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Educator Resources

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Welcome Teachers! The USS Constitution Museum is committed to providing teachers with the tools and support they need to teach about USS Constitution and the War of 1812.

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Creative Writing: Sending the Message Home

First: Ask students to discuss how people back home would know if a loved one had died at sea. Letters from across the sea were sent to family and friends on a fairly regular basis, and newspaper reports often detailed losses at sea. Next: Read the primary source and encourage students to write either 1) a letter telling someone that a family member has died or, 2) a newspaper obituary that details the life of a sailor who died. A selection of sailor biographies to choose from can be found by selecting Sailor’s Stories in the Search feature.

Cooking Activity: Sailor Snack Time

Enjoy a sailor’s treat with your students. Try a recent adaptation of duff, a sailor’s pudding originally made with suet and flour. You can also try an 1812-period recipe for hot chocolate.

Political Posteriors: Analyzing Primary Sources

View these primary source cartoons from the Library of Congress (“Columbia Teaching John Bull his New Lesson” and “A Boxing Match, or Another Bloody Nose for John Bull”) with students. What is the purpose behind a political cartoon? What is the purpose of these particular cartoons during the War of 1812? Are there any political cartoons that are published today? Scour local or national newspapers with your students for something similar, and learn about current events through the vehicle of political cartoons.

Artwork depicting the battle between USS Constitution and HMS Java

This series of four prints depicts dramatic moments in the battle between USS Constitution and HMS Java on December 29, 1812. The hand-colored restrike prints were made in the 20th century from a set of plates originally drawn and etched by artist Nicholas Pocock (1740 – 1821) in 1814, and engraved by Robert and Daniel Havell.

Original letter from Royal Navy Captain John Marshall to William Phillips describing HMS Java‘s surrender to Constitution, dated April 10, 1813, with transcription

This original letter and transcription, from Captain John Marshall of the British Royal Navy to William Phillips in London, describes USS Constitution‘s battle with the HMS Java from the British point of view.

Original letter from Commodore William Bainbridge to George Harrison regarding his medal, dated October 28, 1817, with transcription

This original letter and transcription, from Commodore William Bainbridge to Navy Agent George Harrison, discusses a medal Bainbridge received in honor of his victory over HMS Java. Bainbridge was dissatisfied with the design on the reverse, and wrote to Harrison asking that changes be made to the image showing HMS Java‘s flag flying. He asked that the flag instead be shown lowered to indicate the British ship has surrendered. What does the flying of Java‘s flag symbolize to Bainbridge and why would he want to change it?

Constitution & Guerriere, by George Ropes, Jr.

In 1813, artist George Ropes, Jr. created a series of four oil paintings depicting USS Constitution‘s battle with HMS Guerriere during the War of 1812.

Feeding 480 Mouths: Math Aboard Ship

USS Constitution‘s cook had to do a lot of math to feed 480 hungry men. Ask students to use their math skills to scale the serving sizes found in the recipes for Ship’s Biscuit, Sailors Duff, and Hot Chocolate to serve meals for 480 people! One serving size equals enough for one sailor. Encourage students to use multiplication, conversions, and fractions to make enough food for everyone aboard Constitution in 1812. How much of each ingredient will you need? Find out more about Constitution‘s cook on the Ranks + Rates page.

Compare: A Sailor’s Diet in Weights and Measures

Have your students record a detailed log of what they eat during a 24-hour period, including snacks and beverages. Afterwards, compare examples of your students’ daily diet logs to the food that was allotted to a sailor aboard Constitution in 1812. How is a sailor’s daily diet different from a student’s? What has changed over time, and why? Take this activity a step further to include the intake of calories per day, comparing a student’s intake to an 1812 sailor’s, and even to a modern combat ration.

Copper Bottomed Ship

USS Constitution’s hull is lined with copper sheathing below the waterline. The copper prevents mollusks from boring into the wooden hull planks and destroying them. View the image of Constitution’s copper-lined hull. Check your local hardware store for a strip of copper and a block of wood. Have students compare the properties of each type of material. What are the pros and cons of using these materials in building a ship like Constitution?

Using a Compass & Cardinal Directions

Play fun directional games with your students! These two games help students understand the cardinal points and give them practice with compasses. The more advanced game also encourages giving and listening to clear directions.

Communication Aboard Constitution

Discover these artifacts with your students and compare the elements of noise (loud, shrill, or private) with the intent behind the message. Who was the message communicated to, and why? Many means of communication were necessary on a ship as large as Constitution: a boy hand delivered written messages to the ship’s officers; a boatswain’s pipe signaled a change in watch for the sailors with a special call, like a pipe to dinner or to begin a chore; a speaking trumpet carried over longer distances and called orders to the men aloft; the beat of a Marine’s drum was heard far and wide and sent men scurrying to their battle stations. Have students compare the different modes of communication used on Constitution to those in your school, like classroom speakers, letters, a megaphone, the fire alarm, or the loudspeaker.

Collection of Newspaper Articles about the Battle with HMS Java

A collection of four newspaper articles about USS Constitution’s battle with HMS Java on December 29, 1812: Commercial Advertiser (New York, February 19, 1813); Federal Republican & Commercial Gazette (Baltimore, February 19, 1813); New-England Palladium (Boston, February 19, 1813); Salem Gazette (Salem, February 19, 1813). How are the articles similar? How are they different?

What Floats Your Boat?

This simple scientific experiment allows students to make predictions and test them. Students will learn about density, displacement, and ship design, and how all of these factors contribute to a ship’s ability to float.

Making a Compass and Magnetic Attraction

USS Constitution has been called to help another American ship in peril and students are the ship’s new navigators. They must steer the ship using cardinal directions and landmarks to reach the injured American ship, but there are many obstacles in their way. Students will learn that magnetic attraction and direction are related, and will use direction and locations with a homemade compass to help Constitution find her way. Student can use a real artifact and a compass card for inspiration in designing their homemade compass.

Compass Card

This compass card (the image behind the dial on a compass) was made by Samuel Emery of Salem, Massachusetts in the early 19th century. It shows the cardinal points (north, south, east, west), intermediate points, and degrees.

