Susan Constant Facts

The Susan Constant is a re-creation of the largest of three ships that in 1606-1607 transported English colonists to Jamestown, Virginia. The ship was built in 1990 to serve as an exhibit at Jamestown Settlement, a museum that chronicles the story of America’s first permanent English colony. The Susan Constant replaces an earlier re-creation built in the mid-1950s and retired in early 1990. As Jamestown Settlement’s flagship, the Susan Constant turns 30 this year.

Jamestown Settlement Susan Constant

Owner

Commonwealth of Virginia

Ship’s Master

Eric Speth, Maritime Program Manager for the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, the Virginia state agency that administers Jamestown Settlement.

Architect

Stanley Potter of Beaufort, N.C. Architectural design is based on research undertaken in 1987 by Brian Lavery, a British maritime historian.

Builder

Allen Rawl, Inc., of Bradshaw, Md. Approximately 70 people, including shipwrights, carpenters, woodcarvers, a blacksmith, a shipsmith, laborers, and a marine electrician and machinist, participated in construction of the ship on the grounds of Jamestown Settlement.

Keel laying

December 11, 1989

Christening and launching

December 14, 1990

Commissioning

April 25, 1991

Cost

$2.1 million, from the Commonwealth of Virginia, for research, architectural design, materials and construction.

Statistics

Sparred length – 116’; length of hull – 96’; length on deck – 82’; length at waterline – 77’; beam – 24’10”; draft – 11’9”; height of mainmast from waterline – 95’; sail area – 3,902 square feet; displacement tons – 275; net tons – 120; ballast – 110 tons of lead; auxiliary engine – twin 135 horsepower diesel

Materials

Approximately 150,000 board feet of wood was used in the ship. The keel is 53-foot length of tropical greenheart, and the frame is constructed of mora, purpleheart and courbaril. Planking is courbaril below the waterline and juniper above. The deck structure, ceiling, bulkheads and furniture are long leaf yellow pine, and the masts, yards and flagstaffs are douglas fir. Other woods are spruce, hackmatack and live and white oak. The seams between the wood planks are stuffed with cotton caulking and oakum (tarred hemp fibers) and covered with seam compound. The sails are made of duradon, a fabric of tightly-woven synthetic fibers that resembles canvas.

Masts & Rigging

The Susan Constant has three masts and is square-rigged, with rectangular-cut sails set at right angles to the keel line. Located under the center and tallest mast, the mainmast, is a 1607 sixpence representing the year of the historic voyage from England to Virginia. A 1605 sixpence, representing the year in which the original ship was built, rests under the front, or foremast. A 1990 United States quarter dollar is under the rear, or mizzenmast. Each of the masts is equipped with a round platform, or “top,” from which sailors can work. The British national flag of 1607, which combines the English Cross of St. George and the Scottish Cross of St. Andrew, flies from the mainmast. The Cross of St. George, a traditional English flag dating from the Middle Ages, is flown on the other two masts.

Decoration

Inscribed and painted hull decorations are based on period likenesses of late 16th- and early 17th-century ships. On the upper works of the hull are three horizontal stripes of a green and yellow diamond pattern, red and white chevrons, and a white-on-blue design. A red and white decoration on the gallery (a balcony on the ship’s stern), and a gray and gold decoration on the beakhead (a protrusion off the bow) are copied from a ship model dating to about 1630. Three knights’ heads carved from long leaf yellow pine anchor the tackle used to haul and lower the main yards (cross sections on the masts). Cats’ faces are carved onto two “catheads” used as supports for lifting the ship’s anchors.

Interior Space

The ship has a main deck, a ‘tween deck and a hold. Both the main deck and the ‘tween deck, which is six feet from floor to ceiling, are accessible to visitors. Located at the front of the main deck underneath the forecastle deck are a cook room and three cabins for seamen. Officers’ quarters on the opposite end of the deck include a great cabin and three smaller cabins. Officers navigate the ship from the quarterdeck, located above their quarters. The ship is equipped with a whipstaff for steering (wheels were not used until the early 18th century). Eight gunports, four on each side, are located in the ‘tween deck space. The original Susan Constant, a merchant ship, was equipped with cannon for self-defense. In the 17th century, this deck housed passengers and cargo. Visitors can look from the ‘tween deck into the hold, where cargo also was stored.