Digital Commonwealth

War of 1812

USS Constitution Museum

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The USS Constitution Museum's War of 1812 collection includes printed pamphlets, rare books, certificates, broadsides, and manuscript correspondence, logs, and journals. Together the works document USS Constitution's role in the War of 1812, as well as other political and military aspects of the conflict.

The ship is well known for its victories during the War of 1812, and the collection includes a wealth of documents that place the reader in the heat of battle. There is Captain Isaac Hull's report to the Secretary of the Navy about Constitution's hair-breadth escape from a British squadron soon after war is declared. A letter from Hull, requesting a survey of Constitution after its battle with HMS Guerriere, when the ship earned the nickname "Old Ironsides," speaks to the damage suffered in combat. A letter from Marine Lt. John Contee to Lewis Bush recounts the death of the recipient's brother in the battle. A broadside featuring the popular song "The Constitution and the Guerriere," published soon after the ship returned to Boston, provides evidence of the public acclaim afforded the ship and its crew. Several months after defeating Guerriere, Constitution, under the command of William Bainbridge, captured HMS Java off the coast of Brazil. Royal Navy Captain John Marshall's letter is an eyewitness account of the battle and aftermath.

A sailor's life was not all battle and celebration. The collection contains several significant pieces that illuminate life at sea during the period. The letter book of Midshipman Pardon Whipple includes letters written home by a thoughtful and highly-literate young officer. The memoir of Marine fifer Thomas Byron, a rare manuscript by an enlisted man, brings the views of one who served on board throughout the entire war. Isaac Mayo's midshipman's journal offers a picture of navy life and the earliest known reference to "Uncle Sam."

Locations in this Collection: