Captain Truxtun could hardly contain his agitation. “They what?” he stammered.
“Refuse to work, begging your pardon,” said the foreman.
“All of them?”
“Yes sire. To a man.”
“And what is their complaint?”
The foreman shrugged. “What ain’t their complaint is more to the mark. I think this time it has to do with cocoa instead of coffee. Last time it was about working on a saint’s day.”
The captain pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes. The frigate, one of six commissioned by Secretary Knox and President Washington, was already over budget. He could not afford to have it run over schedule as well.
“Would a rise in pay ameliorate this… lack of coffee?”
The foreman swallowed this unfamiliar word but took its meaning at once. “I reckon it couldn’t hurt, sire.”
The captain reached for a pen and did not see the foreman licking his lips.
In 1794, the United States Congress authorized the construction of the USF Constitution, the USF Chesapeake, the USF Constellation, the USF President, the USF United States, and the USF Congress. These were heavy frigates – longer and faster than the conventional frigates of their day, armed with up to fifty 24-pound cannon and constructed of stout oak from the Ohio Valley. Though strong, they were much faster than 74-gun ships of the line. In the early battles of the War of 1812, they proved themselves superior to the once-indomitable Royal Navy. It was a triumph of design and technology and put the new United States on the map as a military power, allowing safe convey of merchantmen and whalers across the seas as well as suppressing the Barbary pirates.
The six frigates were also significantly over budget and delivered later than anticipated, a tradition proudly upheld in military contracting to this day.