Tuesday, November 18, 2008
The frigate Constitution, better known as Old Ironsides, is moored in the harbor at Boston. She was originally one of a group of ships built to deal with the Barbary pirates on the north coast of Africa who were preying on American maritime commerce, seizing ships and holding them for ransom. That was the situation that gave rise to the quotation 'Millions for defense, not one penny for tribute' [that's from memory and unreliable]. The North Africa expedition inspired to the lick in the Marine hymn about 'the shores of Tripoli.' [With seven ships now held by Somali pirates we might consider sending her out again.]
The 'Ironsides' name came from an incident in the War of 1812 when cannonballs from a British ship bounced off her hull. Our tour guide explained that the ship was so tough because she was clad in three layers of oak … white oak on the outsides and live oak in the middle. You can still see the layers in the ship. She is still in commission, an active member of the US Navy, with a crew quartered in the Boston Navy yard. Crew dresses in period uniforms with baggy-butted britches that look kinda hiphop, otherwise quite spiffy. It's probably good duty, and the sailors seemed to be having a good time. The kid who led our tour was a drama major who emoted extravagantly and sometimes bobbled his lines. There's also a nice little museum there. Fun to see something I'd learned about in American history classes a long time ago.