What is this?
Broadside poem titled “The American Constitution Frigate’s Engagement with the British Frigate Guerriere”
When is it from?
Why is it Important?
To the victors go the spoils – and the songs. This awkward but enthusiastic little ditty captures Bostonians’ excitement aboutConstitution‘s victory over HMS Guerriere on August 19, 1812. In eight sprightly stanzas the author (whoever he or she was) details the American frigate’s wartime exploits. From beginning to end, this is a popular expression of esteem for Captain Isaac Hull and his gallant crew. Devoid of classical allusions or complicated meters so favored by elite poets of the day, the words capture the sentiments of the American sailor and the man on the streets. Sung to a long-cherished American anthem, the song resonates with the pride and confidence the victory engendered. There would be other victories, but in those few minutes of action, the Boston-built frigate earned for herself the nickname â€˜Old Ironsides.’ And as the second stanza correctly predicted, “The Constitution long shall be/ The glory of our Navy.”
Though not explicitly stated, the poem’s rhythm and chorus make it clear that it was sung to the tune of “Yankee Doodle.” It is a tune with nebulous roots, but perhaps ultimately dates to the French and Indian War of the mid-eighteenth century. British troops sung its familiar nonsense lyrics during the American Revolution to deride the colonists. In another act of rebellion, soldiers and citizens of the new United States took it as their own, using its mocking words as a weapon in the propaganda war. We’ve been singing it ever since.
10″ x 7″. Possibly printed by Nathaniel Coverley. Three images across the top: two ships, one to either side, and an eagle descending from war clouds in the center. A vertical line of flowers separates the two columns of stanzas below the title and description. One vertical crease, and three horizontal creases. Framed. Several stains. Small tears on the edges.
Learn more (download): Broadsides & Posters Archives