native land and ship and join an American crew. The British considered this adequate justification to board American vessels whenever found and take off suspected deserters-some of whom were deserters, but many of whom were native born Americans. Such were the bullying tactics of a vastly superior force.
A New Navy Four years after the Battle of Yorktown and the cessation of revolutionary hostilities with the British Empire, America found herself without a single armed vessel to protect her hard-won sovereignty. By 1785 she had sold off the·few that remained from the war. It was not until March 1794 that, after suffering the further humiliation of paying tribute to Mediterranean pirates, Congress reluctantly passed an act to create a naval force, and authorized the construction of six large frigates.
They were to be:
THE FIRST U.S. NAVAL ESTABLISHMENT 5 Constitution 44 guns, 1,5 7 6 tons, built at Boston President 44 guns, 1,576 tons, built at New York United States 44 guns, 1,576 tons, built at Philadelphia Chesapeake 36 guns, 1,244 tons, built at Norfolk Congress 36 guns, 1,286 tons, built at Portsmouth Constellation 38 guns, 1,265 tons, built at Baltimore Captains and officers for these vessels were commissioned and appointed
by June 1794, and the Secretary ofWar (there being no Secretary of the
Navy as yet) as early as April had named naval constructors, then instructing them to proceed with the designs and prepare for construction.
Joshua Humphreys, of Philadelphia, a Quaker shipbuilder with considerable shipbuilding experience as well as considerable influence in political circles, was appointed overall supervisor of construction of these first feeder! frigates. In addition to the six Congressionally authorized vessels within a year or two some of the larger cities of the young country were
building frigates and smaller warships to contribute to the young navy. The
most significant of these “subscription” frigates were Essex, 32 guns; john
Adams, 28 guns; Philadelphia, 38 guns; and New York, 36 guns.
It was Humphreys who created the concept for the original six frigates.
Although he most likely did not draft the final plans, it was his theory-also supported by Henry Knox, the Secretary ofWar-that the necessarily small navy must be cored by able, hard-hitting frigates with good sailing performance. Larger than most British frigates, faster, and with greater cruising capability and harder-hitting gunnery, they would be able to run away from an overwhelming force of greater warships and stand and fight anything of approximate power.
Humphreys rightly discarded the idea of building larger two-deckers,
such as the popular 74s, which were relatively quick and hard-hitting but
did not have the lower profile and overall superior sailing performance of
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a frigate. The new frigates had to be capable of the immediate task of discouraging the Muslim pirates in the Mediterranean. For long-range naval duties, they had to be capable, if necessary, of independent wartime commerce-raiding cruises.
This philosophy was good, although Humphreys would live to see some flaws in his basic thinking. As told in Chapter Two, Constitution would find herself in the company of an enemy squadron, with no sailing breeze; she consequently fell into a towing match, with the smaller, lighter British frigates having the advantage. Constitution finally escaped by making good use of the trick of anchor kedging and a fortuitous rain squall and a curtain of darkness.
My intent is not to belittle sailing performance in the design of a frigate or any other type of sailing vessel. In ship design, balancing sailing performance with effective power is tricky business. What any 18th-century shipbuilder hoped for was a design that provided optimum power and speed for a ship to win duels against ships of equal size, while providing enough speed to escape more heavily gunned ships. In this regard, Joshua Humphreys’s Constitution-class frigates proved their worth more than once, especially in foul weather when adequate freeboard allowed the heavy gun ports to remain open without the ship losing any sailing performance.
In the 18th century, the art of naval architecture was just beginning to become a science. The disclosure of metacentric principles, first recognized and applied in France and in French warships, had brought about the theory of ship stability. In the 1760s, Pierre Bougher, while employed by his government to measure the circumference of the Earth at the equator, found himself often on board ship in tropical seas. The discomfort ofconstant rolling stimulated his scientific mind to probe the causes of ship motion, and the result was the theory of the metacenter. This happened nearly simultaneously with the birth of the metric system, but without any tangible relation. The new theory emphasized the great importance of a lower center of gravity in a ship. For existing ships, it meant that the cargo needed to be loaded in a way that kept the center of gravity as low as possible and that the heavier guns were placed on the lowest gun deck.
THE FIRST U.S. NAVAL ESTABLISHMENT 7 It is doubtful that by 1794 any of this theoretical knowledge had filtered through the shipbuilding profession. But ship designers were clearly aware of the value of a lower center of gravity since freeboard was being reduced uniformly, even among the British and French first-rate three-deckers.