Cardinal Points Game (advanced)

Play fun directional games with your students! This activity is the advanced version of the Cardinal Points Game, which helps students understand north, south, east, and west by practicing with compasses. This advanced version encourages giving and understanding clear directions.

Cardinal Points Game (simple)

Play fun directional games with your students! This activity is the simple version of the Cardinal Points Game, which helps students understand north, south, east, and west by practicing with compasses.

William Bainbridge’s Bottle

This green glass wine bottle bears the seal of Commodore William Bainbridge, who commanded USS Constitution during the War of 1812 from September 15, 1812 to July 18, 1813. The bottle stands about 10 3/4 inches tall and is 3 3/4 inches wide at the shoulder. An applied seal reads “W Bainbridge” in raised letters. Monogrammed bottles like this, which were kept and refilled over and over, graced the tables of many American gentlemen in the early 19th century.

Wine Decanter

The wardrooms of the early frigates abounded with tableware such as this decanter, but few shipboard objects as fragile as this survive today. A silver cap covers the wide pouring lip and has been inscribed, “From the Ward Room of the officers of the U.S. Frigate Constitution,” implying that this decanter had a second life as a cherished object that was once used on board “Old Ironsides.”

Popular War of 1812 Era Songs & Sources

Listen to some early American tunes with your students, just as officers and sailors did during their time off duty. This is a list of popular songs from the early 19th century, with suggestions on where to find them. Older students might be inspired to take on a research project in conjunction with their music class or musical extracurricular activities.

Sailors Telling Time: Half Hour Glass

Sailors slept in their hammocks during one four-hour watch aboard USS Constitution, though they likely also caught some shut eye when off watch at other times. Life aboard ship was a highly regulated environment with bells ringing every half hour. In this lesson plan, learn more about a sailor’s daily routine and have your students make their own half hour glass.

How Many Sailors Can Sleep at the Same Time?

How big was the berth deck where sailors slept? With your students, calculate the surface area of the berth deck and the average size of a sailor and a hammock to figure out how many sailors could sleep at the same time. Use the “Hammock Plan from 1794” to get a bird’s-eye view of how sailors slept on the berth deck.

Eight Bells and All’s Well: Telling Time aboard Ship

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 four-hour watch (shift). Using a half-hour glass to measure 30 minutes, a sailor struck the bell for eight half-hour intervals, adding an additional strike for every half hour. Eight strikes of the bell signified four hours had passed and the watch was over. Students can view the ship’s bell that 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.

Hammock Plan from 1794

How many sailors could sleep on the berth deck at one time? This bird’s-eye diagram, titled “A Plan of the Upper Deck of a Seventy-four Gun Ship,…, delineating an Arrangement of the Hammocks for the Crew,” from David Steel’s 1794 book The Elements and Practice of Rigging and Seamanship, shows how hammocks were arranged on berth deck for sleeping.

Sailor Story: Surgeon Amos Evans

Introduce your students to the life of Surgeon Amos Evans. Evans studied medicine and became a United States Navy surgeon’s mate in 1808. Two years later he was promoted to surgeon and joined USS Constitution in the spring of 1812.

Ship’s Surgeon: Illness and Injury aboard Naval Ships

Life aboard a naval warship during the War of 1812 was extremely difficult. Sailors had to deal with dangers posed by illness, accidents, and battle injuries. Naval ships like USS Constitution had a surgeon (doctor) aboard who was responsible for the health of a crew of up to 480 officers, sailors, and Marines. In this lesson, your students will take on the role of surgeon and work in teams to read a scenario and identify possible illnesses or injuries that could result from the situation presented.

Medicine in 1812

Medicine in the 19th century centered on the idea of humors within the body: blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile. An imbalance of the humors made one ill and medicines were used to regain balance. For more information on 19th century medical assumptions, visit the University of Pennsylvania’s “Exploring Illness Across Time and Place.” In this lesson, students will meet Surgeon Amos Evans of USS Constitution‘s 1812 crew. They will go on to investigate the properties of drugs he most likely had at his disposal, study a primary source quote from him, and diagnose a crew member. Included in the lesson plan are primary sources and artifacts.

A Healthy Constitution: Dr. Amos Evans, Surgeon, U.S. Navy

An 21-page essay on the life and work of Dr. Amos Evans, a young surgeon aboard USS Constitution. Written and published by the USS Constitution Museum.

Mid-19th Century Medicine Chest and Pamphlet

Students can view a chest full of medicines used during the mid-19th century. Chests like this may have included a pamphlet for reference, such as “Plain Remarks on the Accidents and Diseases which occur most frequently at Sea, with directions for using the Medicines contained in the Medicine Chest,” by John L. Hunnewell & Co., 1846.

Eat your Fruits and Vegetables!

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is an important nutrient found in some foods. While citrus fruits are a well-known source of vitamin C, it is also found in lots of other foods. A severe lack of vitamin C in the diet causes a condition called scurvy, which was common in the early 19th century among sailors at sea with limited access to fresh food. This simple guessing game helps students learn about the different foods that contain vitamin C. Simply print out the activity double-sided, cut out the cards, laminate them for durability if you’d like, and place them image side up. Challenge your students to guess which ones have vitamin C and flip them over to find out the answer!

What’s in THIS? Guess the Ingredient

This downloadable, multiple choice quiz helps students discover the ingredients in some of the meals served to USS Constitution‘s sailors. Ask your students to take a closer look at some of the ingredients. What factors would make it easy or difficult to access, store, and prepare these ingredients at sea? Consider the environment, the time out to sea without any port calls (stops ashore), and the current technology in 1812.

Salty Talk: Sailor’s Sayings in Today’s English Language

Have you ever heard of a mess hall or scuttlebutt? Encourage your students to pick a word or phrase from this Salty Talk list and research its meaning and origins. Many words and phrases in our daily language, like “learn the ropes,” “mind your Ps & Qs,” and “pipe down,” have maritime roots. Ask your students to identify what the phrases mean today and speculate on their evolution. An educator’s answer key is provided with the origins of the phrases.

