Lots of historical fun happening today at the museum during our First Saturday program Bluejackets on the Elizabeth. The program is ongoing 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., so come on down!

Our thanks to the 3rd Virginia Volunteer Infantry Regiment for providing another great living history program for our visitors, this time about Civil War era shipyard workers. They brought a wonderful set of period tools to display … and the skills to use them!


Since 1961, when the Norfolk Naval Shipyard Museum moved from the shipyard to the city and became the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum it has continually exhibited many artifacts on loan from the Naval History & Heritage Command.  One of many of the Navy’s fascinating artifacts in the museum’s collections storage is a message from the past—139 years into the past!

            In June 1871, an American expedition to reach the North Pole led by Charles Francis Hall got underway from New York aboard the steamship Polaris.  Sponsored by the U.S. government, the expedition was intended to be the first ever to reach the planet’s northernmost latitude.  However after reaching as far north as possible, a series of major setbacks ultimately led the expedition to abandon its objective.  In efforts to communicate the status of the expedition a message was prepared, rolled, inserted into a small copper cylinder and cast into the sea.  The message stated: 

“United States North Pole Expedition, Steamer Polaris . . Winter quarters, Thank God Harbor, Polaris Bay, June 16, 1872.  Latitude 81° 38’N., Longitude 61° 44’W.  Having reached last fall with the vessel our highest latitude 82° 16’.  We were beset into the ice and drifting south for several successive days.  Made winter quarters in the above-named bay on September 4, 1871.  Captain C.S. Hall died on November 8.  Rest of the party is well and in high spirits.  Two boats left for the North on June 8th to carry out the object of the expedition.  (signed) S.O. Budington, Sailing-Master.”

“Whoever finds this paper is requested to forward it to the Secretary of Navy, Washington, D.C., with a note of time and place in which it is found.  Or if more convenient, to deliver for that purpose to the United States Consul at the nearest port.”

It was not until 1949—76 years after the message was sent—that the cylinder was presented to the Secretary of the Navy.  As is often the case with artifacts, the cylinder (and its contents) had been stored in an old trunk.  Soon after, the owner gave it to a friend who then decided to give the message to the U.S. Navy as was originally intended by its author.  Ultimately the message made its way to exhibition at the Naval Shipyard Museum, which had opened that same year in the yard and then was transferred with several artifacts to the museum’s current home—at # 2 High Street!



The Yard’s “Rosie”

During World War II, approximately 400,000 women served in all the branches of the military.  Women also served on the homefront and were just as vital to winning the war.  As many jobs in defense work were left vacant with men going off to war, the government began a nationwide effort to bring women into the industrial workforce.  Using the ideal and image of “Rosie the Riveter,” the archetypal American woman at work, the effort was a success.  It opened up future opportunities for women in the workplace, including Norfolk Naval Shipyard.  

Working on Patterns, Norfolk Naval Shipyard, c.1942-1945

The Delaware – An “Ordinary” Ship?

Situated comfortably inside our Buildingways of Democracy: Portsmouth and Gosport, 1785-1840 exhibit is a meticulously crafted 3/8” = 1’ scale model of the 74 gun U.S. Ship-of-the-Line Delaware. The largest ship model displayed in the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum.

The USS Delaware was one of the many ships built at Gosport Navy Yard (now the Norfolk Naval Shipyard). Considering the life of this ship, personified, it was born, lived (intermittently) and died at Gosport.  Construction on the Delaware began in August 1817 and was completed and launched in October 1820. Instead of setting sail immediately the ship was put “in ordinary” meaning it was not commissioned, but had a very small crew to maintain it. Over the course of its life, the Delaware would be put in ordinary, primarily due to the complications involved with maintaining such a large ship.

In February 1828 Delaware was commissioned and sent to the Mediterranean Sea until it returned to Norfolk in 1830. The ship was placed in ordinary again upon its return and then re-commissioned in 1833 to serve until placed in ordinary again in 1836. In 1841 Delaware was re-commissioned for a tour of duty along the coasts of South America until 1843 and then another tour of duty in the Mediterranean Sea. Delaware returned to the shipyard in 1844 and was placed in ordinary for a final time. On April 20, 1861 Delaware was one of the ships burned by United States forces in efforts to prevent it from seizure and use by the Virginia State (and later Confederate) Navy.

"View of the Delaware 74 in Dry Dock, U.S. Navy Yard, Gosport" by Joseph Goldsborough Bruff, c. 1833

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