History

Possible 1800s naval artifact returned from Taos to Massachussets

By Jesse Moya
jmoya@taosnews.com
Posted 11/8/19

Imagine holding a piece of early American naval history – in landlocked New Mexico.

Robert Smith was not even 30 when he first found a copy of Grecian History  in a garbage bag, ready to be thrown into the trash. He held onto the seemingly ordinary book for some time before realizing that this book had possibly survived a maritime battle during the war of 1812.

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History

Possible 1800s naval artifact returned from Taos to Massachussets

Posted

Imagine holding a piece of early American naval history – in landlocked New Mexico.

Robert Smith was not even 30 when he first found a copy of Grecian History  in a garbage bag, ready to be thrown into the trash. He held onto the seemingly ordinary book for some time before realizing that this book had possibly survived a maritime battle during the war of 1812.

“One day I opened the up the cover of the book and it was just stunning,” Smith said.

Inscribed on the inside cover of the book was the writing of sailor Charles F. Waldo who served on the USS Constitution during a naval battle off the coast of Brazil.

Smith had sold the book to a close friend living in the Taos area for $200 and recovered the book following the death of his friend.

According to Smith, he had been doing some research on the book and was eager to know more about Waldo, as well as how the book had traveled so far around the world.

“The [USS Constitution Museum in Boston] said this was a conundrum,” he said, laughing.

Written in the book is the passage, “Captured off the British Frigate Java VIVA LA CONSTITUTION” and “y sus Hombres,” along with a date that reads, December 12, 1812. The ship was involved in a battle against the English ship HMS Java late December of that year.

Smith assumes the writing is that of the sailor who signed it, Waldo.

Smith’s research on the book and sailor brought him back to Massachusetts and he eventually donated the book to the USS Constitution Museum, in the Charlestown Navy Yard.

The curators at first told Smith they were unaware of the book and its relation to the ship but eventually took in the book and began researching the writing and the relevance to the ship.

Kate Monea, an archivist in the curation department at the museum, said she was unable to comment on the book and its origins.

“We’re still working on verifying it on our own end,” she said.

Smith is confident the writing in the book is legitimate and is hoping to hear back from the museum with more information in the future.

“I feel a relief that it’s in the right place,” Smith said. “After all its travels it could have been lost, but it’s found.”

The USS Constitution was one of the first frigates commissioned by the United States government and launched in 1797. Old Ironsides, as she came to be known, saw many theaters of combat and is currently the oldest commissioned ship in the United States Navy.

The ship is moored in the Charlestown Navy Yard for the public to enjoy.

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