The Real Thing: Ship’s Biscuit

This ship’s biscuit is REAL, from the collection of the Mariner’s Museum. A sailor aboard USS Constitution in 1861 kept it as a souvenir. Why would a sailor save this biscuit? Can you imagine saving a piece of bread today? Can you think of other food or personal items people might save as souvenirs?

Learn the Ropes!

Knots were vital tools for sailors and each type of knot accomplished a different task. In order to shorten sail or bring up the sail cloth, sailors had to learn and practice the reef knot and then be able to tie it while aloft. Let your students try their hands at this task. Use these directions and a short piece of rope (like a shoelace) to tie three different types of knots. To further the lesson, ask your students write their own directions for tying shoes–easier said than done!

All Hands Shorten Sail Ahoy!

In 1824, USS Constitution‘s First Lieutenant Ellie Vallette drew each sailor’s exact position aloft in his logbook. When the officer in charge ordered all hands to shorten sail, each of these men scampered to their assigned position to heft in the heavy canvas sails. This image shows Vallette’s diagram of the masts and spars with the names of sailors written at their positions on the footropes. Can your students count how many men were needed to reef, or pull up and tie, each sail?

Boatswain’s Pipe

The boatswain (pronounced “bosun”) acted as a sort of foreman for the crew, summoning the men to their duty, guiding them in their work, and seeing that the work was done with the least possible noise. The boatswain traditionally carried a pipe (or whistle) on a lanyard around his neck as a badge of office. This mid-19th century boatswain’s pipe produced a sound commonly heard aboard USS Constitution.

Reefing Topsails, 1832

This 1832 hand-colored engraving by E. Duncan, after W. J. Huggins, portrays sailors reefing, or hauling in, a sail high above a ship. This is one of the few works depicting common sailors aboard ship completing daily duties.

Working Music: Sea Chanties & Call-and-Response Poetry

Although navy sailors were often required to work in silence, some merchant sailors during the early 19th century sang chanties to coordinate their work. For example, the refrain of the song indicated when to pull on a rope together, while singing a song made monotonous work less loathsome. In this lesson plan, students will explore several sea chanties or “work songs” illustrated in several well-known movies, study the language involved, and consider the reasons for singing them. Students will write their own “sea chanty” or “work song,” using creative writing to develop thematic connections.

Block & Tackle from USS Constitution

Sailors aboard USS Constitution used many different blocks, or pulleys, to lift and haul objects and other items. Use this artifact with our lesson plan “Simple Machines aboard USS Constitution” to understand other simple machines sailors used to help them complete their daily duties.

Reading Symbols

Upon returning home, Captain Isaac Hull was showered with praise and gifts for having led the crew to victory in the battle against HMS Guerriere. The citizens of Philadelphia honored him with a silver urn crafted by Thomas Fletcher and Sidney Gardiner that is full of symbolism. Together as a class, decode the piece to understand all the hidden messages the urn is trying to convey. The short essay on Captain Hull’s urn can help you lead the discussion.

Poetry and Songwriting: Broadside Poem

This broadside is printed with an enthusiastic little ditty that captures Bostonians’ excitement about USS Constitution’s victory over HMS Guerriere on August 19, 1812. The poem’s rhythm and chorus make it clear that it was sung to the familiar tune of “Yankee Doodle.” In this activity, students are invited to sing the broadside’s poem to the tune of “Yankee Doodle,” and then write their own poem or lyrics to the same tune.

Medal for the Victory at the Battle of Lake Erie

This bronze commemorative medal was awarded to Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry and his crew for their victory at the Battle of Lake Erie on September 10, 1813. Among the crew was Jesse Williams, an African-American sailor who was was wounded in the battle, captured, and sent to the infamous Dartmoor Prison. Prior to serving at the Great Lakes, Williams was the first sponger for the number three long gun on Constitution‘s gun deck and saw battle with HMS Guerriere and HMS Java.

Paintings of USS Constitution

These two paintings of USS Constitution depict the ship at sea powered under full sail. One is a late 19th century oil painting by Marshall Johnson and the other is a c. 1803 watercolor and gouache painting attributed to Michele Felice Corné.

Meet Jesse Williams: Returning Home Victorious Means Prize Money!

USS Constitution‘s sailors returned victorious three times during the War of 1812. Sailors enjoyed their success and were awarded with extra pay called prize money. How much did they get? Introduce your students to Jesse Williams, a free black man who served aboard Constitution and later earned an extra two years of wages in prize money after the Battle of Lake Erie. Research with your students what a sailor’s average annual salary is today, and then calculate what twice that would be in prize money. What do you think Williams did with his prize money? Learn more about Williams and his naval career.

Essay on Captain Hull’s Urn

An essay on the symbolism of Captain Isaac Hull’s presentation urn following his defeat of HMS Guerriere in the War of 1812. The significance of this urn lies in its exquisite workmanship and in the complex social history of its presentation. The urn was created as a symbol of gratitude, pride, and patriotism following America’s early naval successes, but the merchants who contributed to the payment of the urn also sought to enhance their own reputations by association.

USS Constitution as a National Symbol

USS Constitution emerged from the War of 1812 as a national symbol, much as we think of the Statue of Liberty or the Liberty Bell today. Artists have long depicted the ship with that legacy in mind. Print out or project these images of Constitution (artwork by Marshall Johnson and Michele Felice Corné) and discuss with your students the artist’s point of view. How have they represented the ship? Would the British have the same point of view?

Columbia teaching John Bull his new lesson (Political Cartoon)

Political cartoons are used as propaganda to make fun of, or display an attitude about, current events or political issues. They are still used today. This cartoon from the Library of Congress pokes fun at Napoleon Bonaparte (see the uniform and French “accent” in the words) and brings up the major causes of the War of 1812 (spoken by Columbia, a personification of the United States). John Bull is the national personification of Great Britain.

Build a Simple Sextant

A midshipman’s education aboard Constitution included navigation, or how to determine the ship’s location at sea. Midshipmen measured the sun’s position above the horizon using a sextant and calculated the ship’s position using mathematical equations. View a real sextant and then make your own with this NASA Lesson Plan: Build a Simple Sextant.