Not until more than half a century later did the experiments of English hydrodynamist William Fronde reveal another area of concern: the nature of ship resistance. One of the components of the resistance in moving a ship through the water, he observed, was the apparent wave-like disturbance. These were self-generated waves, obviously representing consumption of energy, and as the speed of the vessel increased, the waves increased in height and length. At the same time, Fronde reasoned that there was another important component of propulsion energy: the frictional drag of water moving over the hull’s wetted surface. A slowly moving vessel’s total resistance was due mostly to this frictional drag, which increases linearly with speed, while the wave-making drag increases exponentially. Overcoming these basic energy requirements was, then, the necessary power output of the wind on the sails. These observations were given mathematical formulations and recognized as Fronde’s Laws in 1874.
It is unlikely that naval architects and shipbuilders at the turn of the 19th century were thinking in these abstract terms, but the slow and relentless power of empirical thought was progressing in that direction. Even in the backwaters of the Chesapeake Bay, builders of the small, local schooners of 150 tons or so recognized that, for a fast-sailing hull, a sharp entrance was of key importance. The Chesapeake Bay builders also knew, perhaps instinctively or by observation, that a hull with accentuated deadrise and flat quarters combined with a sharp entrance made for excellent sailing performance. Whether they also observed that such a hull slipped through the water with little, if any, noticeable disturbance to the water’s surface is immaterial.
Some of these sharp-built Chesapeake schooners were ordered by the U.S. Navy. Examples are Experiment and Enterprise, built in 1799 on Maryland’s eastern shore. These were types of the famous Baltimore Clippers-which is, of course, another story, recounted in my Pride of Baltimore: The Story ofthe Baltimore Clippers (International Marine, 1992).
OLD IRONSIDES 8
The hulls of these first six federal frigates were obviously designed by an experienced and well-trained hand aware of the basics of hydrodynamics. The entrances were not overly bluff, the lower stems were raked in a nicely rounded cutaway, the keels were trimmed down aft, and the quarters were reasonably flat. But, for competitive sailing, the hulls were not extreme enough to take advantage of the yet-unknown Fronde’s Laws. Humphreys’s concept resulted in high-displacement, deep-draft hulls that would pull a wave astern of them. Altogether they were not the ultimate in performance, they represented a large improvement over their ancestral designs and were decisively better than the hulls of potential enemy ships abroad.
The six frigates were almost all designed to the same mold, with two categories of weight. The three 44-gun Constitution-class ship-Constitution, President, and United State-were the heaviest. They measured approximately 175 feet down the length of the gun deck, which is much the same as the length between perpendiculars or stemhead to stempost at the rabbets. Their maximum beam or breadth to the inside of the planking (molded dimension) was 43 1/2 feet. Their displacement, unladen, was 1,576 tons; loaded, approximately 2,200 tons. The dimensions of the 36-gun frigates of the Constellation class-Constellation, Congress, and Chesapeake–will have to remain irrelevant at this point. The concept, and the question of design
The specific origins and final drafting of the heavy frigate’s design are fogged over by time, loss of records, and contention, and it is not my purpose to be further contentious. What is clear is that Joshua Humphreys, nominally the ship constructor responsible for design and construction, was assisted in design by a very capable and knowledgeable naval architect, Josiah Fox, who had arrived in America from England only a few years before the frigates were authorized. It is said he carne in 1787 on a tour or sojourn, looking at American sources of ship timber. A young man about 30, Fox had received his train.ing in the Royal Navy Dockyard at Plymouth. He was not only a skilled
THE FIRST U.S. NAVAL ESTABLISHMENT 9 draftsman, but was also acquainted with the most modern naval architectural theory of the period. In addition to becoming educated, this young man had broadened his knowledge, having visited, before coming to America, many shipyards on the European continent, including the then great Arsenal in Venice. Fox, soon assigned by Henry Knox to assist Humphreys, decided to stay in America. He was, like Humphreys, a Quaker and no doubt found Philadelphia an agreeable climate. He was also reasonably well connected, being a cousin of Surveyor General Andrew Ellicott and a family friend of a Navy captain, John Barry.
After an applicant examination, Fox was accepted as a temporary administrative assistant to the Secretary ofWar. His first duties were to help in the design of the newly authorized frigates, and he proceeded to the drawing board to draft a design for a 44-gun frigate. Joshua Humphreys, in the meantime, having his own concept of the new frigates, had prepared a model; we must speculate that this was one of the conventional half models which for many years was the practice of shipbuilders prior to construction.
Both of these proposals were submitted to the War Department. It is interesting to compare the two men’s approaches: one a three-dimensional model, the other an orthographic drawing. These two differing expressions might be a comment on the respective age difference between Humphreys and Fox or even evidence of a change in the approach to ship design-a point of technological progress for American shipbuilding.
It would be nice to believe that the War Department selected one of these two proposals, but that apparently was not to be. Upon critical judgment by a third party, John Wharton (Humphreys’s former partner in the Philadelphia shipyard)-together with subsequent discussions among Humphreys, Fox, and the War Department-both proposals were returned for modification and a single agreeable design.
Most naval architects do not agree that a conceptual or even a preliminary design is possible “by committee”; there must be a decision-maker, a central mind in the process. In this case, however, no records, letters, or
OLD IRONSIDES 10 other documents have survived to tell us who determined the final build.ing design of USS Constitution, United States, or President–or, for that matter, any of the three smaller frigates of the Constellation class.
We know, however, that all of the hull designs are of the same character. Two original drawings of Constitution exist: one signed by. Humphreys’s chief draftsman, William Doughty (Figure 1-3) and one signed by Josiah Fox (Figure 1-4). These two separate design drawings-showing the sheer profile, the waterlines, and the body plan-are similar except for small characteristics (Figures 1-4 and 1-5). There are no design drawings of the ships signed by Joshua Humphreys.
Nonetheless, Humphreys clearly was Constitution’s conceptual designer. He, like many naval architects before and since, relied on the skill of h1s chief draftsman, in this case William Doughty, to express his concepts in the then new medium of orthographic projection.
(When naval architects, then and today, employ draftsmen, the employer and not the draftsman is rightly identified as the designer. The draftsman often signs his work as in the existing draft of Constitution. In fact, on this original draft signed “William Doughty, 1794” there is also a note in the upper left under the table of dimensions “original by Joshua Humphreys of Philadelphia.” Whether this is his actual signature or a note of identity is not clear.)
Humphreys decided what these first handsome frigates should look like what their dimensions should be, and what armament they should carry. Also, there is no doubt that, in the refinement of these warship designs, he had profited by Josiah Fox’s knowledgeable input. From some of the surviving correspondence between Fox and Humphreys, we can clearly see some understandable impatience with the design process, as Humphreys kept pushing Fox to speed up the offsets and begin the lofting process. (This sort of work, for any philosophically motivated designer, is pure tedium.) Doubtless there was some friction working between these two men.
Little is said of the third party in the creative process, William Doughty. THE FIRST U.S. NAVAL ESTABLISHMENT 11 Page 12-13 (design drafts of USS Constitution) While being the more silent party, Doughty was a skilled and upwardly mobile master ship’s draftsman. His design drawings, not only of Constitution but of many other vessels, speak for his skill and creativity. He went on to become the Navy’s Chief Naval Constructor from 1813 through the 24 years to follow.
An unbiased and appreciative naval architect in today’s computer world cannot help but be astounded at the quality manual draftsmanship of these late-18th-century naval architects. The fineness and fairness of line, the grace and art in detail, the nearly perfect projections in three views-this sort of technical craftsmanship has long disappeared from marine drawings. The lines draft, the central focus and master delineation of a ship’s hull in three projections, determines the shape of a hull, its speed through the water, its ability to go to windward, its carrying capacity, its
OLD IRONSIDES 14
and to a significant degree its stability and safety in a seaway. The lines drawing is a summary of the ship’s most important characteristics and the foundation upon which all other drawings must rest.
At the National Archives in Washington, one can still examine the original drawings of Constitution by both Fox and Doughty. On both drawings, the draftsmanship is masterful, professional work. Seeing the ship in the design Aside from the remarkable draftsmanship of the design drawings, we must look through these finely drawn lines and see the ship, impressively dis.played in three dimensions. The profile is most striking, showing the beauty of lifting sheer in the bow and stern. The stern, particularly, with its elegant but not overdone quarter galleries, shows the nice rise of the round tuck stern, shaping the run of the hull’s bottom and into the terminus of its mainwale. The bow, with graceful stem knees, extends to meet the cutwater’s upward and curving profile. The lower molding of the stem knee ends at the forward extremity as a simple scrolled base for a figurehead. The figurehead is not shown partly because it is not a responsibility of the designer. A specially assigned carver-sculptor is contracted separately for this. As will be seen later, the figurehead design can be quite controversial. The absence of the figurehead in this case, I believe, renders the forward profile of this design more beautiful.
