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    "The first Navy Veterans' Organization created on, and for, the World Wide Web."
    Founder Edward C. Reese,
    NCCS, USN, Retired
    NAVetsUSA Logo



    Welcome aboard the frigate "Old Ironsides," the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world. I am Ed Reese and I will be showing you around the ship. Should you have any questions along the way, please don't hesitate to ask them. I'11 do my best to get you an answer.


    The deck we are now on is called the "spar deck." It is made of fir planks 4 1/2 inches thick. From here, all the sails and rigging are handled. Here, on the forward portion of the spar deck or forecastle (focísíle), are located the 2 1/2 ton anchors, the 2 bow chasers, a portion of the carronade battery, the "Charley Noble" (or galley smoke-stack), and the ship's bell.

    Up forward there, through the square ports is the head area, which contained the crew's bathroom. A head is the name for a ship's bathroom today, no matter where it is located.


    Before talking more about the guns and things, perhaps Iíd better say a few words about the way the ship is constructed. Constitutionís hull, which has a maximum thickness of about 21 inches, is composed of layers of oak. Originally built of live oak, the hull was unusually heavy for a ship of this type.
    She never had any iron on her sides. It was the toughness of the wood that caused the cannonballs to bounce off and resulted in her nickname CONSTITUTION is a square-rigged ship that carried about three
    dozen sails totaling almost an acre in area. Each pine mast consists of three sections. The lowest section in each case is made up of four trees, fitted together and banded. This construction was unusual for the time and further contributed to her success. She never lost a battle.

        The carronades are termed "32-pounders" because they fired 32 pound solid shot. They are of  lightweight constitution as cannon g0 -- about a ton and a half each on their carriages -- and were developed in Carron, Scotland; hence the name "carronade." These guns provided the heavy smashing power at ranges of under 400 yards. It required from 4 to 9 men to serve each gun.

        Strictly speaking, the bow chasers are l8-pounders that have been rebored as 24-pounders. This was done to have long range but light weight guns available for the work of trying to slow down
    or stop an enemy you were attempting to overtake. Since firing was slow and carefully calculated, the risk of using less strongly constructed guns was acceptable.

    I' m sure most of you are familiar with the use of a ship's bell to mark the passing hours. The practice originated when sand glasses were used to tell the time. Usually, a young ship's boy, perhaps 8 or 10 years old, was given the task of turning the glass promptly each half hour as the sand ran out. To help the duty or watch officer know he was on the Job, he was required to strike the bell the number of times he had turned the glass since assuming the duty. Duty periods, or watches, normally ran for four hours, so that the boy struck the bell 8 times, increasing the number of strokes by one each time.

    CONSTITUTION carried a varying number of boats at one time or another. We presently show only 3: the pinnace, here, the largest size carried, and 2 quarter-boats which are outboard in the davits. The starboard quarterboat usually served as the Captain's personal boat, or "gig"


          The gentleman approaching is the ship's chaplain. "Men of the cloth" have been a part of the Navy since the earliest days. Back then, they were schoolmasters for the shipís boys and midshipmen, too. Good day, Chaplain.

    We'll go below now. Please use the handrails and lines where provided, and watch out for the low overhead. You will find the decks uneven in places and sometimes cluttered with fittings, so please
    mind your step. 


         We are now on the "gun deck". Here, the 30 24-pounder long guns are located. These are the long range punch in CONSTITUTION.

    They could fire a 24 pound solid shot about 1200 yards. At a thousand yards, such a shot could penetrate about 20 inches of hard wood. As we move about this deck, you will notice the guns are of two different models: the 18 amidships are of British design and manufacture, while the 6 at either end were made here in America.

    These big beauties weigh more than 3 tons each as they sit here. Each gun crew, which numbered from 9 to 14 men, viewed its gun with special pride and gave it a patriotic or more personal name. You'll 
    see some above the guns as we move along.

    Here amidships are located the grog tub and the scuttlebutt. "Grog" was a mixture of rum and water, generally served to the crew twice a day. The mix was developed by the British Admiral Vernon, who found that it became unpalatable rather quickly, and so lessened the odds that a man would try to save up for a toot. The  Admiral was noted for his wearing of a grogram cloak, and was nick-named "Old Grog". That's where the name comes from.

    The grog tub's companion is the "scuttlebutt", from which the sailors' daily drinking water ration was issued. A "butt" is a kind of barrel, and a "scuttle" is a hole through which something is passed or taken, and so this is a "a scuttlebutt"

          As the men awaited their ration from the scuttlebutt, they would joke and exchange the latest rumors or gossip. Gradually, such talk, too, became known as "scuttlebutt"


     Moving forward, we come to the "Caboose" or "Camboose", more popularly known as the "galley". This was the only place a fire was allowed in the ship. All the cooking was done here in these three kettles on the forward side. Boiling was the main way things were cooked. Around this area in the early days one could find garlands of dried vegetables and spices, such as onions and garlic, hung from the overhead beams for ready use by the cook. A Marine guard prevented unauthorized consumption of food, water, and grog.