A Boxing Match or Another Bloody Nose for John Bull (Political Cartoon)

Political cartoons are used as propaganda to make fun of, or display an attitude about, current events or political issues. They are still used today. This cartoon from the Library of Congress shows John Bull, the national personification of Great Britain, in a boxing match with Brother Jonathan, a fictional character personifying the United States in the early days of the country. Who’s winning the boxing match?

Speaking Trumpet and Sailor’s Speak

Show your students this speaking trumpet, and then make your own speaking trumpet (like a megaphone) out of oaktag or poster board. Use the trumpet to pass these messages, playing telephone on the playground or in the classroom. Students can also use the trumpet to speak sayings from the Salty Talk list, which can be found by searching the Educator Resources.

Pardon Mawney Whipple’s Sword

Pardon Mawney Whipple, who served as a midshipman on USS Constitution during the War of 1812, and later as a lieutenant in the Mediterranean, would have sported this sword as a ceremonial piece or as an adornment indicative of his rank.

Pardon Mawney Whipple’s Lock of Hair

Locks of hair were often given to family members as a memory and remembrance of a loved one. This lock of hair belonged to Pardon Mawney Whipple, who served as a midshipman on USS Constitution during the War of 1812 and later as a lieutenant in the Mediterranean.

Pardon Mawney Whipple’s Hat

This cocked hat was worn by Pardon Mawney Whipple after his promotion to lieutenant in 1820. At that time, the hat was resplendent with a binding of gold lace and a knap of shiny silk. Stripped of its decoration and worn thin over time, the hat remains a relic of a U.S. Navy officer who witnessed his fair share of sea fights and stormy weather.

Make Your Own: An Officer’s Hat (like Whipple’s)

During the early 19th century, each naval officer wore a folding cocked hat, or chapeau bras, with his full dress uniform. The chapeau was flat and crescent-shaped. It stood 9 to 11 inches high and could stretch 16 inches or more from point to point. Designed to fold flat, the hat could be easily stored in a box or carried beneath the arm. Have your students view Pardon Mawney Whipple’s hat, and then they can make their own paper versions to wear.

Could You Be A Midshipman?

Do your students qualify to be a midshipman in the United States Navy during the War of 1812? Answer these questions to find out! Then, ask your students what they think about these qualifications. Are they still relevant today? In today’s navy, the term “midshipmen” refers to men and women who are students at the United States Naval Academy.

Sailor Story: Jesse Williams

Read the journal of Seaman Jesse Williams and learn about his life. Jesse was a 40-year-old African-American sailor who served aboard USS Constitution as an ordinary seamen.

Sailor’s Story: William Cooper

Read the journal of William Cooper and learn about his life. Cooper was born in New York around 1784 and served on Constitution as an ordinary seaman. He was a chief of the Unkechaug tribe.

Sailor’s Story: William Sharp Bush

Read the journal of Lieutenant William Sharp Bush and learn about his life. Bush was born in 1786 in Wilmington, Delaware. He joined the Marines and was posted to Constitution with the rank of first lieutenant when the War of 1812 began. He became the first United States Marine Corps officer to die in combat.

Sailor’s Story: Thomas Chew

Read the journal of Thomas Chew and learn about his life. Chew was Constitution‘s purser. Born in New London, Connecticut, he entered the navy as a purser at 22 years old, and learned the craft aboard three other ships before joining Constitution in June 1812.

Sailor’s Story: Sarah Clear

Read the journal of Sarah Clear and learn about her life. Sarah Clear was the wife of Michael Clear, a seaman who served aboard Constitution during the War of 1812.

Sailor’s Story: Pardon Mawney Whipple

Read the journal of Pardon Mawney Whipple and learn about his life. Whipple was born in New York in 1790 and joined the navy as a midshipman in 1812. He was assigned to USS Constitution in 1813 and saw battle with HMS Cyane and HMS Levant.

Sailor’s Story: Dorothea Cooper

Read the journal of Dorothea Cooper and learn about her life. Cooper worked as a servant in Mastic, New York. Her husband, William Cooper, went to sea and was impressed into the British navy. He eventually escaped from the British, but died in battle while serving on USS Constitution.

Sailor’s Story: David Debias

Read the journal of David Debias and learn about his life. Debias, a free-born African-American from Boston, was eight years old when he joined Constitution.

Sailor’s Story: Beekman Hoffman

Read the journal of Beekman Hoffman and learn about his life. Hoffman was Constitution‘s fourth lieutenant. He joined the navy seven years before the War of 1812 as a midshipman, at age 15. He came to Constitution in March of 1812, and was commissioned lieutenant after serving only two months.

Constitution‘s Numbers: Marines and Sailors

How do your students compare to the average Marine and sailor aboard Constitution during the War of 1812? This activity includes statistics, gleaned from primary resources, about the people who served on the ship.

Rank and Hierarchy on Constitution

This flow chart illustrates the chain-of-command on USS Constitution during the War of 1812. The ranks, from captain/commodore to boy, are listed in a hierarchy.

Black Sailors in 1812

An academic essay for educators about Africans Americans serving in the United States Navy during the War of 1812, written by the USS Constitution Museum.

To the Beat of Your Own Drum

Marines exercised to the beat of a drum; certain numbers of beats required Marines to perform specific actions. Have your students create their own drum in this activity, and then discuss how certain sounds communicated messages to Marines and sailors on Constitution.

Replica Drum

This replica drum is similar to what Marines would have used to call men to their battle station–an action called “drumming to quarters.” This replica most closely resembles an American Civil War-era drum.

Period Musket

While this musket is a replica, it looks and operates just like a musket that would have been used by Marines or sailors on USS Constitution in 1812.

Make Your Own Marine Hat

Directions for building a Marine’s hat, or a shako. This distinctive part of the Marine uniform takes time and patience to create from scratch. Prior to conducing this activity, determine which steps listed in the “prepare the pieces” section you would like students to complete, and which steps you will have done in advance.

