Copper Bottomed

USS Constitution Restoration 2015-17

0n 27 March 1794, Congress passed the ”Act to provide a Naval Armament,”

which authorized President George Washington to create the United States Navy.

Each of the six frigates that made up the new US Navy was to be “copper bottomed,”

i.e., sheathed below the waterline with thousands of overlapping sheets of copper.

The copper barrier would prevent boring mollusks, T

eredo navalis, from destroying the wooden hull, and allow for greater ease in cleaning marine growth from the ships’ bottoms.

In a letter dated 21 April 1794, shipwright Joshua Humphreys from Philadelphia,

who was the principal designer of the original six frigates, included

“An estimate of the quantity of Timber Plank &c for a frigate … ,”

which listed the materials for Constitution, including the copper needed-“12000 feet of sheet copper for bottom.”

Copper Bottomed On 2 July 1797,

just months before Constitution was to be launched in Boston Harbor,

Secretary ofWar James McHenry wrote to George Claghorne,

Constitution’s naval constructor: It being of importance to the United States that the Frigate.

Constitution should be coppered on The Stocks before she is Launched into the Water- you will therefore.

be pleased to cause the said Ship to be coppered as high as light water mark as soon as the Bottom is prepared,

As it will prevent heaving down afterwards and a Consequent heavy expense

… 1 Constitution’s original copper sheathing was British-made,

As there were no metal rolling mills yet established in the new United States.

Each sheet measured 14 inches by 48 inches, and, given the 12,000 feet of copper sheet specifications by Humphreys,

approximately 3,000 sheets of copper covered.

Constitution’s lower hull when she was launched in 1797.

Paul Revere, long retired from his famous “midnight ride” in the American Revolution, was by then a sixty-year-old silversmith,

Merchant, and foundry man.

He contracted with Henry Jackson, the Boston naval agent in charge of acquiring materials for the construction of USS Constitution,

To provide the copper and brass fittings for the ship “as cheap as anyone and as well.”

Revere’s foundry drew down some of the British-made copper spikes used to fasten Constitution.

The Revere foundry also provided a 242-pound

Bell and other fittings between 1794 and 1798.

In early 1803, USS Constitution was readied.

by Commodore Edward Preble for a lengthy deployment to the Mediterranean Sea against the North African Barbary corsairs.

Only six years old, the frigate ‘s original copper.

before she headed out across the Atlantic.

Enter Paul Revere again; by the 1803 re-fit,

he had a copper rolling mill in operation in Canton,

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