Home : Home : Warfare Centers : NSWC Carderock : Resources : Curator of Navy Ship Models : Questions and Answers : From Frigate to Sloop

The views I express are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Naval Surface Warfare Center or the Department of the Navy. Although Frigate to Sloop is beset by hundreds of errors large and small, I only have time to outline a few of the technical mistakes which significantly affect the book’s conclusion. I should say that the substantial, but clearly secondary, portions of the book which deal with frigate Constellation’s operational history are very readable, generally interesting, and a worthwhile contribution to the story of the ship.

In 1991 I was a member of a small, interdisciplinary team of historical investigators from the Navy’s David Taylor Model Basin that discovered new, clear, and simple evidence which, we believed, permanently resolved the notorious “Constellation Question.” We found that the Constellation that surrounds us tonight is an 1853 sloop-of-war built near Norfolk to an entirely new design, containing a small amount of hull material from the old frigate of the same name. Our hosts today properly display and outfit her as a sloop-of-war. Since the 1991 publication of our official 200-page technical report called, Fouled Anchors: The Constellation Question Answered, we have contributed several more journal articles and have continued collecting information about the two Constellations. After over a decade there are some things in the report which should be updated, but we have not changed our original evidence or our conclusions.

First of all, the central contention of the book Frigate to Sloop is not new. It merely repackages the same basic idea the 1797 proponents of the ship have always resorted to since before 1961. That is, the old frigate was heavily modified before she was brought into the Gosport Virginia Navy Yard in 1853, and a substantial portion of the old frigate was converted into the sloop which emerged from the yard in 1855. Therefore, they say that the Constellation we now stand upon has had a continuous physical existence since 1797. The book Frigate to Sloop exhumes the same old argument, and chiefly employs the same old dogeared evidence the 1797 defenders used decades ago. Indeed, the book’s evidence and central argument are strikingly similar to those published by another author in 1979.

Perhaps Frigate to Sloop’s basic proposition is difficult to discern because of the huge number of words required to explain it’s impressively complex but inexact and highly unlikely conclusion. The main contention of the book is that frigate Constellation was rebuilt three times - 1812, 1829, and 1839. Each time the ship was rebuilt, her underwater hull lines were deliberately changed. The book claims that during the fourth rebuild, in 1853, the frigate was disassembled into separate individual timbers and that many of the individual timbers were reshaped, joined with new, and reassembled into the sloop design. The sloop design was a modification of the last iteration of the frigate that had been incrementally modified during the previous three rebuilds. The book concludes that the ship here today is, to some large but inexact extent, both physically and architecturally the frigate built here in Baltimore in 1797. Reaching this conclusion requires an extensive chain of specific technical alterations which must sequentially occur to the ship over a period of half a century. We think the book’s chain of technical events labors under its own weight and fails.

The acknowledged purpose of Frigate to Sloop is to “rehabilitate” the history of the ship - meaning it’s a zealous crusade against our 1991 findings. It’s an effort to restore the 1797 connection between Constellation, Fells Point, and the city of Baltimore. The book was undertaken from the beginning with this intent in mind. Frigate to Sloop’s purpose, plus its serious repeating lapses in logic suggest that the author began with the conclusion, and then sought, selected, interpreted, and even adjusted the evidence to support the predetermined goal. Putting the cart before the horse leads to a logical fallacy called circular reasoning (also called “begging the question”) which pervades the book at all levels.


Fallacy of Circular Reasoning
(Frigate to Sloop)


Standard Reasoning
(usually used by modern historians)

It’s a serious and large-scale error so rarely committed by an experienced modern historian that apparently it has eluded some who have endorsed the book. Circular reasoning means that the book’s general conclusion is first assumed to be true and then the evidence which is used to prove that conclusion is validated by the conclusion itself. In other words, the conclusion proves itself. Since almost any premise can be supported using this technique, it is not an appropriate and fair method of argument.