Marine or Sailor? Benefits and Statistics

With your students, compare and contrast a sailor’s duties aboard Constitution to that of a Marine’s. What were the pros and cons of each position? Was one position more dangerous than the other? What was the pay difference? Have students write a persuasive essay convincing someone to join Constitution as either a sailor or enlist in the Marines during the War of 1812. Why should someone choose one position over the other?

Drill Like a Marine: An Active Exercise

Teach your students to drill like a Marine using directions for body movements – a great way to practice following directions! This Marine drill is like a game of Simon Says. If you are interested in a similar game, try the sailor’s version called Captain’s Coming.

Reloading Relay

Challenge your students to a Reloading Relay lesson plan, which demonstrates the realities of Marines’ responsibilities during the chaos of battle.

Observation & Analysis: Uniformity

Compare the uniform of a Marine to that of a navy sailor during the War of 1812. Why are there different uniforms, and what do they say about their jobs and rank? Have students list other professions that require a uniform or dress code, and list the reasons why they wear a uniform for their job. Can you tell what a person does just by seeing what they wear?

Marines on the Maintop: How High is that Similar Triangle?

Marines were stationed approximately 85 to 90 feet above the spar deck of Constitution during battle. How high is that, exactly? With this lesson plan, work with your students on a sunny day to discover the height of a tree or a flagpole through its shadow (and then compare the height to where Marines were stationed on the maintop in battle). There’s no end to this lesson! Use distance and real space to see how high and how much room these Marines had to operate (the maintop’s width was half the size of a tennis court). Can they imagine keeping their balance and taking aim atop a rolling ship while being fired upon?

Brave Little Sailors: Sharing Stories

What fears and dangers might a Marine have faced on the maintop during battle? What would be your fears, and how would you tackle them? Read a sailor story of courage to your students. Have your students share stories about times when they had to be brave, and then create an art project together.

Artifact: Swivel Howitzer

Guns like this swivel howitzer were used on the ship’s fighting tops, where they would be fired down on the opposing crew. Howitzers of this size were often used like a big shotgun, firing canister or grape shot that could cover a large swath of the enemy deck. The effectiveness of howitzers kept them in use until just before the American Civil War, when it was decided that the use of any firearms in the tops was too dangerous to be worthwhile. To learn more about the uses of different types of shot, search for Bar and Round Shot: Material Properties and Use.

Powder Monkey Relay Competition

In this relay game, students compete in teams to be the victorious crew! During gun drill exercises and in real battles, some of Constitution‘s sailors, called powder monkeys, fetched cartridges of gunpowder (weighing 6 to 8 pounds) from the magazine on the orlop deck and delivered them to the guns above on the gun or spar decks. Powder monkeys had to be small, quick, and nimble to ensure safe delivery of the cartridges. Re-create their job with your students using this relay race.

Description of Materials Used in Building Constitution

To build USS Constitution, the best materials were brought to Hartt’s shipyard in Boston, Massachusetts. Constitution‘s builders used wood from all over the United States to build the ship’s strong hull. Each type of wood was ideally suited for its use. This document includes a cross-section of Constitution and points out which material was used where to build the ship.

Chemical Processes: Build an Alka-Seltzer® Cannon

An understanding of the chemical reaction of gunpowder was vital aboard Constitution. Sailors wore felt slippers while in the magazine to avoid sparks or moisture. What other types of precautions might sailors have followed with such a dangerous substance? In this activity, students will produce a chemical change using Alka-Seltzer® tablets to recreate the loading and firing of a gun on Constitution.

Sailor’s Story: John Lord

Read the journal of Seaman John Lord and learn about his life. Lord joined the navy on November 4, 1812 and served during the War of 1812. He joined USS Constitution’s crew on October 10, 1824 and served as gunner during the second long Mediterranean cruise between 1824 and 1828.

John Lord’s Powder Horn: Art at Sea

John Lord’s engraved powder horn was designed to carry gunpowder, but was also a special memento of his service. The symbols he used to decorate the powder horn were all chosen with care. By closely observing them, can your students decode what Lord’s job was on Constitution? Lord served as gunner on USS Constitution from 1824 to 1828. He decorated the horn with nautical images, included cannons and cannonballs, an anchor and chain, a flag, and a scene of “Old Ironsides” in battle. Have your students try the art of etching. Using a bar of soap and toothpicks or forks, students can etch an image, a depiction of their favorite activity, their name–anything they like–into the soap.

Chart Your Idle Away: A 24-Hour Day

In this activity, students create a chart to log their 24-hour routine. Make sure they include their free time, with at least three ideas of what they like to do for fun. Do their fun activities include something the average Constitution sailor couldn’t do, like playing video games or talking on the phone? Have them brainstorm and reflect: what else could they do with that free time? What are the differences between a sailor’s life and their own? Search the lesson plans for the Daily Routine Chart. Have students compare and contrast their daily routines to that of a sailor’s. Using a simple table, they can note the amount of hours (and convert to percentages!) of sleep, chores, school, and leisure time.

Compare & Contrast Table

With this worksheet, and using the Daily Routine Chart activity, have students compare and contrast their day to a sailor’s day with a table. Note the amount of hours (and convert to percentages for an added element) of sleep, chores, school, and leisure time.

Going to Boston: Dice Game

Sailors on Constitution had time for leisure, and this 19th century dice game may have helped them pass the time with their shipmates. All you need is a group of people and 3 dice.

Recruiting Through the Years: Art and Advertising

Recruiting advertisements were used before, during, and after the War of 1812, and are still used today. Share with students these recruiting advertisements: a 1798 newspaper recruiting article and a War of 1812 recruitment advertisement. Ask your students to read and compare the recruiting advertisements. How are the messages the same or different? What role do the words, images, and style play in communicating the recruitment message? Have students design and create a recruiting advertisement for a club, sport, or activity they enjoy. How can they get people to join through a piece of paper?

The Navy Needs Your Help! 1812 Recruiting

Ask your students: What qualifications do you think were needed to join the United States Navy in the War of 1812? Join Constitution‘s crew with this paper-based recruiting quiz. We recommend pairing students up and having one play the recruiter while the other plays the sailor being recruited.

