Hemp On The USS Constitution and USS Constellation – 1797

Hemp is an incredibly versatile crop, and it’s roots goes back for millenia. Ancient civilizations used hemp for food, fiber, and medicine. In fact, it was once illegal NOT go grow hemp in the US colonies.

Hemp fiber has superior strength to nearly any natural, and man made, fiber. Seafarers used the hurd and fiber of the hemp plant for the ropes of the ship, even to make the billowing sails that propelled their vessels across the open seas.

The following is a series of letters written in 1797, printed by Zachariah Poulson on orders by the House of Representatives. In the letters, it is revealed that an ENORMOUS amount of hemp was used for these vessels: 50 TONS! And that was a replacement for a previous 50 tons that was lost due to a fire.


Pubdate: June 17, 1797
Source: Letter from the Secretary of War, Transmitting Sundry Statements Relative to the Frigates United States, Constitution and Constellation. Published by order of the House of Representatives. Philadelphia: Printed by Zachariah Poulson, Junior, Number Eighty, Chesnut-Street. 1797

War Office, June 16th. 1797.


I HAVE the honor to communicate herewith, the several statements and estimates annexed, viz. The present state of the Frigates United States, Constitution and Constellation; An estimate of the money which will be required to complete the said Frigates; An estimate shewing the further sum which will be wanted for the pay and provisioning their officers and crews for twelve months; An estimate of the probable value of the articles on hand, and a table exhibiting the articles and where deposited.

It may be proper to observe on the second estimate, that although it is not possible to attain to certainty in such calculations, especially where the vessels are built at so great a distance from each other, without incurring considerable delay, it is nevertheless expected, from the care that has been taken in forming it, that it will be found to approach pretty near the real amount which it may be necessary to expend for their completion. It may also be noticed, that the estimate of pay and subsistence, which is founded on the act of the 27th. of May, 1794, may require to be varied from in some particulars.

I have the honor to be,
With great respect,
Your obedient servant,
James McHenry.

Honorable Josiah Parker.


State of the Frigates United States and Constitution of 44 guns, and Constellation of 36 guns.



The hull of this ship was launched on the tenth of May last. The bottom is completely coppered; and the carpenter’s work is nearly finished, and she will be soon in a situation to receive her masts and stores.

Several of the masts, yards and caps are finished, and the remainder are under way. The boats are in hand: all the rigging, blocks, dead-eyes, and one suit of sails are prepared, all the principal, and most of the small stores are provided, and the captain reports, that the ship may be rigged and completed for sea in one month after the guns and lower masts are on board.



The bottom of this ship is squared off, and the Caukers are at work. The various decks are laying: the breasthooks, diagonal riders and counter timbers are all in and secured, and the mast makers are employed on the masts and yards. All the boats excepting the pinnace are built.

The riggers are at work on the rigging which will be soon ready: The water casks are in hand: Sails are preparing, and the constructor reports the ship may be launched about the twentieth of August next – the captain is of opinion she may be completely equipped in one month after.



The latest report states, that this ship is in great forwardness. The bottom is caulked and finished: The lower deck is laid, and the other decks are in a forward state: The head, quarter-galleries and stern are partly done, and the bowsprit is almost ready to be put on board. The materials for the equipment and rigging are all procured, one suit of sails are made, and all the guns for the gun-deck are in the Navy-yard and mounted on their carriages. The constructor states, that this ship will be launched next month, and, from the forward state of the masts, yards and rigging, together with the other equipments, there is reason to conclude she can be completely fitted for sea in one month after she is launched.


Estimate of the further sums necessary to complete the Frigates United States and Constitution of 44 guns, and Constellation of 36 guns.


UNITED STATES, at Philadelphia.

Cost of guns and military stores, 38,820
Labor and tradesmen’s bills, 26,000


 Cost of guns and military stores,  32,175
Labor and tradesman’s bills, 45,045
Fifty tons of hemp purchased to replace a like quantity destroyed by fire, (together with labor,) 16,250


Cost of guns and military stores, 23,814
Labor and tradesmen’s bills, 55,600


 [Total] 237,704
Balance unexpended of last appropriations, -40,000
To be provided, (Dollars) 197,636




Amount of materials sold,



Value of timber and materials at Portsmouth,



Ditto at New-York



Ditto at Norfolk,



Ditto at Mud-fort, Ossaba, and Philadelphia,







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