Circular reasoning is avoided as an investigational approach because it discourages constructive skepticism and objectivity, it creates a blindness toward contradicting facts, and it encourages a tendency to see neutral, ambiguous, or non-existent evidence only in ways that support the desired outcome. Further, as demonstrated in Frigate to Sloop, what seems to the author as a perfectly reasonable assumption of undocumented events is really only conjecture based on the unproven conclusion. Conjecture is mistaken for fact.

The fallacy of circular reasoning is reflected in the book[s numerous and unsettling complaints that drawings bear the wrong date, documents are “missing” or “incorrect,” and simple words like old and new are suddenly “inexact.” The documents are “missing,” “incorrect,” or “inexact” only if the book’s conclusion is presupposed to be true.

“It is startling to confront the fact that (there are no) orders or drafts specifically relating to advance plans for the ship (nor) pertinent correspondence and instructions for any of Constellation’s modifications prior to 1853 in navy archival records.”

-Frigate to Sloop, p. 173

After wading through half the volume, we read, “It is startling to confront the fact that (there are no) orders or drafts specifically relating to advance plans for the ship (nor) pertinent correspondence and instructions for any of Constellation’s modifications prior to 1853 in navy archival records.” This rather astonishing statement should send up a barrage of red flags. We are asked to believe dozens of letters, reports, drawings, calculations, work orders and logs, labor reports, supply requisitions, and offset tables are “missing” from various public and private archives and from time periods spanning half a century. Logically, the documents are not “missing.” They never existed. The book is on the wrong track. Bereft of the primary records one would expect to find in order to arrive at the conclusion, the book must resort to second-class evidence, which is inferential at best. Much of this evidence too, is affected by circular reasoning. Despite the book’s impressive length, copious end notes, and bibliography, there are really only a few pieces of direct, pertinent, evidence which are used to support the book’s technical contention. I emphasize again, that none of the book’s valid direct technical evidence is new. All of it has been recognized, published, discussed, and dissected in books and scholarly journals.

Representation of a Frigate, hover down to a Dock or Wharf

Early on, the book tries to make the case that the frigate Constellation’s underwater hull lines had been changed in 1812 and 1829. About halfway through the volume, when describing Constellation’s 1835 dry docking, the book belatedly reveals, “This would be the first time that Constellation had returned to dry land since her launching 7 September 1797.” We ask, How could the underwater hull of the ship have been changed if the ship never left the water? In 1992 we established that the ship was repaired afloat and hove down during both her 1812 and 1829 repairs and that her underwater lines therefore could not have been altered. Although the book insists the lines were changed on both occasions, it offers not a clue as to how this could have been done. The book’s chain is broken and the conclusion may fail on this one premise alone.

Some critics of Frigate to Sloop have noticed that the book does not account for a serious discrepancy: The space between the frames of the 1797 frigate was uniformly 26" and the frame spacing of the sloop is 32". Frame spacing was impossible to alter piecemeal because it determined the size and intervals of the gun ports. If, as the book claims, the frigate’s hull form was incrementally changed from frigate to sloop during the 1812, 1829, and 1839 “rebuilds,” and in 1853 the designer modified the frigate’s last hull form, then how and when did the uniform frame spacing transform from 26" to 32"? An important and traditional point of contention in the old “Constellation Question” dating back to 1961, Frigate to Sloop does not mention frame spacing at all.

In preparing our 1991 report, with the help of the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Fire Arms, we discovered that most of the historical documentation used up to that time to defend the 1797 origin of the ship had been forged. We determined that, in all likelihood, the forger was a particular, now-deceased, longstanding employee of the ship and that most of the forgeries were created by him between 1956 and 1965. Seeking self-importance, the forger attempted to defend the 1797 origin of the ship and bolster efforts to change the sloop into a frigate. He added his creations to the ship’s collection of historical and administrative files. However, he illegally amended original ship’s drawings and also planted copies of his work in the collections of Federal and institutional archives. His trademarks now are relatively easy to spot. Needless to say, one common aspect of his forgeries is that, in some way, most support the 1797 origin of the vessel.

