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Photo #: NH 42051 (extended caption)

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 the lower part of this page.

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

U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

Online Image: 132KB; 740 x 590 pixels



The following text is provided on the original artwork:

"July 16, 1812"

"At 3pm when the British squadron was abrest of Barnegat, a strange sail was seen, and immediately, in the S.E. quarter, this was the United States 44 gun Frigate Constitution Captn. Isaac Hull, bound to New York, the chase continued throughout the afternoon and evening in light winds. At daylight it was quite calm. The Constitution while she steered kept her head to the southward. At this time Belvidera was about 4 miles on her lee quarter, Guerriere at some distance astern of Belvidera, Shannon upon the latter's weather quarter, distant two miles. Eolus at no great distance from Shannon. Africa astern of these two ships. At 5.30am Constitution no longer steering, the boats were sent ahead to tow the ships to the southward. At the same time a 24 pounder was hoisted up from the maindeck, and that, and the forecastle 24 pounder, were got aft to be used, with the quarter deck 24 pdr., as stern chasers. The taffrail was then cut away to give these guns room, and two more 24 pdrs. were pointed through the stern ports on the maindeck. At Constitution set studdingsails and staysails. At Captn. Hull at the suggestion of Lieut. Charles Morris, first of the ship, having before sounded in 26 fathoms, got out a kedge and began warping ahead. At 7.30 Constitution hoisted her colours and fired one shot at Belvidera. Constitution started a portion of her water and threw overboard some of her booms. At 10.30 it again became a flat calm. Observing the benefit Constitution had derived from warping Captn. Byron did the same, bending all his hawsers to one another, and working two kedges at the same time, the Belvidera by 2pm got near enough to exchange bow and stern chasers with Constitution, but without effect on either side. During the afternoon and night the chase continued to the gradual advantage of the American frigate. The British squadron persevered until about 8.30am on the 18th, and then gave up the chase."

Note on dates: Captain Isaac Hull's report to the Secretary of the Navy, dated 21 July 1812, generally confirms the above account, but gives the dates of the incident as follows: The enemy discovered in the afternoon of 17 July 1812 and chase began that night. On July 18th the enemy was still in chase at daylight. Constitution soon was becalmed and hoisted out boats to tow her, with the British soon doing the same. The chase continued through the day, under tow and/or kedging with occasional gunfire, until the wind freshened at 11 that night, after which the boats were hoisted in and the chase continued under sail. The pursuit lasted through 19 July, with Constitution gradually pulling ahead on the British, who gave up the chase at 8:15 AM on the 20th.

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16 January 2002