My Country ‘Tis of Thee

In a past story, I wrote about my adventure into writing a novel based on a young man’s destiny in and around the Boston area while living through the Civil War. The young man is a real character, Robert Wait (my great-grandfather), who attends Harvard University as the country erupts into the Civil War. As any writer should know in writing historical fiction, there is a lot of research to be done. So this past weekend I found myself at Harvard University on a student-run walking tour. Having never been at Harvard or in Harvard Square and Cambridge I found it all very enlightening.

All my life I heard stories about my great-aunt, a librarian at the Widener library at Harvard and a graduate of Radcliffe College, and my grandfather and great-grandfather both alumni of Harvard. It was a little unbelievable that women were only given ‘real’ diplomas as Harvard University graduates beginning in 1991 when Radcliffe officially merged with Harvard. The historical part from Harvard’s beginnings of 1636 as well as the beginnings of the town of Cambridge through the years as our country came to be, was very interesting the more walking around I did reading the highlighted historical markers scattered throughout.

The original brick building, Stoughton Hall, where my character, Robert, lives while at Harvard, as well as the other buildings  situated in this quadrangle, look untouched by time. Envisioning my storyline now had more purpose as I continued on the tour through the campus with my sisters and others from nearby towns, and states, Georgia, Hawaii, New Jersey, California, Puerto Rico and countries  Lima Peru, Australia and India. We walked through Harvard Yard and to the Weld Boathouse located at the Charles River. Again  I needed to see this area and Boston across the river from Robert’s view point.

Boston was the place to be during this past week where Independence Day was celebrated with highlighted events known as Boston Harborfest. It continued before and after the official date of July 4. While we were in Cambridge, the Liberty Fleet of Tall Ships was at the Waterfront. It was also the celebration of Boston Navy Week.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the historic War of 1812. We decided to make our way to the Charlestown Naval Shipyard to continue a sense of place with the novel as my character, Robert, makes his way here. His adventure continues as he sets sail towards the last part of this epic tale. International ships welcomed visitors at the shipyard as well as the Coast Guard ship. The USS Constitution, “Old Ironsides” and a part of American history, is berthed  here and sits as regally as ever.

Old Ironsides by Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.
Ay, tear her tattered ensign down!
Long has it waved on high,
And many an eye has danced to see
That banner in the sky;
Beneath it rung the battle shout,
And burst the cannon’s roar; —
The meteor of the ocean air
Shall sweep the clouds no more.
Her deck, once red with heroes’ blood,
Where knelt the vanquished foe,
When winds were hurrying o’er the flood,
And waves were white below,
No more shall feel the victor’s tread,
Or know the conquered knee; —
The harpies of the shore shall pluck
The eagle of the sea!
Oh, better that her shattered hulk
Should sink beneath the wave;
Her thunders shook the mighty deep,
And there should be her grave;
Nail to the mast her holy flag,
Set every threadbare sail,
And give her to the god of storms,
The lightning and the gale!

Debbie Curtin writes stories about people, places, events and other topics of interest that engage the reader. As a member of the New Hampshire Writer’s Project, Debbie keeps ‘in the game’ with other like minded people. She has been an artist and creative person all her life and uses the unlimited sources of inspiration that abound everywhere in her writing as another art form.

For more details about Old Ironsides, click Read More!

Old Ironsides is the popular name for the naval ship the USS Constitution. The construction of the ship was authorized by President George Washington in 1794. The Third Congress had previously requested that some action be taken to protect American merchant ships, which were being attacked with increasing frequency by North African and British ships. The steps taken by Congress and the President essentially resulted in the creation of the US Navy.

Six ships were designed by naval architect Joshua Humphries and one of the ships, the Constitution, was to be built in Edmund Hartt’s shipyard in Boston, Massachusetts. The construction of the USS Constitution cost 302,700 dollars and 2,000 trees.

The construction team included Capt. Samuel Nicholson, Col. George Claghorne and Gen. Henry Jackson. The cannons on the ship were fastened with copper fixtures crafted by a blacksmith named Paul Revere, who is better known for his famous midnight ride. The ship was launched on October 21, 1797 and it has remained a part of the US Navy since, making it the oldest commissioned warship, still afloat, in the world.

The Constitution was involved in many battles, including several in the War of 1812 and used for training during the Civil War. On August 19th,1812, the Constitution was engaged in a battle with the British ship HMS Guerriere. It is reported that sometime during the battle, someone witnessed a British shot that bounced off the side of the Constitution and exclaimed “Huzzah! Her sides are made of iron!” The Americans emerged from the battle victorious, and since then the ship has been popularly referred to as “Old Ironsides”.

In 1828, the Constitution was laid up at Boston for two years. The Navy Yard commanders were surveying all the ships in the yard in order to determine the price to bring the ships into active commission. Reports began to circulate that the Navy was considering scrapping the Constitution. There was a public outcry when many heard that the ship which bore the same name as the document that stood for American freedom might be destroyed. Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. also heard of the fate that might befall the ship, and he quickly came to the rescue.

He wrote a poem that struck a chord with the patriotic masses of a young America. Old Ironsides was published the next day, and it became wildly popular. The Secretary of the Navy soon ordered the ship to be restored and returned to active duty. In 1997 the USS Constitution celebrated its 200th year. It was towed from Boston to Marblehead, 17 miles north of the city to stage the ship in Massachusetts Bay. During the war of 1812 she found a safe haven in Marblehead from two British warships. During the historic sailing she fired both port and starboard batteries in a show of naval honor. The NFDS, the Blue Angels, flew over the sailing ship as the USS Ramage and USS Halyburton rendered honors as they passed the USS Constitution.

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Part of the information in this story was used with permission from Legal Language Services.

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  1. Vote -1 Vote +1Heather Rojo

    Wow, my 2x great grandfather served on the USS Constitution during the Civil War. Do you know the exciting story of how the Salem Zoaves rescued Old Ironsides from the South, and sailed her to safety in New York Harbor? Many of the Zoaves were college boys. Also, while you were at Harvard did you check out Memorial Hall? It was built as a memorial to the students who served in the Civil War. As a student I had tap dancing lessons in Memorial Hall, and also my graduate school graduation. All the names carved into the wooden paneling are impressive, and also very touching.

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