By Bill Miller
It seems like a lot of people have a favorite uncle and Great Granduncle George Claghorn, at age 267, is still one of my favorites. From the time he was a young man he walked with a bad limp as a result of being shot in the knee in the infamous Battle of Bunker Hill in Boston at the start of the war for independence. Yet he continued to fight the good fight. DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) records show that he served as lieutenant in 1776, as a captain in 1779, as a major in 1780 and, finally, as a Colonel in the Massachusetts Militia. He helped to win our independence from England, but the rest of his story is even more interesting.
During and after the war he worked to become a Naval Constructor and master shipwright. He moved his family to New Bedford, MA, the whaling center, opened up Uncle George’s Ship Shape Ship Shop and successfully built ships in the 1790s and early 1800s. Two of his ships became famous. He built a 175 ton whaler named “Rebecca,” which was the first ship built in New Bedford and the first whaler to double treacherous Cape Horn. It sailed from New Bedford on Sept. 28, 1791 to Chili and returned with a load of sperm whale oil on February 22, 1793.
In 1794 Col. Claghorn moved his family to Boston to build his most famous ship, the USS Constitution, which still sits in Boston Harbor. It took him three years to build “Old Ironsides,” the US Navy’s oldest commissioned warship. The US Navy “Fact File” on the Constitution described it as a “wooden hull, three-masted frigate,” one of six such frigates authorized to form the US Navy for use against the Barbary Pirates. It was launched October 21, 1797 and it is still sailing, at least once each year.
Col. Claghorn became a wealthy man for his times (early 1800s), worth about $30,000. Unfortunately, he was financially ruined by a wayward son and died poor and from cancer, a sad ending for a great patriot and remarkable shipbuilder. In 1936 the DAR dedicated a Claghorn/USS Constitution Memorial at Waterfront Park in New Bedford, MA.
George Claghorn was fun to meet in his old age. We were very proud in Boston last year to walk the decks that George built, see the US Flag raised over them again and marvel at Great-Uncle George’s amazing 218 year old creation – “Old Ironsides.”
While you are digging up family roots don’t forget to meet your uncles, aunts and cousins. Some of them have great stories to tell. Then come and share your stories and hear others at the Lake Lure Genealogy Club meeting the second Tuesday of each month at Mountains Branch Library at 3:00 pm.