John Lord’s Seabag

Sailors packed their canvas sea bags (like suitcases) before leaving shore. This sea bag belonged to John Lord, who served as gunner on USS Constitution from 1824 to 1828. It is a rare artifact from the 19th century that offers a glimpse into a common sailor’s life. What do your students think John Lord packed for his long trips away from home? For another activity, search the lesson plans for Design Your Own Sea Bag.

Design your Own Sea Bag

Sailors packed their canvas sea bags (like suitcases) before leaving shore. Have your students discuss what items they would pack for the journey. Search the lesson plans for the image of John Lord’s Sea Bag. Encourage your students to design and color their own sea bag. Suggest drawing images and designs that symbolize what they love about their life (e.g. family, activities, favorite places). Why did they choose those decorations?

1798 Recruiting Advertisement

This recruiting advertisement for USS Constitution was published in the Columbian Centinel on May 19, 1798. Ask your students: Would they join the United States Navy after seeing this poster? Read through the advertisement with your students and discuss the skills required to serve aboard ship. Where did interested sailors sign up?

Flat Guerriere Activity

Print out this image of Guerriere the Terrier for your students to use in many fun and creative activities.

Simple Machines on Constitution

In this lesson plan, discover the simple machines used on Constitution, like a pulley system known as block and tackle. Learn about simple machines and send your students on a scavenger hunt searching for simple machines in their classroom or at home. Challenge them to create working prototypes of simple machines that could be used on a ship.

Daily Routine Chart

A sailor’s daily routine chart. This includes a day’s schedule of a first lieutenant, midshipman, seaman, boy, and Marine private aboard Constitution during the War of 1812.

Holystoning Quotes

With your students, read these quotes (some pulled from primary resources) describing the chore of holystoning from different points of view.

Sailor’s Story: Boatswain Peter Adams

Read the journal of Boatswain Peter Adams and learn about his life. Adams, an Englishman, served on HMS Prince during the Napoleonic Wars, and came to America after discharge. Appointed a boatswain’s mate, he sailed on USS President and then transferred to Constitution in 1810.

Coopers on Constitution: Building a Barrel

Workers such as carpenters, sailmakers, and coopers used their skills to keep ships in good repair. In this lesson plan, meet Alexander Lane, <em>Constitution</em>’s cooper, learn about coopers, and build a paper barrel with your students.

Puzzling Constitution’s Orlop Deck

Building Constitution was like fitting together one big puzzle. The lower decks were especially complicated, with lots of different rooms that held lots of different supplies. Explore Constitution‘s orlop deck with a simple puzzle, and let students colorfully decorate it and make the pieces fit.

Constructing Constitution

Follow the directions and use the templates provided to construct your very own USS Constitution! This activity includes a short lesson on the construction of the ship.

Team Identity: Authentic Artifact

Each gun on Constitution was manned by the same gun team in practice and in battle. The men developed a team identity and named their gun, much as sports teams today are unified under a team name. Guns were normally named after famous American generals or patriots and, while many men did not consider themselves religious, a Bible was often strapped to the gun carriage to serve as a talisman or charm to ward off evil. An example of this survives in a Bible that was removed from USS President. It was found strapped to a gun named “Montgomery,” after General Richard Montgomery, who fell during the attack on Quebec in 1775. After viewing the artifact, ask students to think of times in their own lives when they bonded over a shared team identity. What is their team or school named for? What are the qualities that this name inspires them to emulate?

Calculating Area and Volume: How Much Can Constitution Hold?

Use this lesson plan to calculate the size of Constitution‘s hold. Then, compare Constitution‘s hold to the size of your classroom. This lesson includes tables, charts, and equations for calculating area and volume.

Creative Writing: Skits and Quotes

Using a list of primary source quotes, ask students to write an historical fiction short story or skit about the battle between USS Constitution and HMS Guerriere. The quotes are divided into the three main phases of a battle: the anticipation of impending warfare, the chaos of battle, and the aftermath. The quotes are taken from letters, journal entries, reports, and other primary source documents from the War of 1812, and illustrate points of view from both the American and British sides.

Rules of the Navy Aboard Ship

A sample list of early 19th century rules from the United States Navy. When sailors enlisted to serve on a navy vessel, they promised “to comply with and be subject to such rules and discipline of the Navy of the United States as are, or that may be established by the Congress of the United States, and to be governed and commanded in time of action with an enemy, according to the same rules and discipline, and subject ourselves to the same penalties as are thereby imposed or directed.”

Flogging in the Navy

Flogging, a form of severe corporal punishment, was implemented on board vessels in the United States Navy through the first half of the 19th century. It was a punishment usually reserved for the most serious offenses, though it was occasionally used more indiscriminately by some captains. These quotes describe flogging from two different perspectives. With older students, debate and discuss the history of corporal punishment.

Sailor’s Story: Seaman Moses Smith

Read the journal of Moses Smith and learn about his life. Smith was born in 1783 and joined USS Constitution at age 28. As an ordinary seaman, he earned $10.00 per month.

Sailor’s Story: John Wentworth

Read the journal of John Wentorth and learn about his life. Born in Orrington, Maine in 1791, he enlisted in the navy when he was 20 years old. Wentworth served aboard USS Constellation and USS Hornet before joining Constitution in July, 1811.

Gun Drill Team Building

This lesson teaches communication, team building, following instructions, and engineering concepts. A gun team drilled, or practiced, together in order to be perfect during a stressful situation. Each member needed to be able to complete their tasks successfully, both in practice and during the chaos of battle. The gun team needed to be accurate and fast, and each individual’s responsibilities were vital. In this activity, students will experience the challenges of working as a team to complete a single objective.

Round Shot

This simple, 24-pound iron ball was a form of ammunition that could wreak havoc when shot from a gun (cannon) and blasted across the decks or into the hulls of warships in the late 18th and 19th centuries. A broad arrow marks it as British, otherwise it would have looked the same if it were on an American ship. A shot like this would have been fired from a cannon, or gun, from the gun deck or spar deck.