          Every afternoon at about 4, the meat for the following day would be brought up from the hold and placed in this harness cask. Here, it was soaked overnight in fresh water, changed every four hours, to get some of the salt out of it. It was divided up for the various eating groups, or "messes", in the morning. The term "harness" cask comes from the habit of the sailors in referring to the meat as being some old harness the penny-pinching supply officer, or "purser", had bought very cheaply.

          At the rear of the caboose is an open hearth. It was mainly used as the armorer,s forge, although on occasion, a small bullock might be roasted on a spit here. The little "Shipmate" brand stove you see here now was put there for the crew use during the 1931-34
    cruises around the country.

    Follow me, please. 

          Here, on either side of the mainmast, are the 4- and 8-man bilge pumps. Every large wooden ship, no matter how well constructed, takes on a certain amount of water. By using these pumps periodically, the water level in any part of the bilge would be kept to a minimum --2 inches or less.

    Please Stop NEAR CAPSTAN.

         Abaft the 8-man bilge pump is the gun deck capstan. Manned by 1 to 6 men on each of 12 bars, this capstan was used to weigh anchor.
         All along this portion of the gun deck, while the ship was on :cruise, the various warrant officers would have their mates working it their particular skills. The cooper might be making or repairing 'barrels. The cordwainer might be repairing shoes or restoring chafing ;ear, and so it went. Each had a section of the deck here on the starboard side allotted to him.

    Please MOVE AFT.

    This little space is the Captain's pantry. His food was cooked forward at the caboose and brought here for formal serving by his steward.


    We are now in the Captain's forward cabin, or day cabin, which, as you can see, was shared with 4 great guns. In the area of each gun, you can see its rammer and sponge and worm, as well as the water bucket for emergencies. It was here in June of 1805 that peace with Tripoli was agreed to. At this gun (STARBOARD AFT), two men were killed and one wounded in the 185e fight against HMS GUERRIERE.

    Through these doors, you can view the after cabin in the center and sleeping cabins on either side. There are two bunks provided, as CONSTITUTION served most frequently as a flagship. Both the Commodore and the Captain shared these quarters. The desk visible on the starboard side of the after cabin belonged to Charles Stewart, who was in command when CONSTITUTION defeated the British warships CYANE and LEVANT on 20 February 1835.

    You may have noticed that the deck here in the forward cabin contains a number of 'daylights". These pieces of glass, cut like diamonds, helped to provide more light to the deck below. You'll be able to see them from the other side shortly. Remember that, aside from any natural lighting, only a relatively few lanterns were permitted below decks for people to see by. A Marine sentry was stationed outside the cabin to prevent unauthorized entry.


    As we leave the day cabin and proceed forward along the port side we are walking through the area where, on a quiet day at sea, the off duty officers would set up their wicker chairs of folding stools after working hours, and read, smoke, and generally relax. Their wardroom, as you will see, was neither as well lighted nor ventilated.


         You no doubt have noticed that we have done several "unhistorical" things on the ship to improve your visit and insure the ship's safety. Fluorescent lighting has been installed so that you can see better here below decks, and we have a modern day ventilation and heating system. The ship is fitted with an automatic sprinkling system in case of fire. This system is connected to the city water supply, but there is also a 5000 gallon tank hidden away in the ship's cargo hold that will provide water in an emergency.

    Watch your step please, as we go down to the berth deck.



    Here, on the "berth deck", slept everyone except the Captain and Commodore. The average number in the crew was 450, divided into two work sections, or "watches". With care, about 220 hammocks can be slung down here at 8 time. You can get some idea of how close things were from the few 
    we put up for you.


    Near the center of the berthing deck is the fresh water pump. Water casks, down below in the hold, were dumped into the "well" from which this pump operated. In addition to the spigot here, there was a pipe, presently partially missing, that serviced the galley on the deck above.


         Moving forward now, we come to one of the most popular spots on the tour: the ship's brig, or jail. If you like you may try out either of the cells, but in keeping with the old rules, no more than four prisoners in a cell at a time. Sleeping arrangements become impossible otherwise.


          Just ahead of the brig is the area known as "sickbay" or the hospital. In her early days, CONSTITUTION war not so equipped, and this space probably was a storeroom if, indeed it existed at all. In those days, the surgeon plied his trade whenever was convenient at the moment. In battle, he and his mates worked in the cockpit, which I will show you shortly.


    As we head aft, you will notice the boxes stowed along the berth deck. These are the "mess chests" which held the eating utensils for the crew. Each mess consisted of eight men, one of whom had the duty of tending to the selection and service of food for his mess mates. Each man took his turn at this chore on a weekly basis. Their "table" consisted of a piece of canvas about 3.1/2 feet square, which they might brighten by painting red or white or yellow, or in a simple pattern of stripes or checks. The messman set the "table", brought :he prepared food down from the galley in a pail, and all sat around it, Spearing tidbits and eating in a sort of picnic fashion. When they were done, the messman would clean the utensils and canvas and pack it all away in the chest until the next meal.


