In the opinion of many early-nineteenth-century seafaring men, the French had the most accomplished shipwrights in Europe.  Thanks to Napoleon’s conquests, the French naval arsenals had access to vast tracts of wood they could source across the continent, and their ships were admired for their grace and speed.   Even Britain’s mighty Royal Navy made it a habit of “taking the lines” from captured French vessels and incorporating them into new British warships. 

Americans therefore considered it an honor when Constitution’s fine form caught the eye of the French Emperor during an 1811 diplomatic mission to France. A Charleston, SC newspaper reported in February 1812 that,“…the attention paid to Capt. Hull and all his crew at Cherbourg, was of the most flattering description; and that the Port Admiral there having represented in a letter to Napoleon, the beautiful structure of the American frigate, the French ruler ordered a complete admeasurement to be made of her, and an accurate model to be prepared.


It is thrilling to imagine that somewhere deep in a storeroom of Paris’ Musée National de la Marine, there may sit a model of Constitution, commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte himself!  If so, it would be the earliest model of the ship and would probably give us even more information than the superb model presented to Issac Hull by his crew in 1812.  That one is now safely moored at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA.

A model of Constitution possibly dating as early as the 1830s, but heavily restored in the 20th century.  [USS Constitution Museum Collection 2208.1]

Speaking of models, if you are interested in miniature depictions of Constitution, or scores of other exquisite ships, be sure to visit the USS Constitution Model Shipwright Guild’s annual ship model show at the USS Constitution Museum each winter.

The Author(s)

Matthew Brenckle
Research Historian, USS Constitution Museum

Matthew Brenckle was the Research Historian at the USS Constitution Museum from 2006 to 2016.