Today in History – October 21

Courtesy of our friends at History.com, I am pleased to begin each and every day of the week here at Bulldog Pundit with a snippet of some important event that occurred on this date sometime in the past. Some events might come readily to mind while others may take a bit of effort to recall. Not all are historically portentous and some may even seem whimsical. Nevertheless, each and every one is a grain in the hourglass of human history.

The USS Constitution, a 44-gun U.S. Navy frigate built to fight Barbary pirates off the coast of Tripoli, is launched in Boston Harbor. The vessel performed commendably during the Barbary conflicts, and in 1805 a peace treaty with Tripoli was signed on the Constitution‘s deck.

As a matter of historical record, the launch date was a month earlier and was attended by President John Adams and Massachusetts Governor Increase Sumner. Unfortunately, the vessel slid down the launch ways only 27 feet before she stopped and refused to budge. It was soon determined that her excessive weight caused the ways to sink into the mud. Two days later, another attempt was made and Constitution moved only another 31 feet before stopping yet again. Over the course of the next month, the ways were rebuilt  to increase the inclination and on this day in 1797 she slid gracefully into Boston Harbor after Captain James Server broke a bottle of Madeira wine on her bowsprit.

During the War of 1812, the Constitution won its enduring nickname “Old Ironsides” after defeating the British warship Guerriére in a furious engagement off the coast of Nova Scotia. Witnesses claimed that the British shots merely bounced off the Constitution‘s sides, as if the ship were made of iron rather than wood. The success of the Constitution against the supposedly invincible Royal Navy provided a tremendous morale boost for the young American republic.

In 1855, the Constitution retired from active military service, but the famous vessel continued to serve the United States, first as a training ship and later as a touring national landmark. Since 1934, it has been based at the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston. Over the years, Old Ironsides has enjoyed a number of restorations, the most recent of which was completed in 1997, allowing it to sail for the first time in 116 years. Today, the Constitution is one of the world’s oldest commissioned warship afloat.

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