U.S.S. Constitution Makes History Again
Yesterday was a historic moment in Boston. The War of 1812 began on June 18 by a vote of the American Congress. On August 2, 1812, U.S. Frigate Constitution left her home port of Boston to patrol the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the area of the Atlantic Ocean off the coasts of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.
On 18 August an American privateer reported to Constitution that a British frigate could be found south of Nova Scotia. The following afternoon, she caught sight of the sail of Guerriere. They pulled alongside and engaged in gunfire at about six o’clock in the evening. During the battle, one of Guerriere’s crew witnessed their cannonballs bouncing off of Constitution’s sides and declared “Her sides are made of iron!” By seven o’clock, Guerriere’s masts were destroyed and her crew surrendered.
“Old Ironsides” is now the oldest commissioned warship in America. In 1881, a few years after passing the century mark, she returned to the U.S. Navy Yard from which she was first launched in 1797. She has been permanently berthed there ever since. To mark her bicentennial in 1997 she set sail under her own power for the first time since 1881.
Yesterday, for only the second time in more than 131 years, she set sail again under her own power to mark the anniversary of the War of 1812, and her battle against Guerriere. She was towed out into Boston Harbor, and raised some of her sail for a short cruise. Because of her age, they do not use all of her sails, and tugboats remain at her sides.
Friends of mine (brothers) are extremely lucky. Two of their ancestors served on board Constitution. In the early part of the nineteenth century, she was stationed at Port Mahon on the island of Minorca, conducting a goodwill tour around the Mediterranean. At this time, officers on board U.S. Navy ships were members of the Navy, but crewmembers were recruited around the world to serve on the ships. They were not considered members of the Navy.
Martin Jose Fayas Pons and Rafael Coll Sintes were locals from Minorca who joined Constitution at Port Mahon. After serving on board for a few years, Constitution was ordered to return to America. Martin and Rafael decided to emigrate to America. Martin disembarked to get his wife and three children to bring them to America. Rafael was much younger and stayed on board the ship on her voyage home.
Martin settled in Charlestown with his family. Rafael, too, chose to settle in there. Whether or not it was to be near Martin is unknown. In 1853 Rafael married Martin’s daughter Madalena. Their daughter Grace is a great-grandmother of my friends.
Myke and Alan are extremely lucky individuals. How many people can stand on the deck of the actual ship that brought their ancestor to America in 1840? And yesterday, they got to see Constitution’s sails billow and carry her across the open water. You can read more about the events in “USS Constitution to Mark Anniversary with Rare Voyage” and see pictures in “Historic Day for the USS Constitution.”