The spar deck, as drawn in the design drafts, has no closed gunwale, but instead has been left open, enclosed only by a continuous railing on stanchions that define gun emplacements. This heavy guardrail terminates forward abreast of the foremast, and the line of the railcap does not follow the ship’s true sheerline, lending the illusion of a flatter profile. It is believed that shortly after commissioning, or possibly during construction, the after section of open rail from the mainmast aft was closed in by a solid gunwale; this appears as such in the earliest of artist’s renderings. Also, the space enclosed by the head rails, which fall gracefully from below the catheads and curve back up to terminate and form the backrest for a
THE FIRST U.S. NAVAL ESTABLISHMENT 15
figurehead below the bowsprit, was apparently tampered with during the ship’s subsequent years. Ultimately, it became the ugly, boxy enclosure of the head which has persisted until this day. These and other changes wrought by maintenance, alterations, and repairs ordered by captains and
OLD IRONSIDES 16
others-in their zeal to “improve” or change things to their own sense of utility and dimension-have, over time, robbed the ship of much of her original beauty. These changes become very visible in the illustrations in Chapters Three, Four, and Five.
These early drafts by Doughty and Fox that agree so well also show the body plan. This original design form has held its characteristic shape reasonably well over time. Constitution, in her latest measurements, shows some inevitable, gradual, middle-age spread of about 1.2 feet amidships as well as an unmeasured drop in her bilges. The ship’s notable deadrise in a “hollow” garboard shape reflects an early desire by the designer for sailing performance. These hollow garboards still exist, and perhaps are more pronounced.
The waterlines in the half-breadth plan flow easily and gently aft to a finely tapered ending; their shape forward is noticeably lacking in the bluff.ness traditional to the old warships. It can be quickly seen that the maxi.mum breadth is substantially forward of amidships; this occurs (maximum section) at a point less than 70 feet aft of the stem. The idea of carrying the fullness of the hull’s body forward of amidships is a carry-over of the old idea that began among 16th-century English shipwrights, who referred to this shape as “cod’s head and mackerel’s tail.” There is no hydrodynamic support for the notion, but it persisted until the late 19th century, when experimentation in hull shape began with William Fronde’s theories and David W. Taylor’s model experiments. Admiral David W. Taylor, Naval Constructor for the Navy at the turn of the century, was the first to introduce ship-model towing-tank research in naval ship design. He was responsible for the Navy Towing Tank at the Washington Navy Yard. This facility was replaced by the present large hydrodynamic laboratory in Maryland which bears Taylor’s name. His early experiments resulted in such works as Taylor’s Standard Series and other basic references still used today.
I have not yet mentioned the sail plan. The reason is, of course, that the ship designers of the time did not generally concern themselves with drawing the sail plan; instead, the builders customarily consulted the standard listings of spar dimensions for a particular size and rating of ship. This
THE FIRST U.S. NAVAL ESTABLISHMENT 17 practice continued through the mid-19th century, until auxiliary steam engines gradually became the primary power on a vessel, and the sailing rig slowly shrank to insignificance.
Constitution’s lofty sail plan, similar to that of her sister frigates, was unmistakable to her adversaries-even “hull down” on the horizon-as an identifYing and unique rig; by contrast, ships of Nelson’s navy and those of France seldom showed sails above the topgallant and rarely more than the main royal. Their spar dimensions were determined by the rigid limitations of the standard tables for spar size. The maximum sail plan as specified in the 1794 edition of Steel’s Elements of Mastmaking, Sailmaking, and Rigging indicates a sail plan for frigates with royals on all three masts double spritsails below the bowsprit, and studding sails (stun’sails) up through the topgallant on the fore and mainmasts as well as a driver (mizzen) extended by gaff and boom additions. There are also the staysails and Jibs, with the highest staysails between the fore and mainmasts from the main topgallant mast stay (see Figure l-l0).
In contemporary artists’ drawings and prints, the American Constitution class frigate shows sail plans with a taller rig. The masts of Constitution and her sisters were allowed to reach a new proportionate height by extending the length of their poles above the topmast’s upper crosstrees· this can be seen in the lithograph of Constitution vs. Java, drawn “under the direction of a witness to the action.” See Figure 2-20 in Chapter Two illustrating this battle action in the War of 1812. Above their topmasts, there were two upper poles-topgallant mast and royal pole-and above the royal sail on all three masts was an extended length for another and uppermost sail the newly adopted skysail.
