A Project of the USS Constitution Museum

A Project of the USS Constitution Museum

Maintop in Battle

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Constitution‘s maintop was like a swaying, tree-top fortress when battle began. The ship’s bravest Marines fought from here, aiming to pick off enemy seamen with musket fire. Fixed around the main mast some fifty feet above the deck, the maintop was half the width of a tennis court. It felt much smaller when it was crowded with Marines, and with seamen knotting and splicing rigging damaged by enemy cannon fire.


Marines on the Maintop: How High is that Similar Triangle?

Marines were stationed approximately 85′ to 90′ above the spar deck of Constitution during battle. How high is that, exactly? With this lesson plan, work with your students on a sunny day to discover the height of a tree or a flagpole through its shadow (and then compare the height to where Marines were stationed on the Maintop in Battle). There’s no end to this lesson! Use distance and real space to see how high and how much room these Marines had to operate (the Maintop’s width was half the size of a tennis court). Can they imagine keeping their balance and taking aim atop a rolling ship…while being fired at?

Lesson Plan: Marines on the Maintop: How High is that Similar Triangle?


Brave Little Sailors: Sharing Stories

What are the fears and dangers that a Marine may have faced on the Maintop during battle? What would be your fears, and how would you tackle them? Read a sailor story that exhibits courage like that shown on Constitution. Have your students share times where they had to be brave, and then create an art project together.

Lesson Plan: Brave Little Sailors


Swivel Howitzer, possibly made by Paul Revere

Guns like this were being used in “the ship’s tops,” and they would be fired down on the opposing crew. This howitzer came with dangers, as the gun could easily explode. Howitzers of this size would more often be used like a big shotgun, firing canister or grape shot. Learn more about the uses of different types of shot in Bar and Round Shot: Material Properties and Use in “Exercising the Guns.”

Object: Howitzer


Reloading Relay

Challenge your students to a Reloading Relay lesson plan, which demonstrates the realities of Marines’ responsibilities during the chaos of battle.

Lesson Plan: Reloading Relay