Boston’s USS Constitution Museum will be open Labor Day, giving adults and school children the chance to experience the life of a sailor aboard the USS Constitution. This family-friendly, interactive exhibit covers everything from signing up, deciding what to pack, scrubbing the deck, and much more.
The name of the exhibit is All Hands on Deck: A Sailor’s Life in 1812. Museum educators, staff and volunteers spent 10 years researching and creating a display that is both fun and educational. It opened in 2009 and provides additional insight to the United States Navy’s oldest commissioned warship still afloat.
The USS Constitution, nicknamed “Old Ironsides,” was built in Boston as the result of the Naval Armament Act signed by George Washington in 1794. That act called for six frigates–medium-sized, square-rigged warships, to be constructed along the eastern seaboard. Constitution was one of those six. She was launched October 21, 1797, and began proving herself in battles at sea. By the time she entered the War of 1812, she was already a veteran, having won her engagements in both the Quasi War with France and the Barbary Wars.
It was her success in the War of 1812 that secured her place in American and naval history. She defeated four British ships and each of her three captains earned a congressional gold medal. The peace treaty between England and the United States was signed in Ghent, Belgium, on December 24, 1814, and ratified February 15, 1815. The USS Constitution was still at sea, off the coast of Madeira, Spain, so she didn’t know the war had ended; neither did the British ships, HMS Cyane and HMS Levant. A battle took place on February 20, 1815, resulting in victory for Constitution.
In retrospect, that February 20th battle set records that still remain intact. It was the last time the United States and Great Britain were on opposite sides of an armed conflict. It was also the last time her cannons were fired in combat.
The museum and ship are located in the Charlestown Navy Yard, part of the Boston National Historical Park. The frigate has been listed as a National Historic Landmark since 1960. More information is available about the ship and museum on their websites.
Written by: Cynthia Collins, Senior Museum Correspondent