Until our 1991 report the forgeries had fooled or perplexed experts for decades. Judging by Frigate to Sloop, sadly they continue to hoodwink the unwary or desperate. Our report ended with the motto, caveat historicus (“historian beware”) and it’s disappointing that the warning already has fallen on deaf ears. In 1991 and again in 1995 we cautioned that Constellation documents found in contaminated collections should not be used unless a genuine manuscript version can be found in another independent, uncontaminated, source. Despite the warnings, Frigate to Sloop’s contention depends heavily on several documents which do not meet criteria for authenticity and, indeed, they are forgeries.

The book’s entire technical argument regarding the pre-1853 rebuilds is supported by only six archival drawings. The drawings are the best technical evidence presented and come the closest to resembling the kind of direct information necessary to prove the book’s contention.

 Forged Drawing                                    Real Drawing
 Used by Frigate to Sloop                         USS Congress, 1837

To help prove that the underwater hull lines of the ship were changed in 1829 and 1839, the book employs a well-known drawing of the stern of Constellation bearing the date 1840. Introduced into the argument as early as 1966, the authenticity of the drawing had been questioned since 1970. The book employs the drawing despite the fact that it comes from known contaminated sources, and no one had ever found an original version. Implying legitimacy, Frigate to Sloop references the drawing as from a particular file in the National Archives even though the drawing has never been found in that file. Subsequent to the printing of Frigate to Sloop, in October 2002, we found conclusively that the drawing is a forgery created in June 1957.

The question of authenticity aside, the book does not accept the date which actually appears on the drawing. Here, the drawing is labeled “1840.” But Frigate to Sloop says the drawing must represent the ship in 1829. There can be no real evidence that the drawing represents 1829 or 1840 because the drawing is a fake. The book flatly declares the drawing shows the ship in 1829 and refers to it that way several times. Why does the book declare that the 1840 date is not true? Because if the 1840 date is applied, the book’s conclusion cannot be sustained. Circular reasoning strikes again. It’s like pounding square pegs into round holes. You just keep pounding and adjusting until they fit.

Frigate to Sloop does not clearly demarcate between fact and conjecture. Indeed, dozens of key sentences, paragraphs, entire pages, and portions of chapters are conjecture phrased as fact. For example, regarding the phony stern drawing, the book authoritatively and unconditionally states, “Grice sent a copy of a drawing illustrating the round stern assembly as built at Gosport which the Boston yard used to guide carpenters reconstructing her stern.” The entire sentence is pure bunk. Remember the drawing is a fake. That Grice was involved, that the drawing was made at Gosport, that the drawing was sent, that it was sent to Boston, and that the carpenters at Boston used the drawing is 100% conjecture based on nothing more than the presumed existence of the authentic drawing and the application of circular reasoning. This technique of phrasing conjecture like fact, applied over and over again, makes the book seem much more authoritative and conclusive than it really is. And it’s difficult to detect unless one is familiar with the evidence cited, or not cited, to support such statements.

Jan. 11, 1839 drawing used by Frigate to Sloop

The second of the six drawings used to support the alleged 1829, 1839, and 1853 rebuilds is a decidedly crude sketch perhaps trying to represent the midship section of the frigate. It bears the date January 11, 1839 and is allegedly signed by Naval Constructor Francis Grice. Copies of this drawing are in several contaminated sources. No original has ever been found, but Frigate to Sloop uses it anyway. The books say that this drawing is “critically important” to its case. Because of its dubious appearance and its lack of any description or apparent purpose, the drawing has been suspect since 1970 and in the past even some 1797 supporters shunned it. We further questioned its authenticity in 1992. Frigate to Sloop does not offer any real evidence to legitimatize the item and counters merely by severely berating us for our suspicions.

Jan. 11, 1839 drawing used                          Jan. 11, 1836 document
                                             by Frigate to Sloop (Probably fake)                              (Genuine)                                                                 

While we have not found the manuscript source of this rather blatant forgery, we do know that the signature, date, and some of the words are perfectly identical to another document and it’s very likely that parts of this drawing were traced or photographically reproduced from that record.

