Topic: Meet the Crew

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Quiz: Could You be a Midshipman?

Midshipmen were the officers in training on USS Constitution, often teenagers. Take this quiz to see if your students would qualify to be a midshipman in the U.S. Navy during the War of 1812.

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Art at Sea: John Lord’s Powder Horn

John Lord’s engraved powder horn was designed to carry gunpowder, but was also a special memento of his service. In this activity, students engrave a bar of soap inspired by this primary source object.

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How Do You Compare?

Use these statistics to see how students compare to a U.S. Navy sailor and Marine on USS Constitution in 1812. This activity includes statistics, gleaned from primary resources, about the people who served on the ship.

Midshipmen's Quarters

Midshipmen’s Quarters Illustration

Midshipmen served as Constitution’s trainee officers. Often the sons of wealthy or powerful families, some were as young as 15. Their duties on board were to study, and write journals. As they learned, though, they also stood watches, and the oldest might even command a captured enemy ship. In front

Marines Drilling

Marines Drilling Illustration

In battle, Constitution’s Marines fired on the enemy with muskets. These guns were loaded with a lead ball and enough gun-powder to fire it, wrapped in a paper “cartridge”. Marines bit off the top, and tipped a little powder into the gun’s pan. They poured the rest – and the

Captain's Cabin

Captain’s Cabin Illustration

In his quarters at the stern of ship, the captain enjoys a luxury that everyone else aboard lacks: space. In this roomy, calm, comfortable cabin, he plans the ship’s route, and makes decisions that might win or lose a battle – or a war. It’s a big responsibility, and it’s

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Letter from John Contee to Lewis Bush, describing the death of his brother

This short, handwritten letter is a poignant firsthand account of one officer’s bravery and sacrifice during USS Constitution‘s first battle in the War of 1812. The letter, from Marine Lieutenant John Contee to Lewis Bush, recounts the death of Lewis’ brother, Lt. William Sharp Bush, on August 19, 1812 during

Pay Allotment for Jesse Cole, November 11, 1800

Pay Allotment for Jesse Cole, November 11, 1800

This is an allotment receipt, a form authorizing a Boston Navy Agent to pay one half of USS Constitution seaman Jesse Cole’s monthly wage to his wife Tabitha – eight dollars per month for ten months. It speaks to the emotional and financial bond that tied together a sailor and

Chew's Telescope

Thomas Chew’s Telescope

This wooden and brass telescope was owned by purser Thomas Chew. It represents the type used by mariners during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It is a personal telescope, small enough to be slipped into a pocket, and was perhaps used by Chew to detect enemy ships on

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Silas Talbot’s Writing Desk

This portable writing desk belonged to USS Constitution’s second captain, Silas Talbot. Desks like this were common among naval officers, because they were easy to transport between ship and shore, provided a convenient writing surface, and served as secure storage for important documents and letters.

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John Lord’s Seabag

This seabag is a rare surviving example of a once common, utilitarian item. Seabags were issued to United States Navy sailors as a means of storing clothing. Navy-issued bags were painted black to waterproof them. Personal bags, like this one, were often richly decorated by their owners. This bag belonged

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John Lord’s Powder Horn

During the War of 1812, powder horns were used to carry the finer gun powder used in the Ship’s long guns. This horn is uniquely decorated with militaristic themes by John Lord, a gunner on USS Constitution from 1824-1828.

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William Swift’s Cocked Hat

This collapsible silk hat, also known as a chapeau bras, belonged to Surgeon William Swift. Naval officers in the early 1800s typically wore hats like this to mark their rank among the crew.

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William Bainbridge’s Gold Medal

In 1813, the U.S. Congress approved the commissioning of a Congressional gold medal to Commodore William Bainbridge of USS Constitution for his defeat of the British frigate HMS Java. Beginning in 1776, the United States Congress began awarding gold medals to distinguished military figures who served in the American Revolution,

Chew's Stays

Thomas Chew’s Stays

This set of stays belonged to Thomas Chew, who was USS Constitution’s purser during the War of 1812. Stays were a corset that helped fashionable men achieve the popular narrow-waisted look in the 1820s. Surviving portraits of Chew suggest that he was fashion-conscious, and  he was certainly wealthy enough to

Portrait of Thomas Chew

Thomas Chew served on USS Constitution at the beginning of the War of 1812. His job was the purser, making him responsible for keeping the Ship’s pay and muster rolls, accounting for supplies, running the Ship store, and keeping detailed account books. Chew resigned from the U.S. Navy in 1821,

Sirian Portrait

Portrait of George Sirian

This is a portrait of George Sirian, who was orphaned as a boy in 1824 while escaping war in his home of Psara, Greece. The young refugee joined USS Constitution‘s crew in May of 1827 at nine years old. He served first with the rank of boy, and then ordinary

Portrait of Commander William Bainbridge

William Bainbridge became a national hero after USS Constitution, under his command, defeated the British frigate HMS Java in December 1812. This portrait, painted by famed artist Gilbert Stuart, has a funny story. Bainbridge sat for Stuart in the artist’s Boston studio, but the two did not get along. Stuart

Portrait of Captain Isaac Hull

This impressive portrait of Captain Isaac Hull was completed by Gilbert Stuart, a renowned American portrait artist, in Boston, Massachusetts in 1807. Hull is wearing the traditional uniform of early U.S. Navy officers and looks every bit the confident captain in this painting.

