May 13, 1803: U.S. Navy Capt. Edward Preble (1761-1807), a Portland native, recommissions the USS Constitution – “Old Ironsides” – as his flagship during the First Barbary War. Given a promotion to commodore, Preble sets sail Aug. 14 on the Constitution, heading for the Mediterranean Sea.

The painting “Bombardment of Tripoli,” by Michele Felice Corné, depicts the Constitution in action during that war against the Barbary pirates on Africa’s north coast. The painting hangs in the Maine Historical Society library in Portland.

The Constitution, built from 1794 to 1797 in Boston, is used in combat with the British during the War of 1812.

Several overhauls and retrofits later, it now is docked at the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston, about a block away from the USS Constitution Museum. It is the world’s oldest commissioned naval vessel still afloat.

Joseph Owen is an author, retired newspaper editor and board member of the Kennebec Historical Society. Owen’s book, “This Day in Maine,” can be ordered at He can be contacted at:


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