Nevertheless, Frigate to Sloop again does not accept the date that appears on the drawing. It’s labeled 1839, but without offering any real supporting evidence, the book says the data must come from 1829. Why? Because if the drawing is accepted for what it says, the book’s conclusion doesn’t work. Circular reasoning again. By now you can see a pattern.

1853 Frigate Hull Survey

This brings us to the three genuine drawings of the hull of the frigate Constellation. These interrelated drawings have always been a major impediment to those who claim the underwater hull lines of the ship were changed between 1797 and 1853. The drawings are labeled Norfolk, January and February 1853. I am showing only the central drawing here. Our contention has been that these shapes, and the other two drawings, match the frigate’s 1797 lines and do not match the current ship’s lines. Thus, the frigate’s lines were not altered before her demise in 1853 and the sloop today bears no architectural relation to the old frigate. We think the hull survey drawings deny the book’s incremental rebuild hypothesis and, therefore, the book’s conclusion is flat wrong.

Although it’s entirely conjectural, Frigate to Sloop says these drawings were drawn in 1839, resurrected from the Norfolk shipyard files, and in 1853 they were sent to the chief constructor in Washington. Although it was not at all practical, the books say he used these drawings to re-draft the sloop’s lines. To make sure the reader does not deviate from the required path, Frigate to Sloop renames the drawings and consistently and repeatedly refers to them as “the 1839 hull sections.” However, the book does not offer any documentary evidence to substantiate the pivotal claim that they were drawn in 1839. Other than circular reasoning, the only real proof offered that these drawings were drawn in 1839 and not 1853, is that, according to Frigate to Sloop, the handwriting in the title block of this drawing matches the handwriting on a hold plan known to have been made in 1840.

1853

1840

Do they match? We say - NO
If they do not match, then Frigate to Sloop's conclusion is wrong.

The book declares this all-important point to be true, but it does not offer the reader an opportunity to see for himself. You have to take the author’s word for it. When the handwriting is compared, we think they are very much different. One is pen-lettered, the other is cursive.

Further, this central drawing is drawn on linen drafting cloth. Linen drafting cloth was first patented in 1846 and was not publicly introduced until 1851. These drawings could not have been made in 1839, and no earlier than 1851. The 1853 date is accurate. The book’s attempt to pre-date these drawings is not unique. Another author tried it in 1979 and also failed.

Frigate to Sloop’s Best Evidence

  • 1840 Mizzen Mast Drawing - Proven forgery. Book re-dates it 1829.
  • 1839 Grice Drawing - Probably forgery. Book re-dates it 1829.
  • Three 1853 Hull Survey Drawings - Genuine. Book re-dates them 1839.
  • 1840 Handwriting Sample Drawing - Irrelevant.

Let’s review Frigate to Sloop’s best relevant technical evidence. There is the 1840 mizzen mast drawing which is a fake, but is re-dated 1829. There is the “critically important” 1839 Grice drawing which probably is a fake, and is re-dated 1829. We have the three genuine 1853 hull survey drawings, but these are re-dated 1839. Finally we have the genuine, but irrelevant 1840 drawing used in the curious attempt to re-date the 1853 hull survey by matching the handwriting.

Navy Computerized Hull Studies

The Navy’s powerful, three-dimensional, computer programs (and we used several of them) uniformly agree with what our eyes tell us. That is, if the hog and twist of the old frigate hull, as documented in the 1853 hull survey drawings, is factored in as data, the survey drawings match the 1797 lines for the frigate. Frigate to Sloop disagrees with the Navy and even with most previous 1797 supporters when it claims that the 1853 hull survey drawing match the sloop. Other than a momentary and expectable resemblance at the dead flat, the frigate lines and the sloop lines are markedly different overall. Frigate to Sloop rejects our use of computerized hull studies by branding the Navy’s renown 30-year-old Blines program “an imperfect tool” and by declaring that in 1991 the Navy computers failed to consider the first seven chapters of Frigate to Sloop, published in 2002. Basically saying that the computers are wrong because the book’s conclusion is right, this statement is but another example of circular reasoning.

