Imagine, for a moment, working at a shipyard in Boston at the end of the 18th century. You are a citizen of a nation less than a decade old. Your new country has emerged from a brutal war on its own soil, and is still in the process of creating the institutions necessary for its survival. Surrounded by hundred and hundreds of miles of coastline, your new country needs, most of all, a navy. So you are working with other carpenters, coppersmiths, and iron workers to build a frigate, an imposing warship that will be needed to fight the country’s battles at sea. What you do not realize, though, is that the ship you are hard at work constructing will fight pirates, engage in naval combat, sail around the world many times, and remain in service for over 220 years.
On a beautiful Sunday morning during the first weekend of summer, I drove to Boston Navy Yard, located on the northern end of Boston Harbor. Established in 1800 and referred to originally as Charlestown Navy Yard, it was a base for the US Navy until 1975. Since then, it has been overseen by the National Park Service and is the home for the USS Constitution and the destroyer USS Cassin Young, both free and open to visits by the public.
Completed in 1797, the USS Constitution was one of six frigates ordered for the brand new US Navy. Carrying a complement of 450 sailors and Marines, the ship was equipped with 52 cannons, representing the pinnacle of warship development in the 18th century. Its first action was to fight against pirates based in North Africa (the Barbary Pirates). A few years later, it would be deployed in the War of 1812, where it defeated five British warships. In one battle, against the HMS Guerriere, cannon fire from the British ship harmlessly bounced off the thick hull of the Constitution, the solid oak and pine wood deflecting the fire as if the ship were made from metal. After this battle the ship received its nickname: “Old Ironsides.” Reconstructed and restored several times over the years, the Constitution has served as a museum ship in Boston since 1907, although it has left its berth to travel the world as an ambassador for this nation many times since then.
Not far away, a granite tower rises high above the surrounding buildings. The Bunker Hill Monument commemorates the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775. The British Army was besieging Boston, and to prevent the British from sending reinforcements from ships in the Harbor, colonial forces secretly occupied Bunker Hill and Breed’s Hill during the night of June 16th. Colonial forces held off the British and inflicted heavy casualties on the attackers for much of the day as the British Army attempted to retake the hills. The colonists eventually lost, however, when they ran out of ammunition. Despite losing the battle, the colonists were heartened by the knowledge that they had the ability to stand up to the mightiest army in the world at that time. Between 1825 and 1843, a granite tower was built on Breed’s Hill to commemorate the battle. The 221-foot tall tower is overseen by the National Park Service and is open to members of the public who wish to climb to the top.
I arrived back home exhausted but very happy with my journey. Founded in 1630, the city of Boston is full of history, and today’s trip is further evidence of that. There is so much to see and do! If you are in Boston, take a trip to Charlestown to visit the Boston Navy Yard. The USS Constitution Museum is a great place to learn about America’s most famous warship. The USS Constitution is available to visit, along with the USS Cassin Young in the harbor. And the Bunker Hill Monument is only a few blocks away. The museums and ships are all open daily from 10:00 am – 5:00 pm. Best of all, everything is free (although donations are accepted)! Thank for coming along on today’s adventure!