BARBARY WAR (1803-1807)


Displayed below are the images of USS Constitution and her people during the Barbary War period, as recorded down through the years, arranged in approximate chronological order of the event or person depicted. Undatable, general, images are grouped at the end. Where appropriate, commentary is provided to put the image in context and evaluate its accuracy.


U. S. Navy

Edward Preble, captain of Constitution and commander of the Mediterranean Squadron, 1803-04. During the summer of 1804, he conducted a series of attacks against Tripoli (Libya, today) that were viewed as the cause of the Bashaw to conclude a peace with the United States. In recognition of this service, he became the first of Constitution's captains to be awarded a Congressional gold medal.

Preble was born in Falmouth, Maine, on 15 August 17 1761, and in 1779 became an officer in the Massachusetts State Marine ship Protector (26). He served in her until she was taken, when he became a prisoner in the hulk Jersey at New York until exchanged. He then served in Winthrop and led a boarding party in the capture of a British brig.

After 15 years in the merchant marine, in 1798 he was commissioned a lieutenant in the new navy. In 1799, he took command of the brig Pickering (14). Promoted to Captain, he commanded frigate Essex (32), 1800-01. He died at Portland, Maine, on 25 August 1807


U. S. Navy

This gouache believed to be by Michel Felice Corne is the earliest eyewitness painting of USS Constitution. Internal evidence, such as the number of stars in the flag, date it to 1803, and it was almost certainly done as Commodore Preble was readying her for the Mediterranean. Compared with documentary evidence of the period, and against existing draughts, it has been found to be very accurate, both as to scale and detail. It is the only known contemporary image of the Hercules figurehead, details of which become apparent through microphotography.


Courtesy, Lloyd McCaffery


The obverse and reverse of the Congressional gold medal awarded to Commodore Edward Preble. It is a bit more than 2 ˝ inches in diameter, actual size. Rembrandt Peale did a portrait especially to serve as the model for the Commodore’s bust. The legend on the front reads "Edwardo Preble Duci Strenuo" and "Comitia Ameericana,"  and on the back, "Vindici Commercii Americana" and "Anti Tripoli MDCCCIV."

Authorized in March 1805, it was delivered to Preble in 1806


U.S. Navy

Captain John Rodgers commanded Constitution from early November 1804 until late May 1806. During his time on board, in June 1805, the peace treaty with Tripoli was concluded in his cabin in the ship.

Rodgers was born near Havre de Grace, Maryland, on 11 July 1772, and was commissioned a lieutenant in the new U. S. Navy in March 1798. In February 1799, his ship, USS Constellation, defeated the French frigate L'Insurgente and Rodgers was made prizemaster. With a minimal crew to keep the French prisoners under control, he fought through a severe storm and brought the ship safely home. Shortly afterwards, he was promoted captain.

It was Rodgers' fate, as senior officer in the service, never to have the opportunity for a frigate victory in the War of 1812. After the war, he served as commander to the Mediterranean squadron, but mostly as president of the Navy Board of Commissioners. He died in Philadelphia on 1 August 1838. His service, together with that of his son and grandson, is commemorated by the later naming of two steamers, two torpedo boats, and three destroyers.


U.S. Navy

Photograph of a sketch of Constitution said to have come from "Commodore John Rodgers' Sketchbook" in the collections of the Naval Historical Foundation. The original cannot be located. The sketch evidently was done in 1809-10, the period of Commodore Rodgers' second tour in command. It is the earliest depiction of the ship with her forecastle bulwarked and her waist open.