What did happen at Gosport between 1853 and 1855? In 1845 the 48-yearold frigate Constellation was placed in mothballs at the Gosport Naval Ship Yard near Norfolk. In 1852 Chief Naval Constructor John Lenthall was ordered to modernize the fleet, including the old frigate Constellation, in order to mount shell guns and arrange supporting magazines and shell rooms. The modifications could be funded from the annual congressional appropriation provided to the Navy for general repairs to ships. Probably mainly to help plan the shoring and blocks necessary to hold the ship upright when she would be brought into a dry slip for examination on February 23, 1853, Constellation was measured and a simple survey drawing of nine hull cross sections plus a related two-part drawing of the keel were developed in January and February 1853. These drawings combined to show the twisted hull and hogged keel of the old frigate. The underwater hull lines of the frigate were, except for age deformation, the same as they were when she was launched. Lenthall considered cutting the old frigate down to a sloop, but he changed his mind and decided to build a new ship altogether.

Intending to build the sloop by using up part of the stockpile of pre-shaped timbers stored in the Gosport Yard, Lenthall apparently drew his preliminary draft for the new sloop in May 1853. It was a new and independent hull form. In June he developed a more refined design. Since Congress had not appropriated money for a new ship, Lenthall resorted to a practice occasionally done by the Navy before and after 1853 - building a new ship with repair money to occupy the “room” of the old ship, retaining the old name, and classifying the ship as “rebuilt.” Probably shortly after the June draft, the 1:36 scale, wooden, half hull model was made.

Designer's Model for 1853 Sloop

On May 16, 1853 yard workers began cutting up the old frigate and later started to haul out of the sheds and ponds pieces of stockpiled live oak timber for the new sloop. In the months to come they withdrew more than enough timber to build an entirely new ship. They laid a new keel and began to erect the new vessel in a ship house about 600 yards away from the old frigate. On July 23, 1853, a local newspaper correspondent touring the yard noted that both the old and new Constellation coexisted. On September 12, 1853 the commandant of the Gosport Yard asked the Secretary of the Navy for permission to auction the old timbers of the frigate.

Records of work and materials at Gosport do not indicate that any hull materials were transferred directly from the old ship to the new one. However, the local newspaper account of Constellation’s launching in August 1854 notes that four specific floor timbers and four specific third futtocks in the new sloop were made from some of the serviceable floor timbers of the old frigate.

Timbers from Old Frigate in new Sloop
(Representative Framing Plan)

This would amount to about 186 cubic feet of timber in a ship composed of approximately 19,000 cubic feet of live oak - about 1%. Transfer of a modicum of old timber from the 1797 frigate to the 1853 sloop-of-war may have been for sentimental reasons and/or to legally justify the Navy’s classification of the sloop as the frigate rebuilt. The Navy carried her on the official registers until 1908 as a sloop-of- war built or rebuilt at Norfolk in 1854.

1854

Reusing intact any portion of the frigate’s hull would require taking many accurate measurements of the existing ship and would demand that the plans and offset tables be marked to indicate what structure already existed. The sloop’s plans and offset tables do not indicate any existing structure. If any intact portion of the frigate’s hull or form had been used in the new sloop, the half hull model would not have been made because the existing ship could not have been measured, reduced to 1:36 actual size, faired, enlarged 36 times, and still retain the required accuracy relative to the existing vessel. Likewise, the model could not have been used to modify existing hull lines. The significance of the half model was published in 1991 and again in 1995, but Frigate to Sloop does not mention the model at all.

