The month of June marks the end of the school year for most students in the United States. This glimpse of USS Constitution during the ship’s classroom days as a school ship for the U.S. Naval Academy in the 1860s shows what it was like to go to school aboard the ship.

Constitution has worn many hats in its lifetime – warship, receiving ship, goodwill ambassador, and for a time, even a floating museum. But in the late 1850s, with the Naval Academy running out of space, and with the surge of steam vessels phasing out sailing ships, USS Constitution (and many other square-rigged sailing vessels) were converted into floating classrooms, housing, and training areas for sailors to practice sail handling and other practical naval skills.

Constitution remained at the Academy until 1871, when the ship was brought to the Philadelphia Navy Yard for another restoration.

Carte-de-visite (CDV) of USS Constitution as a school ship for the U.S. Naval Academy, moored off Goat Island, Newport, Rhode Island. Photograph by Joshua Appleby Williams, c.1861-1865. [USS Constitution Museum Collection, 1983.1]
USS Constitution (center) joins USS Santee and USS Macedonian at the Naval Academy after relocating to Newport, Rhode Island, c. 1863-1865. [USS Constitution Museum Collection, 1352.1]
Fearing capture by the South, the Union moved USS Constitution and the Naval Academy north to Newport, Rhode Island, at the outbreak of war in 1861. Midshipmen from the class of 1862 stand in  front of the Newport Tower, in what is now known as Touro Park. [USS Constitution Museum Collection, 450.1]

Print of an 1862 drawing by Academy Midshipman C.G. Bush, showing midshipmen studying, chatting,
and even shaving at long tables on Constitution‘s gun deck.
[Courtesy of the Nimitz Library, U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis.]
Midshipmen receive on-deck instruction at the Naval Academy in this  1861 engraving from Harper’s Weekly. [Courtesy USS Constitution Museum, 123-3001.]

The Author(s)

Rebecca Parmer
Archivist, USS Constitution Museum

Rebecca Parmer was archivist at the USS Constitution Museum until 2013.