What is this?
Carved quill made out of USS Constitution oak and accompanying letter (1862).
When is it from?
Why is it Important?
On Bunker Hill Day (June 17), 1862, Samuel Allen of Cambridge, Massachusetts sent a small parcel to his friend John McCarty. Allen was in a reflective mood that day. All over Boston parades and speeches commemorated the first great battle of the American Revolution, but Allen’s mind wandered instead to the War of 1812, when the US Navy first won a name for itself. “In that little group of sea-warriors,” he wrote, “stood [word obscured] foremost the Frigate ‘Constitution’, the pet of Boston, the pride of the Sea-dogs of our national flotilla.” He clearly harbored a deep reverence for the “Sainted Ship,” and in 1833, when she was “hauled up for repairs” in Charlestown, he took the trouble to procure “some of her original timber of live oak & white oak.” Thirty years later he still had these mementos of “Old Ironsides.”
With his own hands Allen whittled an “imitation of a goose quill” and sent it to his friend. The quill was, of course, made for writing, and the written word was the principal medium by which history could be passed down to future generations. Allen’s handiwork therefore served to unify both public memory and private pride in a single object.