USS Constitution escapes from a British Squadron, July 1812



On 5 July 1812, a few weeks after the beginning of the War of 1812, the U.S. Frigate Constitution, commanded by Captain Isaac Hull, departed Annapolis, Maryland, with a new crew. She sailed out of the Chesapeake Bay on 12 July, en route to New York. While approaching her destination during the afternoon of 17 July, she encountered a large group of unknown warships that was eventually determined to be British. This squadron, under the command of Captain Philip Vere Broke, included the small ship of the line Africa and the frigates Shannon (Broke's flagship), Belvidera, Guerriere and Aeolus, clearly a force much superior to the Constitution.

Through the night of 17-18 July, the British and American ships maneuvered for advantage in the continuing light breeze. At about 5:30 in the morning the wind failed completely. Constitution put out her boats, which towed her ahead of the enemy while four long 24-pounder guns were shifted to allow fire directly astern. The British also had their boats in the water, concentrating most of them to try and pull Shannon within gunfire range. At the suggestion of Lieutenant Charles Morris, Captain Hull had anchors dropped ahead for kedging, allowing the power of of her capstan to pull her more rapidly.

All through the 18th and well into the following day, this effort of towing and kedging continued, with occasional use of sails when a small wind blew up. Though shots were exchanged the range was always too great to allow hitting, and Constitution slowly moved away from her pursuers. By late afternoon on the 19th the nearest British ship, Belvidera, was some four miles astern. A few hours later, as a rain squall approached, Hull promptly got up his sails and greatly increased his lead. The chase continued through that night in slight and shifting winds, with Constitution's crew keeping their sails wet to enhance their effectiveness, and by daylight the enemy was so far astern that they soon gave up the pursuit. Realizing that the presence of the strong British squadron would keep him out of New York, Hull sailed instead for Boston, where he arrived on 26 July to begin preparations for another cruise.

This nearly three-day chase, involving some of the Royal Navy's best officers and cruising warships, was an early demonstration of the United State Navy's seamanship talents. It would soon be followed by dramatic ship-to-ship battles that provided an equally convincing display of superior tactical and gunnery abilities. These inspired the American people at a time of painful land war disasters, but also persuaded the hitherto confident Royal Navy of the urgent need for greater and more effective blockading efforts, which would keep U.S. warships and privateers in port where they could not threaten British seagoing interests.

This page features images related to the July 1812 encounter between USS Constitution and a British squadron.

Click the photograph to prompt a larger view.

Photo #: NH 85542-KN (color)

Chase of the Constitution, July 1812

Painting by Anton Otto Fischer, depicting the boats of USS Constitution towing her in a calm , while she was being pursued by a squadron of British warships, 18 July 1812.

Courtesy of the U.S. Navy Art Collection, Washington, D.C. Gift of Katrina S. Fischer.

U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

Online Image: 107KB; 740 x 550 pixels

 
Photo #: NH 42051

USS Constitution's escape from a British squadron, July 1812


Artwork depicting Constitution's boats towing her out of reach of the British warships, in a calm off New York, 18 July 1812. HMS Africa (64 guns), HMS Belvidera (36) and HMS Shannon (38) are shown at left.
The text below the image is reproduced in Photo # NH 42051 (extended caption).

Courtesy of Mr. Beverly R. Robinson, March 1937.

U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

Online Image: 132KB; 740 x 590 pixels

 
Photo #: NH 52488

USS Constitution escaping from a British squadron, July 1812


Early 20th Century photograph of a painting by F. Muller, depicting Constitution being towed by her boats in a calm off New York, 18 July 1812, while being chased by the British warships Africa (64 guns), Shannon (38), Guerriere (38), Belvidera (36), and Aeolus (32). Constitution was commanded by Captain Isaac Hull. The British commander was Philip Vere Broke.

U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

Online Image: 96KB; 740 x 555 pixels

 
Photo #: NH 56778

USS Constitution's escape from a British squadron, July 1812


Pen and ink drawing by F. Muller, depicting Constitution being towed by her boats in a calm off New York, 18 July 1812, while being chased by the British warships Africa (64 guns), Shannon (38), Guerriere (38), Belvidera (36), and Aeolus (32). Constitution was commanded by Captain Isaac Hull. The British commander was Philip Vere Broke.

U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

Online Image: 114KB; 740 x 585 pixels

 
Photo #: NH 56782

USS Constitution's escape from a British squadron, July 1812


Oil painting, attributed to F. Muller, depicting USS Constitution (Captain Isaac Hull), being towed out of reach of the British warships Africa (64 guns), Shannon (38), Guerriere (38), Belvidera (36), and Aeolus (32), in a calm off New York, 18 July 1812. Captain Philip Vere Broke commanded the British squadron.

U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

Online Image: 99KB; 740 x 520 pixels

 
Photo #: NH 54422

USS Constitution (1798-____)


Display of pictures related to the ship, prepared circa 1897.
Top row contains two views of her action with HMS Guerriere and a view of her leaving Boston Harbor in 1812.
Middle row has two views of her action with HMS Java and a portrait of Captain Isaac Hull, her Commanding Officer in the first months of the War of 1812.
Lower row has a view of her action with H.M. Ships Cyane and Levant, a picture of her in 1897, and a view of her escape from the British squadron in 1812.

Courtesy of Charles H. Taylor, 1935.

U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

Online Image: 247KB; 1030 x 1125 pixels

 



For higher resolution images see: Obtaining Photographic Reproductions

To the best of our knowledge, the pictures referenced here are all in the Public Domain, and can therefore be freely downloaded and used for any purpose.





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