Frigate to Sloop’s Argument

  1. Uses fallacy of circular reasoning
  2. Frequently phrases conjecture as fact
  3. Uses several forgeries as key documents
  4. Re-dates five of six key drawings
  5. Does not prove more than small amount of timber transferred from frigate to sloop
  6. Does not explain how hull lines could have been changed with ship afloat
  7. Ignores frame spacing difference between frigate and sloop
  8. Ignores the 1853 builder’s design model
  9. Square pegs pounded into round holes

Let me summarize the book’s problems: The book is plagued by circular reasoning. It begs the question. It confuses fact with conjecture. It unwittingly uses counterfeit documents at several key junctures. It re-dates five of six key drawings. Other than generating some dubious guestimations regarding how much wood was used in the sloop and how much money a so-called new sloop would cost, the book is unable to establish that any more than 186 cubic feet of the old frigate’s timber were used in the sloop. The underwater hull lines of the Constellation could not have been changed in 1812 and 1829 because the ship was afloat and therefore at least the first two so-called rebuilds did not occur. The book does not account for the discrepancy in frame spacing. And finally, the book ignores the designer’s half model.

Our conclusions and our evidence were published in 1991 and are unchanged. I am presenting to you the same evidence we presented back then. Little has been added, and nothing needs to be reinterpreted in light of the new book. Our evidence has been simple and straight forward, and perhaps forgotten.

Real Evidence:

                                                                1853 Frigate Hull Survey                            Designer's Half Model
                                                                                                                                   Made only for new designs

          Lenthall's Preliminary Design                    Lenthall's Refined Design              
May 1853                                                   June 1853     

Neither design indicates any pre-existing structure

We have the hull survey showing that the frigate’s underwater lines were not changed before 1853. We have the designer’s half model, computations, and multiple drawings documenting three consecutive stages of hull design, from concept to completion. All of this evidence is exactly what one would expect to find for a new ship design. Nothing essential is missing. Our evidence is not a complicated chain of events. It does not require adjusting dates, nor lengthy explanations and excuses. It’s simple, direct, and it speaks volumes for itself. Round pegs in round holes.

Real Evidence

  • Fully consistent with new design & new ship
  • Nothing essential is “missing”
  • Requires no “adjustments”
  • Simple
  • Direct
  • Speaks for itself
  • Round pegs in round holes

We believe the ship was repaired in 1812, 1829, 1839 and a number of other times, but the underwater lines of the frigate were not deliberately altered before her demise in 1853. We do not believe that a significant amount of timber or any hull form was transferred from the frigate to the sloop. We believe that the ship we are on today does not have a physical existence before 1853.

One of Fouled Anchor’s contributions to the “Constellation Question” was that it stripped away the boosterism, sentimentalism, and the protective fanaticism that had retarded scholarly and professional study of the history of the ship. Reintroducing emotion into the study, Frigate to Sloop accuses us of sucking the life out of this great ship and reducing it to a pile of technical drawings and calculations. But be assured, had our 1991 report never been published, the ship would not be in the fine condition she is in today and under the competent stewardship of her stellar and enlightened staff. Without our report she might not be here in Baltimore. She might not be anywhere today. Our honest dedication to Constellation the ship is evidenced by the fact that we pursued our investigation knowing full well that it would surely bring down upon us political turmoil, professional, and even personal attacks. In exchange for the trouble the report generated, and continues to generate, we have nothing to gain, and we have no motive other than using our combined skills to ascertain the truth, and to solve the old Constellation question.

Constellation is a cultural artifact and there is a difference between what it is, and what it means. Constellation receives its meaning from people. Meaning does not inherently reside within the ship. What she is is a stunningly beautiful and efficient United States sloop-of-war made in 1853. What Constellation means is many things to many different people. But in the grandest sense she symbolizes American naval power applied to protect democracy, to project our ideals, and to promote basic human rights. Utterly undeniable is the spiritual connection between the frigate Constellation of 1797, the sloop Constellation of 1855, and the mighty aircraft carrier Constellation, “Connie,” perhaps returning home from Iraq tonight. Truly, the spirit lives on.

In conclusion, I would like to thank the Constellation staff for inviting me to speak and I would especially like to thank Mr. Footner for generously suggesting that we share the podium tonight.