From U.S.S. Constitution To U.S.S. Bainbridge – Boston’s Naval History
Patrick O’Brian’s The Fortune of War finds its heroes, Captain Jack Aubrey and naval surgeon Stephen Maturin, aboard the H.M.S. Java as passengers, thrust into a ferocious, bloody, and ultimately decisive battle with the U.S.S. Constitution that ends with the capture of the Java and their stay as prisoners of war in Boston. Set during the War of 1812, Jack and Stephen must use all the wits, creativity, and perseverance they possess by land in order to effectuate their escape from post-colonial Boston. While fans of the Aubrey-Maturin series will be familiar with this fictionalized, but accurate, account of this famous sea-fight, many of the lesser-known or forgotten details still retain their importance to this day.
At the time of the battle with the Java, the Constitution was commanded by Commodore William Bainbridge. The son of a loyalist convicted of high treason, Bainbridge was one of the foremost of our young country’s nascent naval captains, serving with distinction in a number of ships and, ultimately, under the command of six presidents. The damage done by Constitution to the now-dismasted Java was so severe, that Bainbridge set fire to Java, which blew up and sunk. President Madison awarded Bainbridge the Congressional Gold Medal for his victory. Bainbridge continued his career in the Navy, eventually serving on the Board of Naval Commissioners, before his death in 1833.
But Bainbridge’s legacy continued well beyond “Old Ironsides,” and his notable victories at sea. No less than four U.S. Naval Ships were named after Bainbridge, including three destroyers. The last of these, U.S.S. Bainbridge DLGN-25/CGN-25, was special. Laid down in 1959 in the Bethlehem Steel (Fore River) Shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts, the Bainbridge was one of the first nuclear-powered ships in the U.S. Navy when she was commissioned in 1962. Originally designated a guided missile destroyer (DLGN-25), she was later re-designated a cruiser, earning the designation CGN-25. 565 feet long, with a displacement of 9100 tons, the Bainbridge, owing to its nuclear propulsion, had an unlimited cruising range. Not long after her commissioning, the Bainbridge took part in Operation “Sea Orbit,” a two-month unrefueled cruise around the world as part of Task Force 1. The other Task Force 1 ships were also nuclear powered and both, the carrier Enterprise, and the cruiser Long Beach, also have strong Massachusetts connections. The official motto of the Bainbridge, so reminiscent of Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin’s fictional escape 150 years earlier, was Mobility, Endurance, and Versatility.
By representing hundreds of clients with mesothelioma that worked or served on the Bainbridge, Thornton Law Firm has learned far more about the ship than its honorable and straightforward service history. Like all naval ships of the era (including its fellow guided missile cruiser, Long Beach) the Bainbridge was covered stem to stern with asbestos. All manner of surfaces and equipment were insulated with asbestos. Unfortunately for the individuals working with or near these products during construction, refit, or while at sea, exposure to asbestos was inevitable. If you have any questions about your work on the U.S.S. Bainbridge or any other U.S. Naval ship, call Thornton Law Firm today to talk with a lawyer: 888-632-0108. We are proud to represent hundreds of individuals that have served their country by serving in all branches of the U.S. armed forces, and the civilians who worked at shipyards building their ships.