Two hundred years ago today, Boston’s most prominent citizens treated Captain Isaac Hull and his officers to a public dinner at Faneuil Hall “as… evidence of their sense of the gallantry and skill displayed” in the capture of HMS Guerriere. Only two and a half weeks had elapsed since Constitution had soundly defeated the British frigate. Decks crowded with prisoners and spars and rigging considerably damaged by British shot, Constitution anchored in Nantasket Roads on August 31. The next day, the ship stood into the inner harbor and anchored off Long Wharf, the most prominent spot on the waterfront.
Years later, Seaman Moses Smith recounted the scene that was indelibly fixed in his memory (even if he mixed up the chronology):
“On arriving in Boston harbor, we anchored off Long wharf. The people crowded in thousands on the docks, and sent an earnest invitation for Captain Hull to come ashore. But he saw fit to remain aboard for two days. When he landed, the piers were crowded with people-so that he had barely room to plant his feet on the stone, as he left the boat.”1
Bostonians were delirious with joy at the victory. The Washington Artillery company, stationed at the battery at the end of the wharf, fired a 17-gun salute, which Constitution returned. Captain Hull joined a procession of state officials and local militia companies. As the procession moved up Long Wharf towards the Exchange Coffee House on Congress Street, a patriotic assemblage of Bostonians cheered them along.
Moses Smith added more detail of the moment:
“In all the adjacent buildings ladies were, clustered, waving their handkerchiefs, and casting wreaths of flowers on the gallant Captain as he passed along, Boston was one scene of intense excitement. The thunder of the artillery, the shouting of the people, and the strains of music woke up the patriotism of the town to rejoice over one of the most brilliant naval victories ever achieved.”2
On September 5, Constitution’s officers sat down to a splendid dinner given in their honor at Faneuil Hall. Dr. Amos Evans, Constitution’s surgeon, recorded the event in his journal:
“Much order and decorum were preserved on the occasion. Several excellent Patriotic toasts drank. The Hon. Jno. Coffin Jones presided. In the Gallery, fronting the President’s chair, was a model of the Constitution Frigate with her masts fished and the Colours as they flew during the action. The Hall was surrounded with notices of our principal Naval victories – An elegant painting of Genl Washington by Stewart [ie Gilbert Stuart] graced one side of the room, by the side of which hung the names of Preble, Wadsworth, Somers, Israel, &c – surrounded with garlands of flowers. Several guns were mounted on the Galleries. A wreath of flowers were hung above the head of Capt. Hull, who sat on the President’s right hand. About 500 persons sat down to the dinner, and much harmony prevailed thro’out. A band of musick played in the Gallery, and every toast was honored by several guns from the street. Previously to the dinner we were taken into the Assembly room at the Exchange [coffee house] where the subscribers [those who paid for the dinner] were assembled, and introduced to the President. Capt. [Hull] was greeted on his entrance into the room with the plaudits of the people.”3
Research Historian, USS Constitution Museum
Matthew Brenckle was the Research Historian at the USS Constitution Museum from 2006 to 2016.