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Pardon Mawney Whipple’s Sword

A decorative weapon such as this sword would not be used in actual combat. Instead, it was worn as a ceremonial piece, or a fashionable accessory indicative of rank. It belonged to Pardon Mawney Whipple, who served as a midshipman on USS Constitution during the War of 1812.

Whipple's Hat

Pardon Mawney Whipple’s Hat

This cocked hat was worn by Pardon Mawney Whipple after his promotion to lieutenant in 1820. At that time, the hat was in fine form with gold lace and shiny silk. Stripped of its decoration and worn thin over time, the hat remains a relic of a U.S. Navy officer

Pardon Mawney Whipple’s Hair

It was common in the 19th century to give a lock of hair to family members as a memory of a loved one. Hair, which does not decompose quickly, was often braided, tied with ribbon, or incorporated into jewelry. This lock of hair belonged to Pardon Mawney Whipple, who served

John Lord Portrait - Front

Miniature Portrait of John Lord

This miniature watercolor portrait depicts John Lord, who served as gunner on USS Constitution between 1824 and 1828. Before photography, miniature portraits were popular keepsakes for remembering a loved one at sea.

John Aylwin’s Congressional Silver Medal

John Cushing Aylwin was 5th lieutenant and sailing master aboard USS Constitution during the battle against HMS Java in December 1812. Aylwin took a musket ball through his shoulder at the height of the battle, but continued at his station until the conflict was over. He died on board the

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Isaac Hull’s Seal

This wax seal, featuring an image of the Ship and his name, was owned by Isaac Hull, one of USS Constitution’s most famous captains. Hull would have pressed this fob into melted wax, which created a personalized seal when dry. The seal certified documents and emphasized his status as an

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Frank Prusz’s National Cruise Scrapbook

On July 2, 1931, USS Constitution and a crew of 81 sailors, officers, and Marines set off on a three-year tour around the United States. This National Cruise was a “thank you” to the men, women, and children who donated money and materials to support the Ship’s 1927 restoration. Frank

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Abigail Chew’s Coral Jewelry

This set of coral jewelry belonged to Abigail Chew, wife of USS Constitution’s War of 1812 purser, Thomas Chew. While away from his family for his naval service, Chew frequently sent gifts home to them as tokens of his affection. It is likely that this set of coral jewelry was

Dress Sword - Handle

Dress Sword and Scabbard Presented to Isaac Hull

This gold-mounted presentation dress sword and scabbard was presented to Captain Isaac Hull by the State of Connecticut in 1819. Its maker, Nathan Starr, worked with state and federal governments to produce ceremonial pieces to present to American naval heroes.

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Musicians on Board

Why did USS Constitution need a band? Who was in the band? This article looks at a musical part of the Ship’s history.

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Ship’s Boys

Ship boys were vital members of the 1812 crew–and some were as young as eight years old. Read about the lives of the youngest crew members in this blog article.

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Black Sailors During the War of 1812

In the early 1800s, free black men made up an average of 15% of U.S. Navy crews. Read about the motivations behind this service and the opportunity it provided for black sailors.

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Today’s Crew: Why I joined the Navy – Emma Hoernlein

Emma Hoernlein is one of the 39 sailors the USS Constitution Museum interviewed in 2019 for the Museum’s Today’s Crew: USS Constitution exhibition. In this video, Seaman Hoernlein shares why she decided to join the United States Navy.

Today’s Crew: Why I joined the Navy – Jason Petitfrere

Jason Petitfrere is one of the 39 sailors the USS Constitution Museum interviewed in 2019 for the Museum’s Today’s Crew: USS Constitution exhibition. In this video, Seaman Petitfrere shares why he decided to join the United States Navy.

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Today’s Crew: Crafting Wood from USS Constitution

Builder 1st Class Hilary Lemelin, assigned to USS Constitution, takes us behind the scenes of USS Constitution’s woodworking repair shop in the Charlestown Navy Yard. In this repair shop, U.S. Navy builders craft handmade souvenirs, signs, awards, and even a replica ship’s wheel for the Pentagon, using materials removed from

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Today’s Crew: USS Constitution

Meet some of the active duty crew members currently serving aboard USS Constitution in 2019. The crew members share their thoughts on what it’s like to be in the United States Navy and working aboard the oldest commissioned warship afloat.

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Objects Up Close: Pay Allotment

Pay allotments were a way for sailors to provide a small but steady income to their families until their return home. Learn more in this video.

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Objects Up Close: Fighting Top Weapons

During 19th century sea battles, Marines armed with muskets were stationed in each of the three fighting tops, high above the spar deck. Learn more about Marines and their weapons in this video.

