BATH – The fifth warship to bear the name of Commodore William Bainbridge was christened on Saturday, honoring the naval officer credited with sinking the HMS Java while in command of the USS Constitution.
After battling pirates in the Caribbean, Bainbridge, born in 1774 in Princeton, N.J., commanded “Old Ironsides” during the War of 1812.
His great-great-great granddaughter, Susan Bainbridge Hay, of Cambridge, Mass., christened the 509-foot-long destroyer by breaking a bottle of champagne on the ship’s hull, while about 70 people, bundled in winter coats and shivering in the early November chill, cheered from the bleachers.
Bainbridge Hay followed her mother, also named Susan Bainbridge, in christening a naval destroyer bearing the Bainbridge name. When she smashed the bottle of champagne on the second swing, a band broke into “Anchors Aweigh” and red, white and blue streamers and confetti shot into the air.
“When I was first asked to be the sponsor, my first reaction was I’m too old. I’m a little old lady. I’m 80 years old. But my family said I had to do it because I am a Susan Bainbridge,” she said. “It’s a Navy family.”
The christening celebrated a century since the nation’s first destroyer, also named the Bainbridge, was put to sea. The destroyer is the fifth named after the commodore, whose family’s lineage has close ties to U.S. naval history.
“What a great day in the city of ships,” said Rear Adm. Charles Hamilton, who maintains the Navy’s ship structure. “What a great Navy day because Bainbridge is again returning to sea.”
Bainbridge joined the naval service in 1798 as a lieutenant under Commodore Edward Preble. He and a group of other young officers, together known as “Preble’s Boys,” challenged the French, the Barbary pirates and the British at sea.
Military historians consider Bainbridge’s defeat of the HMS Java on Dec. 29, 1812, off the coast of Brazil to be one of his greatest accomplishments.
Bainbridge, who was known for his brashness and quick temper, was wounded during the battle. The Constitution’s wheel was destroyed and replaced by the Java’s, which can be seen by visitors to the USS Constitution Museum in Boston harbor, where the ship is permanently moored.
The commodore is buried in the Christ Church Burial Ground in Philadelphia, where he retired after ill health forced him to leave the Navy.
The ceremony marked the fourth christening at Bath Iron Works since completion of a $240 million land-level transfer facility designed to make the Navy shipbuilder faster and more efficient.
Like the Chafee, and Momsen before it, the Bainbridge was floated in a dry dock instead of being launched into the Kennebec River.
Equipped with cruise missiles and other armaments, the ship is designed to withstand chemical attacks while advanced radar enables it to simultaneously wage battle with enemy airplanes, warships and submarines.
About a dozen peace activists picketed outside the shipyard during the christening. The demonstration did not disrupt the event, and there were no arrests.