Tucked away at Archives II in College Park, Maryland, in Record Group 45: Drawings of Naval Vessels and Equipment (NAID 635610), is a series of magnificent ship drawings known simply as “The Ware Collection”. Named for Charles Ware, the artist that created them, the collection offers a high degree of detail and an eye-catching splash of red, white, and blue in the flags that stream from the ships. There are even some cats drawn on beams, for those clever enough to search them out, and a tiny alligator’s head, as well.
Though we have the collection and the name of the collection’s creator, very little is actually known about Charles Ware. According to a 1943 article in the journal American Neptune, Charles Ware was a civilian sail-maker working at the Boston Navy Yard. This location was originally called the “Charlestown Navy Yard”, hence the designation on the drawings. The first record of his being there is September 1st, 1817 and the last record of his presence is on June 25th, 1831. Records indicate that a warrant sail-maker was appointed to the position held by Ware in 1831 in accordance with a Navy policy that required civilian workers to be replaced with Navy personnel. Ware protested that he had held the job for fourteen years and was fully qualified to continue on in the position. He was offered a warrant, if he chose to take it, but there is no record of the warrant ever actually having been issued. It appears that all of the drawings in the Ware Collection were created during his time at the Navy Yard[i].
While little is known of Charles Ware, we do know some things about some of the ships that he drew. For example, the drawings of the Ship of the Line (above), the U.S.S. Lynx, the U.S.S. Spark, the U.S.S. General Pike, and the U.S.S. Constitution depict a cat’s face on the one of the beams of the ship. In order to locate the tiny face, zoom in to the lower right side of the images and look for a square beam at the very end of the hull with a face on it. One might surmise that this extra, small touch is a nod to the long-held tradition of having a cat aboard ship to control the mice and rats that can damage both rope and sails. Rather than a cat on a beam, though, the U.S.S. Alligator depicts a small alligator at the front of the boat.
In addition to the little flourishes noted above, we can track some of the vessels in this collection from the time that they were designed, through their being laid down and commissioned, and onward until they were either lost, destroyed, or sold. For example, the U.S.S. General Pike was constructed at Sacket’s Harbor, New York in 1813. The ship was the largest of any of the ships built on the Great Lakes. She carried twenty-six 24-pounder long guns and could fire from either broadside. After surviving an attack by the British that was intended to sink the boat before it ever left the dock, in which the ship and its cargo were prematurely set ablaze by the Americans to keep them from falling into British hands, the U.S.S. General Pike saw heavy action in the War of 1812 before eventually coming back to New York, where the boat was sold in 1825[ii].
The U.S.S. Lynx was a Baltimore Clipper six-gun schooner that was built at the Navy Yard, in Washington D.C. in 1814. She was placed in service in 1815 and sailed from Boston as part of a nine ship fleet headed to the Mediterranean to fight Barbary pirates. Arriving off the coast of Africa, the fleet discovered that another squadron had already achieved peace and had treaties in place so, eventually, the fleet left. During 1817, the ship conducted a survey of the Northwest Coast of the United States, and following that mission, headed for the Gulf of Mexico, where they were to assist in the suppression of piracy based in the West Indies. In the year 1819, she seized three pirate vessels and all the goods aboard. Sadly, on January 11th, 1820, the U.S.S. Lynx left Georgia bound for Kingston, Jamaica and neither the boat nor her 47-man crew were ever heard from again[iii].
The U.S.S. Spark was a heavily armed brig that had initially been intended for use against the British in the War of 1812. However, the ship was not finished until 1813, and was not commissioned until 1815. Instead of fighting the British, the ship was sent to Gibraltar to offer aid in the Barbary Wars. While there, the ship was successful in its mission and eventually returned home to the United States for repairs in November of 1815. Eventually, the ship was dispatched to Algiers carrying a diplomatic party and letter from President allowing for the negotiation of peace. The Spark spent the next nine years in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean fighting pirates before returning home to New York in 1825 and being sold the following year[iv].
The schooner U.S.S. Alligator, commissioned in March of 1821, was tasked with combating the slave trade originating on the West Coast of Africa. To this end, she cruised the waters from Cape Verde south to the equator where she is known to have captured three slave-trading vessels. After going home for repairs in July of 1821, the ship embarked for the West Indies in early 1822, once again to help combat the slave trade. At some point in the first days of November of 1822, the commanding officer of the Alligator had received word that pirates had taken several U.S. ships in the West Indies and was sent to get them back. The Alligator reached the destination of the detained ships on November 9th, 1822 and found that the pirates had possession of an American schooner and a brig. Met by a force of one ship, two brigs, and five schooners, the Alligator engaged the pirates in battle and managed to recover the U.S. ships, but in doing so, suffered the loss of the commanding officer, who was shot. All told, the U.S.S. Alligator managed to capture all of the pirate vessels that day, except for one schooner that escaped. On November 28th, 1822, the Alligator left Manzanas escorting a convoy of ship headed back to the United States[v]. Unfortunately, she then became the first commissioned Navy ship to sink in Florida, when she ran aground in the Florida Keys. The shipwreck is listed on the National Register of Historic Places by the National Park Service[vi]. The U.S.S. Alligator was also the subject of a remote-sensing survey conducted by NOAA is the summer of 2004 to determine the exact location of the wreck[vii].
Perhaps the most well-known of all the boats illustrated in the Ware Collection is the U.S.S. Constitution. Originally designed and constructed in 1794, it appears that Ware created an illustration of the vessel sometime later during his tenure at the Boston Navy Yard. This also appears to be the case for the illustration of the U.S.S. Congress, also designed in 1794 and constructed the following year. (*Note: this drawing is located in RG19: DASH File Ship Plans rather than RG 45.)
In addition to the ship illustrations that Ware created, he also created a sail design using the phrase, “Free Trade, Sailors’ Rights”, shown below. This was a strong and recurrent theme during the war of 1812. “Free trade” referred to the protection of American commerce while “Sailors’ Rights” referred to a desire for the end the British impressment of American sailors[viii].
You can see more of the Charles Ware drawings held at the National Archives here.
[i] “Charles Ware, Sail-Maker.” The American Neptune, Vol. III, No. 3, July 1943, p. 267.
[vi] “U.S. Navy in Florida.” Florida Department of State, Florida Department of State, 2017, dos.myflorida.com/florida-facts/florida-history/us-navy-in-florida/.
[vii] Yorczyk, Rick. “Remote-Sensing Survey for the Remains of the USS Alligator.” NOAA Ocean Explorer Podcast RSS, NOAA, 7 Mar. 2007, oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/projects/04alligator/welcome.html.
[viii] Gilje, Paul A. Free Trade and Sailors’ Rights in the War of 1812. Cambridge University Press, 2013.