On August 9, 1790, the ship Columbia docked in Boston Harbor to end an historic three-year voyage. The Columbia was the first ship to sail around the world flying the flag of the United States of America.

At the time, the American flag in use was the “Betsy Ross” design of the flag. It consisted of 13 stripes and 13 stars in a circular design representing the original 13 colonies. This design was used from June 14, 1777, until May 1, 1795, when two stars and two stripes were added for the newest states of the Union, Kentucky and Vermont.

betsyrossdesignThe Columbia was a privately owned ship and not part of the U. S. Navy. Originally believed to have been completed in 1773 in Norwell, Massachusetts, building the ship began in 1772 at the North River shipyards.

At about the same time the Columbia was being built, the North River shipyards built another famous ship, the brig Beaver. The Columbia and Beaver were very similar in size and were thought to look very much alike. One of three ships carrying a cargo of tea and docked in Boston Harbor on December 16, 1773, Beaver and the other two ships were boarded and their tea was dumped into the Harbor in what has been viewed as the catalyst for the American Revolutionary War, the Boston Tea Party.

Some historians believe the Columbia was built in 1787 in Plymouth, Massachusetts, when it was renamed the Columbia Rediviva (“revived” in Latin). The Columbia participated in the fur trade prior to her historic voyage. The supply ship Lady Washington (a replica is pictured above) accompanied the Columbia on part of the voyage.

The Columbia was a full-rigged ship, which meant she was a sailing vessel and had a minimum of three square-rigged masts. A full-rigged ship is also called a frigate. Weapons on board included cannons and broadside guns.

Source Materials —

Spinrad, Leonard and Thelma, On This Day in History (Prentice Hall 1999)

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