The Captain from Connecticut, Isaac Hull

Passport issued to the ship Minerva, 1796

Passport issued to the ship Minerva, 1796

by Jedediah Huntington, Customs Collector

Frank L. McGuire Maritime Library

Engraving of Isaac Hull by William Strickland, after a portrait by Gilbert Stuart

Engraving of Isaac Hull by William Strickland, c.1812-1815, after a portrait by Gilbert Stuart

Isaac Hull is today chiefly remembered for his command of USS Constitution in the early years of the War of 1812, in which he famously fought and sank the British ship HMS Guerriere on August 19, 1812 in the first frigate-to-frigate action of the war. His maritime career, however, started in childhood, navigating the waters of the Housatonic River and Long Island Sound from his home in Derby, Connecticut.

Born on March 9, 1773, to Sarah Bennett and Joseph Hull, Isaac Hull spent much of his early life on the water. His father, Joseph, an army lieutenant who distinguished himself in the defense of Fort Washington during the Revolutionary War, was given command of a flotilla of armed whale boats on Long Island Sound, where he harassed British shipping and engaged in whaling on the side. Isaac grew up sailing small boats along the Housatonic River, and joining his father in occasional pursuit of whales on the Sound.

In 1784, Isaac was sent to his uncle, William Hull, in Newton, Massachusetts, for schooling. The lure of the sea was strong, however, and he soon joined the coasting trade as a cabin boy, sailing between Maine and North Carolina. From 1784 to 1793, Hull worked on several merchant vessels plying trade along the East Coast and Europe, and occasionally joined his father on trade voyages to the West Indies.

His burgeoning skill as a mariner attracted attention, and in 1793, he was given his first command, sailing the Rhode Island brig Liffey to Galway. In 1795, Hull returned to Connecticut, plying the West Indies trade first on the Nancy, out of Norwich, and then on the Bath, Maine-built ship Minerva. It was here that Hull made frequent contact with port cities along Connecticut's coast, including New London, to register cargo, file voyage manifests, make repairs, and take on supplies as needed. 

After the permanent establishment of the United States Navy in the 1790s, Hull moved into naval service and quickly rose through the ranks. Commissioned as a Lieutenant in 1798, he was assigned to the newly-built USS Constitution, first under the command of Commodore Samuel Nicholson and then under Commodore Silas Talbot. Hull was promoted to Master Commandant by 1804 and Captain by 1806, and commanded the USS Enterprise and the US brig Argus in Commodore Edward Preble’s Mediterranean squadron during the Barbary Wars.

Returning victorious from his command of USS Constitution in 1812, Hull became commandant of the navy yard at Portsmouth for the remainder of the war. From 1815-1817, Hull served on the Board of Navy Commissioners, before assuming command of the Boston and Washington navy yards. From 1839 to 1841, Commodore Hull commanded USS Ohio, flagship of the European squadron - his last seafaring assignment before retiring to Philadelphia with his wife, Ann Hart. Hull died in 1843, at the age of 69.

The Captain from Connecticut, Isaac Hull