Danger on the Gun Team: John Wentworth

Learn about the importance of individual responsibility in the story of Constitution sailor John Wentworth, who was injured when a gun rolled over his foot. Read Wentworth’s own words in his pension application to the United States government to find out what happened and how he was injured. Reinforce the importance of detailed instructions with your students by having them write the order of operations in constructing a sandwich, and then try it out! Perform the actual instructions written by the students. How many of your students forgot to include taking the bread out of the bread bag or using a knife to spread in their instructions?

Bar and Round Shot: Material Properties and Use

With your students, view two different types of shot that were used in a gun during the War of 1812. Work together as a group to list the different material properties of each type of shot. How is a round shot different than a bar shot? How are they alike? Why would a gun crew choose to load different types of shot? Did each type inflict a different type of damage?

Bar Shot

Made of wrought (hammered) iron, bar shot consisted of two hemispheres joined in the middle by a stiff iron bar. When fired, bar shot spun at high speed and cut through sails and ropes like a buzz saw. It had a limited range, however, so could only be used when the ships were close to each other.

1817 Illustration of American Dismantling Shot

Illustration of dismantling, or American ’round and grape shot,’ from A Full and Correct Account of the Chief Naval Occurances of the Late War between Great Britain and the United States of America, by William James, 1817. The illustration is a British account of the type of artillery used by American ships, designed to take down rigging, masts, and sails.

Daily Calorie Intake of an 1812 Sailor and a Modern Combat Ration Chart

Compare a ration for a United States Navy sailor during the War of 1812 to a modern combat ration. Compare the number of calories required to sustain their health.

Sailor’s Story: Cook William Long

Read the journal of the Cook William Long and learn about his life. Long came from the town of Wiscasset in the district of Maine, and joined Constitution in 1811 as a seaman.

Personal Letter Quantifying Food Stuffs

A personal letter from Isaac Washburn to his sister, Abigail Hill, written in 1844. He writes about the foods he received and the frequency with which he received it. The food stuffs Washburn ate were not so different than what he would have eaten if he served in 1812.

Cooking Activity: Ship’s Biscuit

Ship’s biscuit was a hard piece of bread that USS Constitution’s sailors ate at nearly every meal. The biscuit was baked on land, stored on board the ship, and then eaten by the sailors at sea. Sailors soaked the rock-hard biscuit in their stew to soften it before taking a bite. Use this recipe to cook ship’s biscuits with your students, or bring some in for your students to sample.

 

1812 Hot Chocolate Recipe

There is nothing like a cup of hot chocolate on a cold day. This recipe is from the book, The Artist’s Companion, and Manufacturer’s Guide, Consisting of the Most Valuable Secrets in Arts and Trades (1814). It is similar to what is called Mexican hot chocolate today. While officers may have had access to the somewhat exotic ingredients needed for this recipe, sailors probably made do with sugar and water. Mrs. Child, in The American Frugal Housewife (1833), suggests that nutmeg improves the taste of chocolate. Since this was a common spice, seamen could have grated it into their cups.

Surgeon’s Kit from USS Chesapeake

This complete surgeon’s kit belonging to Dr. William Swift of USS Chesapeake during the War of 1812. The kit includes a bone saw, tooth key, and tourniquet.  Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Surgeon Amos Evan’s Lecture Notebooks

Amos Alexander Evans was born on November 26, 1785. When or why Evans chose to pursue the medical profession is not known, but by the fall of 1802 (when he was only 17) he felt confident enough in his understanding to attend lectures by the famed Philadelphia physician Dr. Benjamin Rush. Evans attended a series of 99 lectures on subjects ranging from advice on siteing hospitals and education of doctors to philosophical disquisitions on reproduction and longevity. Evans clearly hung on every word, and his notebooks from the lectures (Volumes I, II, and III) are a neatly written regurgitation of Rush’s own words.

All Guts and Glory: Crossword Puzzle

Use this crossword puzzle to learn vocabulary related to naval medicine in the 19th century.

Sailor’s Story: Able Seaman Richard Dunn

Read the journal of Richard “Dick” Dunn and learn about his life. Dunn joined the United States Navy on June 19, 1812, the day after War of 1812 began. He was posted to Constitution one week later. Straight away, Dunn was made an able seaman because of his experience on merchant sailing ships.

Naval Medicine in 1812

A one-page essay, written by the USS Constitution Museum, describing naval medicine during the War of 1812.

Captain’s Coming!

Work on board Constitution was completed by the sailors, and orders came down the ranks, usually from the Captain. Get your students outside and try our version of Simon Says, called Captain’s Coming!

How to be a Great Navigator (ION)

How do you determine your location if there is no land in sight? Each day at noon, a measurement of the sun’s position above the horizon was taken using a sextant. The ship’s position was then calculated using the measurement and mathematical equations. With your students, learn about navigation on the high seas and build your own sextant with the Institute of Navigation’s “How to be a Great Navigator” activity.

Sextant

Used for determining position at sea, the sextant primarily measured the angles between the horizon and the sun at noon to determine the ship’s latitude. Have your students study this artifact in conjunction with the lesson plans on navigation.

Build a Simple Sextant (NASA)

In the “Captain’s Cabin” scene, Captain Hull is charting the Ship’s progress. With this Lesson Plan from NASA, Build a Simple Sextant with your students. A Midshipmen’s education on board Constitution included navigation, how to determine the ship’s location at sea. How do you determine your location if there is no land in sight? Each day at noon, Midshipmen measured the sun’s position above the horizon using a sextant. Then the ship’s position was calculated using the measurement taken with the sextant and mathematical equations. View a real sextant and then make your own with this NASA Lesson Plan, Build a Simple Sextant. Then, learn How to be a Great Navigator with this Lesson Plan from the Institute of Navigation. Information about navigation is also available in the Captain’s Cabin annotated scene.

Rank and Responsibility of Captain

A two-page description of the captain’s duties on board ship in the early 19th century. Captain was the highest rank in the navy during the War of 1812, and a captain typically commanded ships of 20 guns or more. The captain had ultimate responsibility for the ship and its crew.

