At the outbreak of the War of 1812, America was at a decided disadvantage. The Royal Navy was 60 times the size of the fledgling U.S. Navy and had centuries of experience to fall back on. But these facts did not deter American captains from taking their ships to sea in defiance of such odds.
One such captain, Isaac Hull, had his frigate the USS Constitution off Cape Race, near Newfoundland, on the afternoon of 19 August 1812, when her lookouts sighted the British frigate HMS Guerriere. Although the Constitution mounted 30, 24-pound long guns and 24, 32-pound carronades to the Guerriere’s 30, 18-pounders, 2, 12-pounders, and 18, 32-pound carronades, the Guerriere’s captain, James R. Dacres, did not hesitate to offer battle. Perhaps he shared The Times of London’s assessment of the U.S. Navy as merely “a handful of fir-built frigates under a bit of striped bunting” or more likely he was aware that the Royal Navy had a long history of winning ship-to-ship encounters.