Friday, October 15, 2010

Birth of the United States Navy

By John Hart, Assistant Curator of Collections

In honor of the 235th birthday of the United States Navy, celebrated on October 13th, I decided to blog about a print in the Fenimore Art Museum collection to celebrate. First established as the Continental Navy by the Continental Congress in 1775, the first Navy dissolved shortly after the end of the American Revolution. It wasn’t until almost two decades later that Congress authorized the creation of the Navy we know today.

According to the USS Constitution Museum, six frigates were built between 1797 and 1800 – the USS Constitution is the only ship that remains. Dubbed “Old Ironsides” because of her very strong hull, she either repelled cannon balls completely, or absorbed enough of the impact to prevent the ship from sinking. Now resting in Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston, Massachusetts, Old Ironsides remains a popular tourist attraction and one of the oldest surviving relics of the American Revolution. And arguably, the most recognized, too.

The Kearsarge and the Constitution, 1892, by Fred S. Cozzens
Lithographic print, H: 10 ¾” x W: 14 ½”
Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, N.Y., N0612.1942(22)

The print in our collection, shown above, depicts the USS Constitution in the foreground, and to the viewer’s left is the steam sloop of war, USS Kearsarge, commissioned in 1862 during the US Civil War. Like the Constitution during the War of 1812, Kearsarge proved her worth during several important battles during the Civil War, including her defeat of the CSS Alabama. To this day, there is a ship named USS Kearsarge in honor of the original, which ran aground in the late 19th century. The ship to the right was not identified in the print’s key.

If you’re ever in Boston, stop by the USS Constitution Museum – the tour of the ship is free, and offered by active duty sailors. The museum itself is a treasure trove of history and definitely a destination you shouldn’t miss.

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