It was not until a half century later that any square-rigged ship dared set more sail on three masts. On the larger Yankee Clippers, some audacious captains finally topped the skysails with a triangular cloth called a moonraker. Very few ever carried such lofty sails in their regular sail plan. But one clipper ship built in Baltimore in 1851 and named Seaman’s Bride had long enough upper poles above her royals and skysails to carry rec- OLD IRONSIDES 18 tangular moon sails on all three masts. She was not an exceptionally large clipper ship, but she probably was the most extreme in proportionate sail carrying ability, measured by the sail area/displacement ratio. This ratio’s equation is used in comparing modern racing sailing yachts and usually computes to be near 20. The clipper ship Seaman’s Bride computes out at 77. Her sail area was 63,000 square feet, and her displacement was 668 tons. The sail area/displacement ratio of Constitution is not readily available because we can only estimate her full sail area, but the ratio would probably be in the vicinity of 40.
On warships as well as on fast privateers and the later clipper ships, the upper sails and outer sails (stun’sails) were customarily considered expendable. They were taken in, of course, at the approach of heavy weather and were not carried into battle because of their vulnerability and awkwardess under conditions requiring maneuverability. Skysails soon became more than a novelty and were generally set flying-that is, with only a halyard to their small yard and without braces. These sails on Constitution were essentially cruising sails to enhance her passagemaking speeds. She used them regularly also to outrun enemy ships in a chase. The new navy, and the world in 1800 The United States faced a hostile and belligerent world in 1800. Treaties were being made and broken with the Barbary states amid piratical terrorism. The upheavals in Europe, with Napoleon coming to power and the British response, were producing French privateers that plundered American shipping in the Caribbean and that eventually operated off the American coast. The naval establishment had been created by Congress in 1794. For the next few years, however, there was a reluctance on the part ofCongress to authorize the construction of warships to deal with this growing problem. The eastern states were all for sending a naval force against the Barbary pirates. Those from the agricultural states to the west were just as content to go on paying “tribute,” a euphemism for blackmail. By 1800, however, someone
THE FIRST U.S. NAVAL ESTABLISHMENT 19 ————–~~——————————-. EXPLANATION OF THE REFERENCES ON THE PLATE DELINEATING THE STANDING RIGGING OF A SHIP 20-27 l. Gammoning 26. Mizzen topmast standing backstay 2. Bobstays 27. Mizzen topmast shifting backstay 3. Bowsprit shrouds 28. Fore topmast preventer backstay 4. Fore tackle pendants 29. Fore topmast stay 5. Main tackle pendants 30. Main topmast preventer stay j 6. Mizzen burton pendants 31. Main topmast stay 7. Fore shrouds 32. Mizzen topmast stay l 8. Main shrouds 33. Fore topgallant shrouds 9. Mizzen shrouds 34. Main topgallant shrouds 10. Fore preventer stay 35. Mizzen topgallant shrouds 11. Fore stay 36. Fore topgallant standing backstays 12.Main preventer stay 37. Main topgallant standing backstays 13. Main stay 38. Mizzen topgallant standing backstay 14.Mizzen stay 39. Fore topgallant stay 15. Fore topmast burton pendants
40. Main topgallant stay 16. Main topmast burton pendants 41. Mizzen topgallant stay 17. Fore topmast shrouds 42. Martingale stay 18. Main topmast shrouds 43. Bowsprit horse 19. Mizzen topmast shrouds 44. Fore stay tackle 20. Fore topmast breast backstay
45. Main stay tackle 21.Fore topmast standing backstay
46. Main stay tackle pendant 22. Fore topmast shifting backstay
47. Fore futtock shrouds 23. Main topmast breast backstay
48. Main futtock shrouds 24. Main topmast standing backstay
49. Mizzen futtock shrouds 25. Main topmast shifting backstay
50. Stay tackle tricing lines Old IRIONSIDES: THE FIRST U.S. NAVAL ESTABLSIHMENT 20-27
EXPLANATION OF THE REFERENCES OF THE PLATE DELINEATING THE FORE-AND-AFT SAILS OF A SHIP l. Jib 36. Main topmast staysail sheets 2. Fore topmast staysail
