On July 5th, 1812, a few weeks after the beginning of the War of 1812, the USS Constitution, commanded by Captain Isaac Hull, departed Annapolis, Maryland, with a fresh crew. She sailed out of the Chesapeake Bay on July 12th, en route to New York. While approaching her destination during the afternoon of July 17th, lookouts spotted a large group of unknown warships that was eventually determined to be British. This squadron, under the command of Captain Philip Vere Broke, included the small ship-of-the-line Africa and the frigates Shannon (Broke's flagship), Belvidera, Guerriere and Aeolus, clearly a force much superior to the Constitution.
Through the night of the 17th and 18th of July, the British and American ships maneuvered for advantage in the continuing light breeze. At about 5:30 in the morning the wind died completely. Constitution put out her boats, which towed her ahead of the enemy while four long 24-pounder guns were moved to the taffrail to allow fire directly astern. The British also had their boats in the water, concentrating most of them to try and pull Shannon within gunfire range. At the suggestion of Lieutenant Charles Morris, Captain Hull had anchors dropped ahead for kedging, allowing the power of her capstan to pull her more rapidly.
All through the 18th and well into the following day, this effort of towing and kedging continued, with occasional use of sails when a breath of wind blew up. Though shots were exchanged the range was always too great to allow hitting, and Constitution slowly moved away from her pursuers. By late afternoon on the 19th the nearest British ship, Belvidera, was some four miles astern. A few hours later, as a squall approached, Hull promptly got up his sails and greatly increased his lead. The chase continued through that night in slight and shifting winds, with Constitution's crew keeping their sails wet to enhance their effectiveness, and by daylight the enemy was so far astern that they soon gave up the pursuit. Realizing that the presence of the strong British squadron would keep him out of New York, Hull sailed instead for Boston, where he arrived on July 26th to begin preparations for another cruise.
This nearly three-day chase, involving some of the Royal Navy's best officers and cruising warships, was an early demonstration of the United State Navy's seamanship talents. It would soon be followed by dramatic ship-to-ship battles that provided an equally convincing display of superior tactical and gunnery abilities. These inspired the American people at a time of painful land war disasters, but also persuaded the hitherto confident Royal Navy of the urgent need for greater and more effective blockading efforts, which would keep U.S. warships and privateers in port where they could not threaten British seagoing interests.