An almanac is an annual publication that lists weather forecasts, tide tables, astronomical calculations, and other events for the forthcoming calendar year. This 1797 New England Almanack was published by Isaiah Thomas, a newspaper publisher and founder of the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts.
The anonymous Boston-based owner of this particular copy used it as a journal of sorts, jotting down notes on the weather, meetings with friends, and assorted reflections on life and local events. Among these musings is a note on May 19, 1797 about an “anchor for the frigate,” presumably USS Constitution as she was the only frigate built in Boston that year. On September 20, September 22, and October 21, the writer records his thoughts on all three of Constitution‘s launch attempts from Hartt’s Shipyard in Boston’s North End.Constitution’s first two tries at launching drew large crowds to the shipyard, including the President of the United States on September 20th, several dignitaries, and a large portion of the population of Boston and the surrounding towns. Much to the chagrin of the ship’s naval constructor, George Claghorn, both attempts failed when the heavy frigate became stuck on the launching ways. On September 20, the day of the first attempt, the Almanack owner writes: “This day so anxiously anticipated is arrived, the Weather is fine — the Flags & Pendants displayed — announce the Launching of the Frigate Constitution…but alas, how futile are the Anticipations of Mortals, the Constitution after moving slowly about 20 feet [sic] remained, Immovably fixed…”
Despite Claghorn’s embarrassment, and after some adjustments to the launching ways, Constitution at last floated into Boston Harbor at high tide on October 21, 1797. The anonymous writer succinctly describes the third attempt as “a fine launch.”
Though unconfirmed, it is likely the anonymous Almanack owner is Simeon Skillin, Jr. (abt. 1756–1806), a prominent wood carver who managed a workshop along with his brother, John, in Boston’s North End. The brothers were in high demand among shipbuilders at the time and enjoyed a successful career. From 1796 to 1797 they were hired to carve Constitution‘s Hercules figurehead for her bow.