Recoppering the Constitution
In April 1798, Edward Preble was appointed first lieutenant on Constitution but did not hear of the good news until he returned from a Caribbean merchant voyage a few months later. However, before he could report to Constitution he received yet another surprise: he was promoted to master commandant. In 1802, Secretary of the Navy Robert Smith introduced Preble to President Thomas Jefferson who was impressed by Preble’s reputation as an exacting and able seaman.
True to his demanding nature, Preble decided that it was necessary to recopper the hull of Constitution in the absence of a dry dock, a herculean task, in preparation for the long voyage to the Mediterranean. Using the frigate’s guns as weights, the ship was careened (heaved down) each day. An intricate rope and brace system was rigged to prevent Constitution from capsizing and allowed crews to right the ship at the end of the day. In the foreground of the engraving is Preble and his wife Mary speaking with a seated Paul Revere, whose rolling mill supplied the necessary copper for this repair.
Working 14 hours each day for 15 days, the recoppering was completed and Constitution was ready to sail. With a new crew, supplies, and completed repairs, Constitution finally left Boston for the North African coast on August 9, 1803.