Sailor’s Story: Captain Isaac Hull

Read the journal of Captain Isaac Hull and learn about his life. Hull was born in Connecticut and served as a lieutenant on Constitution before he was made captain. He served as captain during part of the War of 1812 and was victorious in the battle against HMS Guerriere.

Purser Thomas Chew’s Telescope

This wooden and brass telescope, owned by purser Thomas John Chew, represents the type used by mariners during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It is a personal telescope, small enough to be slipped into a pocket, and was perhaps used by Chew to detect enemy ships on the horizon.

Captain Hull’s Seal

Captain Isaac Hull owned this gold fob, which enclosed his personal seal, an image of USS Constitution above the inscription “I. Hull” carved in carnelian, a hard precious stone. For Hull, this seal served as a means of authenticating his correspondence and ensuring that letters remained unopened and unread in transit.

Captain Hull’s Pocket Watch

This gold pocket watch belonged to Captain Isaac Hull. A pocket watch, as the name suggests, was meant to be carried in one’s pocket and were usually attached to a short chain.

You be the Judge! Primary Sources

Sailors often sent money back home to their families, who depended on this income for basic necessities. If a sailor died, his shipmates might have taken a collection of money to send home to his family. Stories of these families can be found in primary source documents, like pension records. Read the excerpt from the pension record of Tobias Fernald, which awarded money to his widow. Discuss the letter with your students. Should this person receive a pension or not?

Ship’s Super Superstitions & Shakespeare

In this lesson plan, have your students explore a list of superstitions and then make up their own. For older students, explore the superstitions surrounding burials at sea with an excerpt from Shakespeare’s Pericles, Prince of Tyre.

List of Ship’s Superstitions

Use this list of Ship’s Superstitions for a laugh and a brainstorm session about other superstitions with your students. For further instruction, search for the lesson plan on “Ships Superstitions & Shakespeare.”

Plate Removed from HMS Guerriere

This ornate dinner plate was retrieved from HMS Guerriere following its defeat by USS Constitution on August 19, 1812. It was common for fine items like this to be taken from a defeated ship, and Captain Isaac Hull was known to have given away some of his battle souvenirs to friends and visitors later in his life. The plate likely belonged to a British officer.

Captain Hull’s Silver Presentation Urn

Captain Isaac Hull was presented with this silver urn following his defeat of HMS Guerriere in the War of 1812. The significance of the urn lies in its exquisite workmanship and in the complex social history of its presentation. The urn was created as a symbol of gratitude, pride, and patriotism following America’s early naval successes, but the merchants who contributed to the payment of the urn also sought to enhance their own reputations by association.

Captain Hull’s Dress Sword and Scabbard

This elaborate sword once belonged to Captain Isaac Hull, who commanded USS Constitution during the War of 1812. Typical of those worn by American Naval officers at the time, this style of sword is more a ceremonial mark of office rather than a practical fighting weapon. The sword was the physical embodiment of Hull’s honor as a gentleman and an officer in the United States Navy.

Original letter from John Contee to Lewis Bush, dated September 13, 1812, describing the death of his brother, with transcription

This short, handwritten letter is a poignant firsthand account of one officer’s bravery and sacrifice during USS Constitution‘s first battle in the War of 1812. The letter, from Marine Lieutenant John Contee to Lewis Bush, recounts the death of Lewis’ brother, Lt. William Sharp Bush, on August 19, 1812 during Constitution‘s battle with HMS Guerriere. Lt. Bush was the first United States Marine Corps officer to be killed in combat.

Transcription of a letter from Seaman Michael Clear to his wife, Sarah, February 1813

Sailing Master Michael Clear wrote his wife, Sarah, about the cruelties of war following Constitution‘s battle with HMS Java.

Sailors’ Stories: Cheevers’ Brothers

Read the journal of John and Joseph Cheever and learn about their lives. The Cheever brothers were from Marblehead, Massachusetts and served on Constitution during the War of 1812.

Artist’s Depiction: The Engagement between the USS Constitution and HMS Cyane and Levant

This small oil on panel painting by French artist Ambroise Louis Garneray depicts the battle between USS Constitutionand the British frigates HMS Cyane and HMS Levant. Although Garneray took some creative license with this rendition of the battle, he provides a compelling vision of the lighting and feel of a battle extending into the night.

Portrait of Charles Stewart

This engraved portrait of Captain Charles Stewart is from The Analectic Magazine, 1815. Stewart was commander of USS Constitution during the victorious battle against HMS Cyane and HMS Levant in 1815.

Classroom Skit: Constitution vs. Guerriere

This classroom skit recounts the battle between USS Constitution and HMS Guerriere using many of the actual words expressed by men who took part in the battle. The skit takes approximately ten minutes to perform. You will need six volunteers to read the parts of the characters, a narrator, and a person to hold up sign that indicate opportunities for audience participation.

Portrait of Isaac Hull

This oil on panel portrait of Captain Isaac Hull was completed by the renowned American portrait artist, Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828), in Boston, Massachusetts in 1807.

Battle Diagram: USS Constitution vs. HMS Java

This detailed ink and watercolor diagram of the battle between USS Constitution and HMS Java on December 29, 1812 was drawn by Charles Frederick Waldo. As USS Constitution’s assistant sailing master stationed on the main fighting top during the battle, Waldo’s bird’s eye view presented an excellent perspective from which to understand and describe the movement of the ships throughout the engagement.

Battle Diagram: USS Constitution vs. HMS Guerriere

This diagram of the battle between USS Constitution and HMS Guerriere, drawn by Captain Isaac Hull, is accompanied by key detailing the action. If you look closely, you can see the route of Guerriere in the top left portion. The stronger lines are the path of Constitution.

William Bainbridge’s Gold Medal

On March 3, 1813, the U.S. Congress approved the commissioning of this Congressional gold medal to Commodore William Bainbridge for his defeat of the British frigate HMS Java on December 29, 1812.  View the details on this Congressional medal, and then search the Educator Resources for Bainbridge’s comments on the medal’s original design.