A ship’s bell played a crucial role for timekeeping on board a ship, and was rung every half hour to mark the passage of time in each watch. This bell was purportedly removed from HMS Guerriere and used as a substitute for Constitution‘s bell, which was destroyed during the battle on August 19, 1812. The story of the bell as a prize from Guerriere dates only to 1897 and is not confirmed by firsthand accounts. An article published in the Boston Daily Advertiser on October 21, 1897 claimed that the bell “was sent to a scrap heap, and sold among a lot of condemned naval stores, between 1812 and 1816…The purchaser was S. H. Smith, who took it to Providence [Rhode Island] and placed it in the belfry of the factory in Lincoln [the ‘Butterfly’ cotton mill in Saylesville, Rhode Island built about 1815], where it hangs today.” Other sources claim that the bell was removed in 1835, during one of Constitution’s other refits. The bell has certainly seen a great deal of service, possibly for many years prior to 1812 and afterward, as there is evidence inside the bell of regular use.
The bell is inscribed with the name of its maker and date: “ME FECIT PIETER SEEST AMSTELODAM ANNO 1765.” Pieter Seest was born in Hadersleben (now Holstein, Germany) around 1715. He became foreman of the city of Amsterdam’s bell and cannon factory, operated under lease to Braamcamp, Dibbetz & van Aalst. In 1770 he was appointed director of the foundry. Guerriere was built in Cherbourg, France in 1799 and started out as a frigate in the French Navy. Amsterdam was under French control at the time, so it is possible that the bell by Pieter Seest was commandeered to outfit the new frigate. The British frigate HMS Blanche captured Guerriere in 1806.
USS Constitution Museum Collection. Paul Nicholson Gift.
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