A brief 13-week cruise was the prelude to perhaps the most significant blot on the otherwise stellar record of the USS Constitution . But the details of what happened on board ship will probably never be known.
Captain Jesse Duncan Elliott was no stranger to controversy. While commandant of the Boston Navy Yard, he caused an uproar by having a politically incorrect—for rabidly Whig Bostonians at least—figurehead of President Andrew Jackson placed on the fabled frigate USS Constitution during her reconstruction. The figurehead was soon beheaded by an irate Bostonian, thereby causing a brouhaha and the President embarrassing publicity. Elliott received orders to get the ship ready for sea quickly and to sail her out of sight, out of mind, and—Navy leaders hoped—out of the press. His precipitate departure from Boston on 2 March 1835 began a voyage all involved were later only too anxious to put behind them.