37. Middle staysail stay 3. Fore staysail
38. Middle staysail halyards 4. Main staysail
39. Middle staysail downhauler 5. Main topmast staysail
40. Middle staysail tacks 6. Middle staysail
41. Middle staysail sheets 7. Main topgallant staysail
42. Middle staysail tricing line 8. Mizzen staysail
43. Main topgallant staysail stay 9. Mizzen topmast staysail
44. Main topgallant staysail halyards 10. Mizzen topgallant staysail
45. Main topgallant staysail downhauler 11. Mizzen
46. Main topgallant staysail tacks !
12. Jib downhauler
47. Main topgallant staysail sheets 13. Jib halyards
48. Mizzen stay 14. Jib sheets
49. Mizzen staysail halyards 15. Jib stay
50. Mizzen staysail downhauler 16. Jib outhauler
51. Mizzen staysail brails 17. Jib inhauler
52. Mizzen staysail tacks 18. Fore topmast stay
53. Mizzen staysail sheets 19. Fore topmast staysail downhauler
54. Mizzen topmast stay • 20. Fore topmast staysail halyards
55. Mizzen topmast staysail halyards
21. Fore topmast staysail sheets
56. Mizzen topmast staysail downhauler 22. Fore topmast staysail outhauler
57. Mizzen topmast staysail tacks 23. Fore preventer stay
58. Mizzen topmast staysail sheets 24. Fore staysail halyards
59. Mizzen topgallant stay 25. Fore staysail downhauler
60. Mizzen topgallant staysail halyards 26. Fore staysail sheets
61. Mizzen topgallant staysail down· 27. Main staysail stay hauler
28. Main staysail halyards
62. Mizzen topgallant staysail tacks
29. Main staysail downhauler
63. Mizzen topgallant staysail sheets
30. Main staysail sheets 64. Tack of the mizzen course .
31. Main topmast preventer stay
65. Sheet of the mizzen course
32. Main topmast staysail halyards
66. Throat brails of the mizzen course
33. Main topmast staysail downhauler
67. Middle brails of the mizzen course
34. Main topmast staysail brails
68. Peak brails of the mizzen course 35. Main topmast staysail tacks
69. Fancy line THE FIRST U.S. NAVAL ESTABLISHMENT 25
EXPLANATION OF THE REFERENCES ON THE PLATE DELINEATING THE SQUARE SAILS OF A SHIP
l. Fore course 36. Main topsail buntlines 37. Main topsail bowlines 2. Main course 38. Main topsail bowline bridles 3. Fore topsail 4. Main topsail 39. Mizzen topsail buntlines 40. Mizzen topsail bowline 5.Mizzen topsail 41. Mizzen topsail bowline bridles 6. Fore topgallant sail 42. Fore topgallant bowlines 7. Main topgallant sail 43. Fore topgallant bowline bridles 8.Mizzen topgallant sail 9. Fore royal 44. Main topgallant bowlines 45. Main topgallant bowline bridles 10. Main royal 46. Mizzen topgallant bowline 11. Mizzen royal 47. Fore royal halyards 12. Driver
48. Main royal halyards
13. Fore studding sails
49. Mizzen royal halyards
14. Main studding sails 15. Fore topmast studding sails
50. Driver halyards 16. Main topmast studding sails
51. Driver sheet 17. Fore topgallant studding sails
52. Driver downhauler
18. Main topgallant studding sails
53. Fore studding sail inner halyards 19. Spritsail Course
54. Main studding sail inner halyards 20. Spritsail topsail
55. Fore studding sail boom guy 21. Fore sail sheets
56. Fore studding sail tacks 22. Fore sail tacks
57. Fore studding sail sheet
23. Fore sail leech lines
58. Main studding sail tacks
24. Fore sail buntlines
59. Fore topmast studding sail downhauler 25. Fore sail bowlines 60. Fore topmast studding sail tack
26. Fore sail bowline bridles 61. Main topmast studding sail downhauler 27. Main sheets
28. Main tack 62. Main topmast studding sail tack
29. Main sail leech lines
63. Fore topgallant studding sail tack
30. Main sail buntlines 31. Main sail bowlines
64. Main topgallant studding sail tack 32. Main sail bowline bridles
65. Spritsail clew line 33. Fore topsail buntlines
66. Spritsail buntline 34. Fore topsail bowlines
67. Spritsail sheets 35. Fore topsail bowline bridles
68. Spritsail topsail sheets THE FIRST U.S. NAVAL ESTABLISHMENT 27 must have finally remembered the ringing words ofJohn Harper a few years earlier, “Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute.”
