How an Armenian Saved USS Constitution

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.

Gulesian offers $10,000.

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.

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Bill Milhomme

Bill Milhomme has been a researcher of Massachusetts history for the past 30 years. His focus is anti-Catholicism and religious toleration, with a specific interest in mining stories of forgotten heroic individuals and events. He was formerly the reference supervisor and deputy coordinator for the Commonwealth’s historical records. Milhomme is currently the director of volunteer services for the Massachusetts Department of Correction.
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27 Comments

  1. Nice to remember dedicated people from any nationality…
    as far as he did and saved lives…and metals…!

    Sylva

  2. This is a great story, I have an online tour company with MP3 audio tours and just finished writting a tour of Boston, which should be on the web in about a week. I found out about Mr. Gulesian while researching the tour and made sure to mention him and his Armenian background. He originally offered to pay $10,000 for the ship, which in 1905 was a very large sum of money. When the navy refused his offer, he began a campaign in Boston to save the ship. Knowing it would require a nationwide effort, he expanded the campaign which spread from coast to coast. Thanks to pressure from Mr. Gulesian,the US Congress authorized $100,000 for the preservation of the USS Constitution and designated it a national treasure ensuring her place in history for generations to come. She is the oldest commissioned war ship in the world and we as a nation owe Mr. Gulesian a great debt of gratitude. Also as part of the tour we pass the Rose Kennedy greenway, which was a perfect opportunity to mention the Armenian Genocide park and how the Armenians were victims of the first Genocide of the 20th century, committed by the turkish government. Now when non-Armenians take this new tour of Boston they will not only learn about our Founding Fathers and the American Revolution, but about the Armenian Genocide and the Armenian-American businessman Moses Gulesian and how he saved the USS Constitution. When you visit Boston check us out at http://www.accentours.com we will be adding the Boston tour in about 2 weeks and right now we have two tours of Newport, RI, the site of the first Armenian business in RI.

    • George,

      Thanks for filling in some more of the story. I was wondering if there was more to this than just the $10,000 offer he made to the Navy.

    • I am not sure if there was more to this than the $10,000. After reading the article its the first time I heard that selling the ship to an Armenian would somehow worry the Sultan. Mr. Millhome’s article actually helped to fill in some holes for me.

    • George,

      You mentioned “When the navy refused his offer, he began a campaign in Boston to save the ship. Knowing it would require a nationwide effort, he expanded the campaign which spread from coast to coast. ”

      I would have liked to hear more about. Then I remembered this thing called wikipedia :) From the wiki:

      “… Moses H. Gulesian, a businessman from Worcester, Massachusetts, offered to purchase Constitution for $10,000.[187][189] The State Department refused, but Gulesian initiated a public campaign which began from Boston and ultimately “spilled all over the country.”[189] The storms of protest from the public prompted Congress to authorize $100,000 for her restoration in 1906.”

      The references for this paragraph are from books and not accessible from the web it appears. So I can’t get at the original sources.

      Sounds like there is enough material on Gulesian to justify a wikipedia biography about him.

  3. What a wonderfull story. And like Moses I am from Marash also. I know there has been many more Armenians that made headlines in the Americas whos stories might parish if not investigated and researched. Bravo.

  4. There is another possible Armenian connection.

    George Sirian was picked up and made a member of the crew in about 1824, and served for 53 years there and elsewhere. However, he may havve been Greek, and was from Greece.

  5. The Armenian Library and Museum of America (ALMA) had a display a few years ago about this event. I do not know when they will have it again.

  6. I am assuming that this story would give some anti-Armenian bigots indigestion or severe gas or something to that effect, but I found the part about the Sultan of Turkey the best part…

    Although the official date of the Armenian Genocide is stated to be 1915, in my opinion this is not the entire picture, since my view is that it was a process which continued for almost three decades from 1894 to 1923, not counting the subsequent Dersim Genocide.

    Now as for this interesting article, in 1905 the Armenians had not yet seen the worst part of the genocide, it was even before the Adana Genocide of 1909. Yet here Turkey is already implicated inadvertently as a genocidal state by an American newspaper stating that this will not sit well with the Sultan that an Armenian has acquired a ship – implying that an Armenian has a reason already in 1905 to take revenge against the Sultan – and that could be for no other reason than the criminal, genocidal behavior of Turkey.

    • You know it Kevork jan… lol the more indigestion and severe gas these denialists get the better… and I agree the part about Sultan was very interesting.. it is funny that these low lifes have been scared since then to have anything Armenian to succeed… how pathetic but no luck to them, Armenians were, are and will be more cultured, intelligent and years ahead of any Turkish and Azeri denialists….

  7. My grandparents are from Marash and I am proud of Moses Gulesian’s work and how he managed to raise so much opposition for the ship’s destruction. What bothers me so much, is that the turkish gag rule existed even back in 1905 and it continues today. It means we, Armenians have not done enough to overcome that political bigotry in USA..

  8. My Grandfather (Decran Joseph Gulesian, 1885-1984) was Moses Gulesian’s nephew and one of many family members Moses sponsored in this country. That was in 1887. After first settling in Worcester, many of them, including my grandfather and his 3 siblings, moved to Watertown, MA. The source of some of the above information about Moses may well have come from a book titled, “Not By Accident” and written by Irene H. Burnham in 1938. There are two copies in my family, passed down through my grandfather and I have been unable to locate others. I am always looking to make more connections and discover more of interest about these amazing people!

    • I became fascinated with Moses Gulesian when our company rented space in the recently rehabilitated Gulesian building at 130 Brookline in Cambridge. I have read “Not by Accident” – there is a signed copy at the Harvard Law Library. I am presenting something on his remarkable achievements to our company so more can celebrate his story. I would be very interested in more detail, specifically about his real estate holdings in Cambridge.

    • I am the Great Grandson of Moses Gulesian. I have a picture of the first Thanksgiving at MH’s factory. I wonder if your Grandfather was in the picture…Glad to know about the family connection

  9. I am pleased to say that my family owns the oceanfront home that Moses Gulsian built in Falmouth, Massachusetts in approximately 1900. Any friend or descendant of Mr gulesian will be welcome to visit.

    • I am the Great Grandson of Moses Gulesian. My father told me stories of his visits to Waterside in Falmouth. We have a number of pictures of the family from those days. I would be interested to make contact with you and possibly visit at some point.

    • I would like to be in contact with you about a visit to your beautiful home, built by my grandfather’s cousin Moses Gulesian. We live in Hingham, MA and are always interested in our family history.
      Sincerely, Adrienne Richardson

  10. Ken,
    Would be happy to be in contact with you. Interesting that your mother Margaret was at my wedding held in Milton, MA at the home of my grandfather Dikran (Decran) Gulesian. I will leave my info below in the hopes you see it!
    Adrienne Richardson

  11. I thoroughly enjoyed the article on Mosses Gulesian and his involvement preserving the USS Constitution. I visited Old Ironsides as a child. Decran Gulesian was my great grandfather.

  12. I am so thrilled to learn some more relatives of mine, whom I didn’t know or know recently. My grandfather, Peter Joseph Gulesian, was Moses’s nephew; their father Joseph was my great-grandfather. I have recently compiled a family history on the Armenian side and will be at the Reception for Moses on Thursday, April 7. If any of you will be there, please let me know so we can meet.

  13. First you must read -VOROGAYT PARATS- The Trap of Glory- than talk about above mentioned matter.

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