    These first staterooms we're coming to were for the warrant officers: the boatswain, the gunner, the carpenter, etc. They were the working technical experts mainly responsible for the material well-being of the ship.    This forwardmost stateroom to starboard is unique in that it doubled  as the supply office. its occupant not only did his paperwork at the standup deck, he folded out the top and slept on the bunk installed inside, The little cabinet Forward of the mainmast is the warrant officer's pantry. They dined in that space that looks like a slightly enlarged stateroom.


    This next section, variously called steerage or the gun room, was :he living area for the midshipmen, the officers in training. Each of the 2 staterooms was "home" to 4 "mids". They slept in hammocks and used folding canvas stools and, at times, even folding tables to make the most of the small space they had. The stateroom on the port side is generally outfitted in this manner. Down below there, you can see the red deck of the cockpit. In, battle, it was the operating room of the surgeon. The red paint made the bloody work less obvious. There are also 4 small staterooms down there where the surgeon's mates lived in quieter times. 


    And now we are entering the wardroom. Here, the officers lived and ate. It was a rather dark and close space despite the airports and daylights, and you can see why they would want to relax in the greater
    openness of the gun deck. The cabins on the port side ware occupied by the staff officers, such as the surgeon and chaplain, while those to starboard housed the line, or operating officers -- the lieutenants. The staterooms have been labeled to assist you in understanding the arrangements. The
    First Lieutenant was the ship's Executive Officer and was next senior to the Captain. The ranks of Commander and Lieutenant Commander were later developments.

          The square hatch in the deck leads to the powder filling room next to the after magazine. Down there, black powder was transferred from the 60-pound kegs to leather powder buckets. The buckets, each containing one charge for a gun, were passed up to the 8 to 10 year old "powder monkeys", who ran them to their assigned guns.

          Having 8 lighted candle or lantern in the magazine would be very dangerous. "Light Boxes" were built into the bulkheads, or walls, of the magazines. Lanterns were lowered into these copper lined boxes, and their flickering light shone through glass ports into the magazine.
    There is no doubt about it: working conditions were far from ideal.

          This area across the rear of the wardroom is the officer's pantry, from where their Food was served. Notice the rudder tiller near the overhead. Anyone working back here was always ducking as it moved back and forth. The tiller ropes lead forward in these channels and
    then up to the helm on the spar deck.

          The black pot hanging in there is representative of those that would be hung around the ship to ease the chill and dampness. When in use, it would hold either a heated cannon ball or some smoldering
    coals. Not exactly a central heating system.



         Now we'll return to the rpar deck, please be careful as you climb the ladders.   All the tall people can be comfortable again. Starting aft on the spar deck, we see the skylight to the Captain's cabin. When he wasn't actually on deck, he could pretty well keep track of what was happening by listening to the activity on the deck above him.  The mizzenmast is the shortest: of the three, being only about 175 feet tall. The mainmast, of course, 
    is the tallest, at 220 feet.

          The platforms up there are called "fighting tops". From there, Marine snipers would try to shoot an enemy ship's officers and helmsman. Their size is deceptive. The one on the mainmast, for example
    is 15 feet by 22 feet, solid oak, and weighs just over 5 tone.   Forward of the mizzenmast is the ship's helm. Under ordinary conditions, 2 men would be stationed here, one on either aide; the
    senior on the windward, or higher side. In battle or stormy weather, 4 men would be required. To keep the ship heading in a desired direction, the helmsman would mind his helm in such a way as to keep the compass steady on the ordered course. Compasses were kept in each of 2 "binnacles"  as you see here.

    Some of you may be wondering how anyone should see out from thi s deck in order to direct the ship. Located on either side here are folding platforms called "horse blocks". The captain or watch officer would stand up there, quite exposed in battle, make his decisions, and give his commands. During the Fight with GUERRIERE, it is said that Captain Hull got to jumping around so vigorously that he split his pants Above the "horse blocks" on the cap rail, you can see a netting arrangement. In these long channels on either side were stowed the rolled up crew's hammocks. Aside From opening up the berth deck placing them here each day served 2 purposes it aired out the bedding and kept it fresher longer; and, in battle, it provided a "damper" on
    flying wood splinters.

    PLEASE follow me to the EXIT PORT.

    Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, that concludes your tour of USS CONSTITUTION. I hope you have enjoyed it, and that I have been able to give you a glimpse of life aboard this wonderful ship.
    As you depart, please sign Our Ship's Log
    Please come again. "Old Ironsides" after all, does belong to you.Please watch your step.
    Thanks for Visiting
    Ed Reese, Crew Member 

    Constitution Today

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Last updated 21 April 1998

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