The 44-gun frigate Constitution would become the most famous American warship of the Age of Sail. But she would never have survived to achieve that distinction had she not escaped from seven Royal Navy ships in the War of 1812—during three all-but-windless summer days off New Jersey, north of the Delaware Bay.
In July 1812, Secretary of the Navy Paul Hamilton had asked the Constitution’s commander, Captain Isaac Hull, to use the utmost dispatch to reach New York, where the frigate would join Commodore John Rodgers’ squadron of six warships. But unknown to Hull, Rodgers was already far from that destination, well offshore hunting British merchant ships that were crossing the Atlantic. Under Hull’s command, the Constitution sailed on 5 July from Annapolis down the Chesapeake. Her first lieutenant, Charles Morris, had joined her only two weeks before she sailed, and approximately 100 newly assigned crewmen had come aboard.