Originally rated as a 44-gun frigate, USS Constitution typically carried around 54 guns. During the War of 1812, she mounted twenty-four 32-pound carronades on the spar deck, as well as a long 18-pound “chase” gun forward, and thirty 24-pound long guns on the gun deck.

Today, Constitution’s guns are replicas, not originals. When the ship returned to Boston in 1897 for her 100th birthday, she no longer carried any guns. In 1883 she had been turned into barracks and a “receiving ship” for sailors, so guns were no longer necessary. Her first 20th century restoration in 1906-1907 saw fifty-five replica guns made for the ship. All of the present guns were cast for the 1927-1931 restoration with the exception of two 1812-era replica carronades on the after quarter deck. Cast in 1981, these carronades are closer to Constitution‘s 1812 spar deck armament. The gun deck guns were cast in the Charlestown Navy Yard in 1929. The pattern of these guns was based on a British siege gun that was abandoned in Boston during the American Revolution and is currently displayed near Harvard University. The decision to cast “British” guns was made by Lieutenant John A. Lord, Supervisor of the 1927-1931 restoration. He based his decision upon inaccurate research that led the Navy to mistakenly believe that Constitution was outfitted with British guns in 1812.

[Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]
Newly cast 24-pound long guns in the forge at the Charlestown Navy Yard in 1930. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]
Eighteen of the thirty replica 24-pounders are marked with a board arrow and cipher making them appear British in origin. The incised “broad arrow” is a mark signifying that the gun was originally “Property of the (British) Crown.” The “royal cipher” GR refers to Georgius Rex (King George II who reigned 1727-1760). The other twelve replica 24-pounders were cast from an American gun.

This 1930 photo by Leslie Jones shows the British mark on the gun. [USS Constitution Museum Collection.]
The British “royal cypher” is seen upside-down on a newly cast gun in this 1930 photo by Leslie Jones. [USS Constitution Museum Collection.]
The "royal cypher" photographed in 2010. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]
The “royal cypher” photographed in 2010. Note the “2” in the upper left corner of the cypher. This denotes that the original gun was cast during the reign of King George II. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]
The replica carronades for the spar deck and long guns for the gun deck were first installed in 1930 near the end of the 1927-1931 restoration.

[USS Constitution Museum Collection]
A “British” long gun is loaded through the main hatch to the gun deck in 1930. Photo by Leslie Jones. [USS Constitution Museum Collection]
[Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]
An newly cast American gun on display at the starboard bow of the gun deck in 1931. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]
Though decades separate Constitution‘s restorations, the methods remain the same. In 1930, photographer Leslie Jones captured a Navy Yard worker guiding a long gun as it is lowered toward the main hatch by a crane.

[USS Constitution Museum Collection]
A long gun is loaded onto Constitution in 1930. Photo by Leslie Jones. [USS Constitution Museum Collection]
Ship restorers still use cranes to hoist the guns on to and off of the ship. These same guns have been removed and refurbished during all subsequent 20th and 21st century restorations.

NHHC Detachment Boston workers remove one of the 18-pound guns in the autumn of 2007. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]
NHHC Detachment Boston ship restorers remove a gun in the autumn of 2007. The guns were removed to allow ship restorers to replace the entire spar deck. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]
In preparation for the 2015-2017 restoration, all of Constitution‘s guns were removed and stored temporarily in the Charlestown Navy Yard.

Constitution‘s replica long guns will be refurbished along with their carriages during the 2015-2017 restoration. [Courtesy USS Constitution Museum]
Constitution‘s replica long guns and their carriages will be refurbished during the 2015-2017 restoration. [Courtesy USS Constitution Museum]
The carronades and long guns are crated and will be sent to a United States Coast Guard facility in Maryland to be stripped of their paint surface and recoated with a new protective coating. They will be reinstalled on the ship at the end of the 2015-2017 restoration.

[Courtesy USS Constitution Museum]
Constitution‘s carronades and long guns await shipment to Maryland, 2015. [Courtesy USS Constitution Museum]

– M. M. Desy & K. Monea

The Author(s)

USS Constitution Museum