“crowd of memories which people her decks” — Hard Times Token

Today, the Hard Times Token with its image of the USS Constitution remembers when Congress approved on February 14, 1900 the work to restore the ship.

An excerpt from The Frigate Constitution, The Central Figure of the Navy Under Sail by Ira Nelson Hollis, published in 1900, tells of her last years before the restoration approval :


From this time until 1871, her commanding officers were placed on board mainly as care-takers. Lieutenant-Commander (now Admiral) George Dewey had her from November 5, 1867, to August 1, 1870.

Her period of usefulness had practically passed away at the time of her last cruise, and the progress in the art of ship-building during the Civil War converted her into an antiquity; endeared to the American people, to be sure, but still a relic of the past.

In 1871 she was taken to the Philadelphia Navy Yard too far gone to be trusted under sail at sea. Another crisis like that of 1828 had overtaken her. She lay in ordinary for a short time, until it was finally decided to rebuild her by replacing all decayed timbers and planking.

At one time there was a suggestion of putting machinery into her, but fortunately the plan was given up. Of no service as a steamer, she would have been ruined as a memorial of the old sailing navy.

While the work of rebuilding was in progress, the Navy Yard was moved from Philadelphia to League Island, and the contract to complete her was given to Wood, Dialogue and Company.

The effort to have her fitted up as an interesting feature of the Centennial Exhibition failed, and she was not ready until early in 1877.

Steam-heating apparatus was placed on board, and care was taken to give her modern appliances, so far as possible.

She was placed in commission at League Island in July, 1877. The command fell to four captains in rapid succession before she left the Navy Yard, and she was not employed until an act of Congress authorized the President to supply public transportation for goods sent by our citizens to the Universal Exposition at Paris in 1878.

Captain O. C. Badger took command of her in January of that year, and a number of changes were made at once to stow as much freight as possible in the hold. She took the cargo on board at the foot of Walnut Street, Philadelphia, and sailed from Delaware Breakwater on March 4.

The passage across proved to be an anxious one, as the repairs did not turn out well, and the working of her timbers under sail developed a number of leaks. She reached Havre early in April and lay there nine months waiting to carry back her cargo.

Two incidents occurred on the return voyage to render it memorable as an unhappy one. She sailed from Havre by daylight on January 16, and ran aground off Ballard’s Point near Swanage in the middle of the following night.

It is reported that an unknown current set her on the English coast, which was supposed to be twenty-seven miles away when she struck. Every effort was made to get her off, and the united pull of five tugs finally succeeded in moving her into deep water.

The officers of the British navy were most friendly in the emergency, even sending a battle-ship to assist. She was docked at the Navy Yard, Portsmouth, and soon repaired, as the damage proved to be slight.

Captain Badger got to sea once more on January 30, but fourteen days later the rudder head was twisted off in a gale of wind. There was nothing to do but run before it, and she was headed for Lisbon, which she reached in five days.

Again she had to go into a government dock, this time for a much longer period. On April 11, she sailed for home, and arrived in New York on May 24.

The Navy Department now ordered her into service as a training ship for apprentice boys. After a voyage to Philadelphia and return the command was turned over to Captain F. H. Baker, who kept her only a few weeks. Captain O. F. Stanton took command in October, 1879, and during the next two years cruised from the West Indies as far north as Halifax.

She was taken south during the winter and north during the summer season for the purpose of working the ship under sail as much as possible.

In June, 1881, Captain Stanton surrendered the command to Commander E. U. Shepard, and six months later the ship went out of commission at the New York Navy Yard. This closed her long career at sea. She lay at New York for two years, and was then towed to Ports mouth, N. H., for use as a receiving ship.

When the hundredth anniversary of her launch approached, the Secretary of the Navy ordered her back to her birthplace, and she arrived at the Boston Navy Yard on September 21, 1897, in tow of the tug Leyden, with Commander S. W. Very and a crew of forty-five men on board.

The North Atlantic Fleet, consisting of the New York, Brooklyn, Iowa, Massachusetts, and Texas, anchored in the harbor to assist in the celebration. There were speeches in the Old South Meeting-House by the Governor of Massachusetts, the Mayor of Boston, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and the junior Senator from the State, on October 21.

The sailors and marines were subsequently reviewed in the Navy Yard, and Old Ironsides formed the central figure of a great reception in her honor.

The old craft now lies housed over and tenant-less, except for the crowd of memories which people her decks. She has reached another stage in her existence demanding the assistance of every lover of his country to secure for her a long lease of life.

By an act of Congress approved February 14, 1900, the Secretary of the Navy is authorized to restore her to the same condition as regards her hull and rigging as she was when in active service; provided that a sufficient sum of money to complete the work shall be raised through the agency of the Massachusetts State Society of the United States Daughters of 1812.

The amount required is estimated at 400,000 dollars, and the patriotic women having the business in charge will no doubt realize their hopes of seeing the old ship completely restored in course of a few years.


The Hard Times Token shows with an image of a painting of the USS Constitution, circa 1896.

Hard Times Token