What is this?
Papers of Isaac Hull, Commodore, United States Navy. Published by the Boston Athenaeum in 1929
When is it from?
Why is it Important?
Isaac Hull, a skilled naval officer who earned everlasting fame as the captain of “Old Ironsides,” was born in Connecticut in 1773. While still a young man, he first went to sea with his father, Joseph Hull. Joseph served as an officer in the Continental Navy during the American Revolution. After being captured by the British, he found himself incarcerated in the prison ship HMS Jersey. He was one of many who suffered from the inhuman conditions and treatment onboard the infamous vessel and died from their effects. Isaac Hull began a military career in 1798 when he accepted a commission as a lieutenant in the US Navy. He served with distinction aboard USSConstitution until 1801 and during that time saw action in the Quasi-War against France. In the years that followed, he rose steadily through the ranks and commanded several ships before becoming captain of Constitution in 1810.
On July 17, 1812, Hull’s ship encountered an English squadron assigned to blockade duty along the Maryland cost. The chase was on. Over the course of the next three days he outwitted and out-sailed his enemies before slipping away to fight anther day. Hull’s exploits earned him a hero’s welcome when he reached Boston harbor.
Constitution sailed again from Massachusetts on August 12. Hull next proceeded to capture several English ships off Nova Scotia. On August 19 Constitution met HMS Guerriere, a frigate commanded by Captain James Richard Dacres. The two ships fired one another while a great distance still separated them. Hull tried a new tactic and decided to maneuver alongside Guerriere. As Constitution moved closer, the British frigate fired round and grapeshot into her. Constitution held its fire despite taking damage. It was only when the vessels were near that Hull gave the order for his gunners to reply in kind. The Constitution‘s own round and grapeshot devastated the English ship. Both frigates grappled. Boarding parties failed to gain each other’s deck. Marines and the rolling sea kept proved to be too much. When Guerriere’s main-mast, fore-mast, yards and rigging came crashing down, Dacres had no choice but to surrender. Too badly damaged to be taken back to the United States as a prize, the crew and supplies were removed and Guerriere was sunk. During the battle aConstitution crew member witnessed English shot bounce off the sides of the American ship without causing significant damage. He was moved to exclaim: “Huzza! Her sides are made of iron!” From this remark sprang the famous moniker of “Old Ironsides,” for which Constitution has been known ever since.
Hull continued on in the navy until his retirement in 1841 and for a time held command of the Boston Navy Yard. He died two years later.
Hull’s papers, first published by the Boston Athenaeum in 1929, illuminate his service on the Constitution and life beyond and make for very interesting reading as well.
Hull, Isaac. Papers of Isaac Hull, Commodore, United States Navy. ed. Gardner Weld Allen (Boston: The Boston Athenaeum, 1929). 341-page black leather bound volume with gilt stamped title. Volume includes engravings, illustrations, maps, and charts.