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Objects Up Close: Surgeon’s Kit

Naval surgeons in the early 19th century were responsible for tending to sick and injured sailors while at sea. They carried kits with them filled with the best surgical tools of the era. In this video, learn more and hear from a modern hospital corpsman serving on USS Constitution today.

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Objects Up Close: Gifts from a Grateful Nation

Following USS Constitution’s first victory in the War of 1812, Captain Issac Hull and his crew returned to praise and adulation. This video looks at some of the gifts he received as a thank-you from a grateful nation.

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Objects Up Close: Commemorative Medals

In 1776, the U.S. Congress began awarding congressional gold and silver medals to distinguished military figures as expressions of appreciation for their achievements and contributions. Learn about some of the medals awarded to USS Constitution’s crew in this video.

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Objects Up Close: Captain Isaac Hull’s Wax Seal

Letter writing was an essential form of communication in the 19th century, and wax seals were a way to authenticate correspondence and ensure that letters remained unopened and unread in transit. Learn about Captain Isaac Hull’s gold fob and personal seal in this video.

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Objects Up Close: Purser Thomas Chew’s Sea Bag

Imagine going to sea for two years and everything you needed had to fit in a single sea bag. In this video, learn about navy sea bags, including one owned by Thomas Chew, a purser aboard USS Constitution in the War of 1812.

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Object Up Close: Seaman Dunn’s Wooden Leg

Learn about USS Constitution crew member Richard Dunn, who was struck in the leg by enemy fire during the battle with HMS Guerriere during the War of 1812. His leg was hastily amputated by the ship’s surgeon, and he later received a prosthetic.

Object Up Close: The Gwinn Portraits

Learn about two portraits and the stories they tell: Captain John Gwinn and his wife Caroline. Gwinn commanded USS Constitution from 1848 until his untimely death in 1849.

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Objects Up Close: Letter on the Death of Marine Lieutenant Bush

This short, handwritten letter from 1812 is a poignant firsthand account of one officer’s bravery and sacrifice during USS Constitution‘s battle with HMS Guerriere. William Bush was the first US Marine Corps officer killed in combat during the War of 1812.

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Building a Desk for the Office of the Vice President

Builder 1st Class Hilary Lemelin, assigned to USS Constitution, talks about what it was like building two desks for the Vice President of the United States and the Secretary of the Navy. The desks were built using materials from USS Constitution and other historic U.S. Navy ships.

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Activity: Make a Paper Officer’s Hat

Are you dressed to impress? USS Constitution’s officers wore fancy hats called “chapeau-bras.” Make your own paper version of this impressive hat and show your friends who is in charge.

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Activity: Make a Paper Marine’s Hat

With its bright colors and decorative trim, the Marine’s War of 1812 uniform made a statement and projected American military power for all to see. Try your hand at making a distinctive part of this uniform – the hat – with paper, scissors, tape, and patience.

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Bravery at Sea

Students read a story of bravery at sea and look closely at the uniform of USS Constitution sailors. Then they make their own captain’s hat out of paper.

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The Sea Dog of “Old Ironsides”

There is evidence of numerous dogs on board USS Constitution throughout her career, but none appears as frequently, or is known by name, as Guerriere the Terrier. Guerriere proved himself a faithful and helpful member of the crew.

Letter from William Bainbridge to George Harrison, October 28, 1817

Letter from William Bainbridge to George Harrison, October 28, 1817

USS Constitution, under the command of Commodore William Bainbridge, defeated the British frigate HMS Java in December 1812 in its second victory of the War of 1812. In this letter, Bainbridge discusses a medal he received in honor of this victory. Bainbridge was dissatisfied with the design on the back,

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The Wartime Letters of Abigail Chew

Letters are one of the few primary sources that provide insight into the women and families sailors left behind when they went to sea. Abigail Chew’s letters to her husband Thomas, USS Constitution’s 1812 purser, help us understand her thoughts and feelings being on the homefront with a loved one

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Women Take the Lead

The path for women to serve on board USS Constitution has been long and slow. This blog features interviews with two key women in the Ship’s history: Claire Bloom, first Executive Officer, and Rosemarie (Lanam) Wilamowski, who became the first female enlisted sailor to join the crew in 1986.

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A Healthy Constitution: Dr. Amos Evans, Surgeon, U.S. Navy

This is the story of USS Constitution’s War of 1812 surgeon, Dr. Amos Evans. Learn about Evans’ experience treating the crew, from everyday illnesses to battle injuries, in this article featuring excerpts from the surgeon’s personal journal.

Pardon Mawney Whipple’s Letterbook

Pardon Mawney Whipple’s Letterbook

Pardon Mawney Whipple joined USS Constitution’s crew in 1813, at age 22. His letters offer a unique and intimate view of the events aboard USS Constitution during the War of 1812. He describes both the excitement and horrors the men felt during battle, as well as the protocols followed after