Charlestown Navy Yard Boston National Historical Park, Massachusetts

Charlestown Navy Yard Boston, a National Historical Park, Massachusetts

Sail area, with studding sails (not shown), was more than 43,000 sq. ft.

Project Gutenberg’s Charlestown Navy Yard, by National Park Service

Charlestown Navy Yard
Boston National Historical Park, Massachusetts
Produced by the Division of Publications National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior Washington, DC

Author: National Park Service
Title: Charlestown Navy Yard Boston National Historical Park, Massachusetts
Release Date: June 30, 2017 [EBook #55010]
Project Gutenberg’s Charlestown Navy Yard, by National Park Service

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The Charlestown Navy Yard, a
Boston National Historical Park, Massachusetts National Park Handbook was produced by the Division of Publications National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior Washington, DC in 2017.

The U.S. government established Charlestown Navy Yard as the newly-formed republic was meeting early challenges to its merchant shipping. In the decade after gaining independence, the young nation kept no standing navy. But continuing raids on U.S. commerce by Barbary pirates and French privateers in the 1790s spurred Congress to authorize the construction of new warships.

Realizing that existing private shipyards were inadequate for the increasingly ambitious shipbuilding program, the Secretary of the Navy established in 1800-1801 six federal yards to build, outfit, repair, and supply naval vessels. These facilities at Portsmouth, N.H.; Boston; New York; Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; and Norfolk, Va., were the nucleus of the naval shipyard system. Except during the Civil War, they launched most of the Navy’s vessels until the advent of steel hulls in the 1880s, when private yards began building them in greater numbers.

As with the first six, later naval shipyards were sometimes created to fill an immediate military need.

The War of 1812, for instance, prompted the building of the two Great Lakes yards. The Mound City yard was established during the Civil War, strategically located near the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers to build and repair Union gunboats. Although U.S. naval vessels are today built in private shipyards, four navy yards still actively serve the fleet.

Growth of the Yard

When Captain William Bainbridge arrived in Boston aboard U.S.S. (United States Ship) Constitution in February 1813, he had reason to be satisfied. While the U.S. Army faltered early in the War of 1812, a string of naval victories over British ships was boosting public confidence. Two months earlier, the big frigate commanded by Bainbridge had engaged H.M.S. (His Majesty’s Ship) Java off the coast of Brazil. Java was the faster ship, but Constitution had heavier guns. By skillful maneuvering. Constitution kept them trained on the British frigate, pounding Java with broadsides until its colors came down.

Crew and commander were met with parades in Boston, but Bainbridge had little time to enjoy the acclaim. He was immediately faced with a task that, if not as exciting as a sea battle, was nevertheless formidable. He had temporarily relinquished command of the Charlestown Navy Yard when he sailed on Constitution.

While he was gone, Navy Secretary Paul Hamilton charged the yard with building one of the nation’s first ships-of-the-line—the battleships of their day. As things now stood, that was an impossibility: Charlestown simply lacked the facilities for such an undertaking.

Bainbridge, who at 37 had already seen extensive naval action and been imprisoned by Barbary pirates, wrote soon after becoming commandant in 1812: “No period of my naval life has been more industrious or fatiguing.” He was shorthanded and hampered by bad weather, conditions that must have sorely tested the endurance of a man with his temperament: aggressive, 12volatile, not noted for his patience. When he took command of the Charlestown yard, Bainbridge pressed the Washington bureaucracy to authorize improvements to a facility that suffered, in his words, from “mismanagement and neglect.”