Several acts of Congress had authorized 12 ships of not less than 32 guns each, 12 ships of not less than 20 guns each, and six of no less than 18 guns, plus several galleys and revenue cutters. It should be noted, however, that while this was the authorized navy of U.S. warships, for lack of funding not all of these ships were built. The immediate and most threatening enemy was, of all nations, this
country’s earliest and most reliable friend-the emerging Republic of
France. France had just struggled from beneath the anarchistic and bloody
revolution to be taken over by the militaristic rule ofNapoleon Bonaparte,
who saw the world as an unlimited target of conquest. This early naval
activity between the United States and France has become known as the
Quasi War, because while war was never officially declared, the encounters-many of them in American harbors-were full of hostility.
Major U.S. Navy warships The following is a brief list of the vessels of our early Navy in the first • decade of the 19th centnry, with notes on each ship’s final destiny. CONSTITUTION U.S. Frigates CLASS Launched Disposition Constitution
Survivor, still in commission 1993
Captured by British Squadron January 14, 1815. Broken up Portsmouth, England, 1817
Lost to Confederates April10, 1861. Broken up 1865, Norfolk, VA
OLD IRONSIDES 28 Constellation
Broken up 1853, Norfolk, VA
Norfolk, VA Broken up 1836
Captured by British HMS Shannon July 13, 1813. Broken up 1820
U.S. Subscription Frigates
Captured by Tripolitan pirates, destroyed by Constitution boarding party, February 1803
Burned in Washington Navy Yard by British, August 18!4
Lost in combat 1814 in South Pacific to British frigate and corvette
Burned in Washington Navy Yard by British, August 18!4
Burned in Penobscot Bay to prevent capture, September 1814
Broken up Norfolk Navy Yard, 1829
Captured Frigates Taken into the U.S. NAvy
Captured 1812 by frigate United State. Broken up Norfolk Navy Yard, 1836
Alert (British ship, sloop-of-war)
Captured 1812 by frigate Essex. Broken up Norfolk Navy Yard, 1829
THE FIRST U.S. NAVAL ESTABLISHMENT 29
The contract for building one of the Navy’s large 44-gun frigates was given to the Hartt Brothers Shipyard in Boston in 1795. In that same year, Edmund Hartt, the director of the yard and a master shipbuilder, and the naval constructor, George Claighorne, proceeded with the construction of this new frigate, ultimately to be named Constitution. (An agreement on names of each new frigate came in the following year).
There was nothing particularly unusual about the way the Hartt Brothers put together Constitution (details on the frigate’s construction are in Chapter Four). Essentially they followed the drawings and construction process originated by Joshua Humphreys and his draftsman William Doughty. At the time, a ship’s design consisted essentially of the hull’s configuration in three projections-the sheer profile, the half-breadth plan, and the body plan. These are apparent in the Doughty’s illustration in Figure 1-3.
There were no detailed drawings for the ship’s structure or even general structural drawings. There were, however, written instructions for the scantlings (timber and planking dimensions) and for any special structures or departures from conventional shipbuilding practices. These instructions can be considered today as a form of specifications.
The only mystery surrounding Constitution’s construction is whether or not the builders put diagonal rider frames in the ships’s bottom on top of the ceiling-as allegedly specified by Humphreys. Diagonal rider frames designed to prevent “hogging,” or the upward curvature of the hull at midkeel-were not standard or common design elements in a frigate’s structure. On the other hand, the 44-gun vessels were built to a newer concept. These frigates were large and heavy, very close in hull dimension but slightly smaller than the popular 74-gun ships. And the 74-gun ships were built with diagonal rider frames. But now, nearly 200 years after Constitution was built, there is no evidence of diagonal rider frames. They are not now in the ship and there is no evidence that they ever were. Some say these rider frames were removed during an extensive overhaul in the mid-19th century. Indeed, there were several such overhauls, but there is no record or main-
OLD IRONSIDES 30
tenance log that indicates such a major de-structuring. To the contrary,records reporting an early evidence of ship hogging indicate that these longitudinal strength timbers were not part of the ship’s original structure.
At any rate, the construction of Constitution proceeded full course without an notable departure from the usual methodology: laying the eke, framing the ship, placing the keelson, and construction of the ceiling, external planking, and decking, and finally, finishing the exterior. There were a few delays caused by Washington’s on-again off-again treaties with the Mediterranean pirate countries, but by the end of October 1797, she was ready for launching. Launching problems
Constitution still had not been fitted out when the first American warships put to sea in September 1797-first Ganges, a converted merchant ship of 24 guns, under Captain Dale, followed by Constellation, 36 guns under Captain Truxton-heading for the Caribbean to square off against the French ships in the Quasi War.
