George* Claghorn



Occupation 1


Occupation 2

whaler builder


New Bedford/Constitution


NA/New England region


Maritime Republic (1751-1815)








...After the Revolution, Claghorn returned to New Bedford and commenced a career in shipbuilding. He promptly became one of the most celebrated shipwrights of his day. One of Claghorn's first designs was the 175-ton whaler Rebecca, launched at New Bedford in March 1785. This vessel was reputedly the first American ship to round Cape Horn into the Pacific and return. In October 1793 Claghorn constructed an even larger ship, the Barclay, of 270 tons. The following year Congress, in response to Algerian depredations against American shipping, authorized creation of a national navy. The navy was to consist of six frigates, four of forty-four guns and two of thirty-six guns, to be constructed at six ports along the Atlantic coast. The naval architect chosen to design the fleet was Philadelphia Quaker Joshua Humphreys, whose designs were much larger and stouter than contemporary warships. The frigate Constitution was to be constructed at Hartt's navy yard in Boston, and Claghorn, in recognition of his skill with large ships, was selected to build it.

Claghorn relocated his family to Boston, but work on the Constitution proceeded by fits and starts. The keel was laid and the frigate was nearing completion when the government reached an accord with the Algerians in 1795. Work was suspended for several months until mounting difficulties with France induced Congress to resume funding. The launch date for the Constitution was set for 20 September 1797, but Claghorn went to great lengths warning the public to keep their distance in the event of an accident. Unfortunately, the Constitution stuck on its ways and defied all attempts to move it. A second attempt two days later met with similar results, and Claghorn resolved to wait until the next sufficient tide. The Constitution successfully entered its destined element on 21 October 1797 amidst festive celebrations. No blame was ever attached to Claghorn for the embarrassing delays, but he nonetheless moved back to New Bedford. His subsequent construction efforts are unknown. Around 1804 he moved again, to a farm in Seekonk, Rhode Island, where he resided for nearly twenty years until his death there.

Claghorn was a significant shipbuilder of the early national period. However, he is best remembered for having constructed the most famous warship of American history. The Constitution was a carefully crafted masterpiece that fully realized the potential of Humphrey's innovative designs. For this reason alone, Claghorn's place in the pantheon of American naval tradition is secure.

Record ID: 37