Intimate objects owned by the crew and their families.
When the officers of the early navy stepped aboard their ships, they found themselves surrounded by a machine that manifested the highest ambitions of their young nation. Built, armed, and manned at vast expense, a warship was a “public vessel” in all senses of the word. Here and there sailors bustled, impelled by the boatswain’s shrill whistle. On every hand reposed long rows of guns and all their tools of destruction. Amidst these warlike stores, the officer needed a reminder of home and his life on shore. Contained in his baggage were these things: the locket containing a portrait or the hair of a loved one, a case of toiletries, a desk for writing letters. Returning from a foreign station, those same chests and bags might be filled with gifts for children, wives and sweethearts – jewelry, keepsake boxes, or porcelain.
The USS Constitution Museum’s collection is full of these small mementos of men’s lives. The folding writing deck on which Captain Silas Talbot wrote his correspondence home, the toilet case that kept Commodore William Bainbridge’s razor, strop and tweezers, and the jewelry worn by Purser Thomas Chew’s wife Abigail all tell a personal story. These men and women loom large in Constitution‘s story, but these small artifacts do much to make them human.