A Project of the USS Constitution Museum

A Project of the USS Constitution Museum


Anchor Icon

Constitution’s decks are smooth, white and spotlessly clean. Keeping them that way is the sailors’ most unpopular chore. They do it by scrubbing the planks with “holystones”–great slabs of gritty rock. Smaller “prayer books” clean the tight corners. Sprinkling the deck with salt water and coarse sand helps smooth the timbers. However, it also makes the task more unpleasant: the sailors must kneel on the wet grit with their pants rolled up.



What are your students’ chores at home? Do they have to sweep, vacuum, or mop the floors? Holystoning was a chore for sailors on board Constitution. Investigate the “Holystoning” scene from Explore Old Ironsides and then read these historic quotes to your students, written from the point of view of a sailor and an officer. Have your students write a descriptive writing piece about the “Holystoning” scene, imagining they are a holystoning sailor or a supervising officer. Have them consider: sights, sounds, sensation, emotions, and their physical movements.

Primary Source: Holystoning Quotes


Peter Adams, a Boatswain

Peter Adams served as Boatswain on Constitution during the War of 1812. His duty was to keep Constitution clean and in good repair, and to supervise the common sailors while they performed their duties. Read his story with your students and learn about the daily routine of the sailors that kept Constitution functioning.

Sailor’s Story: Peter Adams, Boatswain

Daily Routine Chart


Can you scrub the deck?

Imagine how hard it was to keep the deck clean! Challenge your students to scrub the deck with the rest of their mates with this interactive Holystoning Game.

Game: Scrub the Deck

Lesson Plan: Simple Machines

Have your students work together to plan, design and build a simple machine to help Constitution sailors holystone the deck. They will learn about the simple machines already used on board Constitution and be challenged to create new inventions to simplify life for the sailors.

Lesson Plan: Simple Machines