Displayed below are the images of USS Constitution and her people during the period October 18129-February 1814, 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

Commodore William Bainbridge commanded USS Constitution from September 1812 until June 1813. In her, he made one war cruise during which he met and defeated HMS Java, on 29 December 1812, off the coast of Brazil in the vicinity of Bahia (Sao Salvador, today). He gained that victory against a faster ship and despite the fact that he was twice wounded and Constitution's wheel was shot away.

Bainbridge was born in Princeton, New Jersey, on 7 May 1774. He entered the new U. S. Navy in August 1798 as a Lieutenant and was given command of USS Retaliation in the Quasi-War with France. As a Captain, he commanded the light frigate USS George Washington, and then the frigate Philadelphia in the Barbary War. Impetuosity led him to sail her into foul waters and run her aground just off Tripoli (now in Libya). Unable to move, he was forced to surrender ship and crew to the Bashaw of Tripoli and spend nineteen months as a prisoner of war.

Following his most welcome victory over Java, Bainbridge spent the rest of the war ashore commanding the Boston station and Navy Yard. In later years, he commanded a squadron in the Mediterranean, was a member of the Board of Naval Commissioners, and again commanded the Boston yard. He died in Philadelphia on 28 July 1833, probably of cancer, and is buried in the Christ Church Cemetery there.

The Congress voted him a gold medal and prize money for his victory. A brig, two destroyers, a nuclear powered guided missile frigate, and a guided missile destroyer have since been named for him, as has a naval training station and at least one town.


Courtesy. Geoffrey Huband, all rights reserved

This 2004 painting is unique in that it depicts that moment in the battle when HMS Java successfully raked USS Constitution from astern. This proved to be the Briton’s last opportunity to gain the upper hand, and her strike was unsuccessful. She subsequently pulled alongside her foe to larboard and, unfortunately, had her bowsprit shot away, making her control difficult and giving her enemy time to cause further damage.


Derek G. M. Gardner

USS Constitution is shown firing her final broadside into a prostrate HMS Java late in the afternoon of 29 December 1812. The artist depicts Java with a bit more top hamper than she actually had at this point. Subsequently, the big American frigate proceeded upwind to a position some distance off Java's larboard bow, where she effected emergency rigging repairs. That done, she returned to a position dead ahead of Java and was about to rake her when the Briton surrendered.

Courtesy Ken Grant, all rights reserved

Another depiction of Constitution's final broadside against Java by a second British artist, done about 1999. This work, however, benefited from more detailed research and more correctly shows the wrecked frigate's condition, although the smoke should be streaming from right to left.


Courtesy Tom W. Freeman, all rights reserved

Tom W. Freeman's 2001 painting "A Perfect Wreck," depicting the situation just before HMS Java surrendered. The time is shortly after 5 and the sun is getting low in the western sky. Constitution, having paused to make some quick repairs, is making for a raking position across Java's bow. The Briton will fire a surrendering gun to leeward (starboard) just in time to avert a devastating broadside.


HMS Java blown up following her defeat. This is the fourth of four prints by Nicholas Pocock, done in 1814. Note that no boats are seen in the quarter or stern davits of Constitution. This is in keeping with the fact that six of her eight boats were destroyed in the engagement.


Commodore William Bainbridge’s gold medal. He asked to have the motto "Partria et Victus Laudatur" on the observe and the single word "Pugnando" on the back. As can be seen, his Latin was amended to read "Guilelmus Bainbridge Patria Victorisque Laudatus." When the smooth sea depicted in Bainbridge’s submitted sketch drew criticism, Bainbridge said, in effect, "I was there; that’s the way it was."