At the time, Constitution was a month away from launching. A common rumor among shipbuilders was that if a ship had bad luck in launching, she would always be plagued by bad luck. This may have been true or not: One of Constitution’s sister frigates, United States, was badly damaged in launching, and she carried the scars throughout her career, which was not altogether distinguishing. Constitution was not damaged, but became embarrassingly stuck on the launching ways; it took three attempts before she finally became waterborne.
To the shipbuilder, this sort of performance, rightly or wrongly, reflected badly upon his credibility. And while it is true that such things should not happen, as ships became larger throughout the last century it became obvious that the launching procedure was fraught with hazards-and that there was more at risk in costs and in danger to lives and property. In modern times, perhaps since the late 19th century, the naval architect, the ship’s designer, has been responsible for a safe launching.
Sending a massive body weighing hundreds, even thousands or more
THE FIRS U.S. NAVAL ESTABLISHMENT 31 tons down an incline requires serious engineering preparation. If done wrong, sometimes the ship moves too fast, and the arresting system is inadequate to stop it within a safe distance. Sometimes the ship come to a stop partway down the launching ways-too too far from flatten! Sometimes it may slew sideways and fall from the launching ways. And, in recent times as well as historically, upon reaching the water the ship may fail to floor upright-capsizing! Such a catastrophes are rare, and there is little or no excuse for them. The only excuse at the time of Constitution’s launching two centuries ago was that there was little beyond experience and empirical knowledge to safeguard against such mistakes.
Today, launching is even more of a major engineering undertaking, but evolution in procedural guidance and science now ensure reasonable safety. The problem in Boston in October 1797, when Constitution stubbornly came to rest partway down the launching ways, was blamed on the insufficient downward angle, or declivity, of the ways.
At the time of Constitution’s launching, the launching process had remained virtually unchanged since the 16th century. And with minor variations, it was a universal accepted practice. It works like this: The ship is most commonly supported in the building process by keel blocks and side shoring, both of which rest firmly on the shipyard’s solid ground or reinforced ground base which slopes toward the water. As launching day approaches, the ways-two broad wooden (or steel) track-like paths-are prepared on both sides of the keel black at equal and adequate positions, and lubricant is spread upon them. A launching cradle is built on top of the ground ways, consisting of blocking to the the ship’s bilges for about two-thirds or more of its length.
Within a short time before launching (a day or so), the keel blocks and structure that has supported the growing ship are removed, and the ship settles in to the launching cradle. On launching day, the only thing preventing the ship from beginning the fateful journey to the waters is a heavy trigger-blocking mechanism locking the launching cradle in place. In the day of the federal frigates the custom was to block the movement of the launching cradle by angling one or two heavy timbers against below the
OLD IRONSIDES 32
end of the ship. Beneath this critical structure was a pit large enough for a man to jump into after he had struck the final blow with a sledgehammer, knocking out the trigger blocks holding the ship. This hazardous job was sometimes given to a brave volunteer or to a convict promised freedom.
No one knows why Constitution halted or faltered in her journey to the water, but there could have been a number of reasons other than lack of adequate declivity.
The three 44-gun frigates were the largest ships in the experience of American shipbuilders in 1796-97. They were not only heavier, they were substantially longer. The launching formulae used for smaller vessels were apparently not totally reliable for these heavy frigates. As was told earlier, Constitution’s sister, United States encountered serious damage in launching. This may have been the result of inadequate lubricant–the heat of friction in launching is a function of the force or weight on the moving surface. (Launching is generally accompanied by smoking ways from the generated heat.) The greater the weight, the more heat to consume the lubricant. Temperature and humidity can also affect the launching ways. These factors may well have not been adequate for the heavier frigates. None of the lighter three frigates encountered launching trouble. It would seem more probable that one or more of the various controlling factors other than declivity held up Constitution’s flotation.
In any event, Constitution finally was afloat by October 1797. At this time, however, Congress was satisfied at least momentarily with the “peace” arrangements with the Barbary terrorists. No more frigates could be supported, and she was put in limbo–until 1798 brought new threats to our shipping. In March of that year, Constitution under Congressional authorization began fitting out for sea.’ The Quasi War with France, particularly in the Caribbean and the southern coastal states, was becoming very troublesome. There were many American merchant ships being plundered and captured by French cruisers and privateers. Some 32 ships, brigs, and schooners were reported lost by the Secretary ofState to the President, ten times as many were reported in the newspaper.It was time that Constitution got to sea.