BOSTON — In 1853, sailing under false colors, the USS Constitution surprised the HN Gambrill just north of Angola in African waters.
The Gambrill was a slave ship, only a day away from jamming hundreds of slaves below deck for the terrible voyage to America.
The schooner was captured and sailed home minus the grim cargo. The capture marks another chapter in the dazzling history of Old Ironsides. For almost two years she sailed as part of the African squadron, patrolling the West African coast in search of American slave traders.
This incident will be part of a complete interdisciplinary curriculum about the ship made available to classrooms around the country beginning on Oct. 21 in celebration of the anniversary of its launching.
Designed by the USS Constitution Museum's department of education, the program, "USS Constitution - America's Enduring Legacy" is now being evaluated by a network of 250 teachers around the country.
"We are working on applying their feedback and ideas to the material," says Marilyn Weiss Cruickshank, director of education at the museum.
A dramatized video that also serves as an introduction features a young girl who goes below deck and encounters characters who would have been part of the crew.
Students will be able to connect math, social studies, geography, science, and language arts with exercises about aspects of the ship and its history.
"For instance, the students are asked to compare the size of the ship to things around them in their community like a soccer field," says Ms. Cruickshank. "And because the square footage of the sails equals an acre, we want the kids to know what an acre is, for instance, in relation to the floor area of their classroom."
* For information about the curriculum, contact the USS Constitution Museum, Box 1812, Boston, MA 02129-0001. Telephone: (617)-426-1812.