Boston welcomes the “Tall Ships” this July 4 weekend. There is much celebration around the naval warship Old Ironsides and her exploits in the War of 1812. However, if not for the efforts of an Armenian immigrant, the USS Constitution, commonly known as Old Ironsides, would have been scrapped at the turn of the 20th century.
So as the U.S. prepares to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 with Great Britain, in particular highlighting the role of Old Ironsides, it might be fitting to recall Moses Gulesian, a Boston-Armenian immigrant who rallied a nation to save the ship from the scrap yard.
Moses H. Gulesian, a native of Marash, was a shining symbol of New World success. After arriving penniless in New York harbor in 1883, he moved to Worcester and eventually settled in Boston where he opened a successful copper works factory.
In 1900, he was commissioned by the state to replace the wooden lion and unicorn symbols of the Old State House with copper ones; the originals incidentally were installed later on his home in Chestnut Hill.
Today Gulesian is best remembered for his efforts to save Old Ironsides, the oldest commissioned ship in the U.S. Navy and the champion of the War of 1812. In 1905, Gulesian, overtaken by a strong sense of patriotism, sent the following telegram to Naval Secretary J. Bonaparte: “Will give ten thousand dollars for the Constitution, Old Ironsides. Will you sell?” The offer made national headlines and one reporter suggested that the ship might worry the “Sultan” of Turkey if it was sold to an Armenian. “It would be a good joke if they could be led to believe that the old frigate might steal out of Boston some night and sail for the Mediterranean to bombard some of the unprotected ports of Turkey,” Gulesian replied.
Gulesian’s efforts rallied public support and saved the ship. For his role, Gulesian was elected president of the Old Ironsides Association, and would later be given the distinction of becoming the first foreign-born member of the Sons of the American Revolution.