Built at Boston in 1797, the 44-gun Constitution was one of the original group of six frigates ordered by Congress to form the basis of the new United States' Navy. Commissioned in July 1798, she played a minor role in the quasi-war with France before going on to distinguish herself in the Barbary Wars of 1803-04. Her celebrated capture of H.M.S. Guerriere on 19th August 1812, soon after the start of the Anglo-American War, earned her the enduring name of "Old Ironsides" and, surviving several attempts to scrap her later in the nineteenth century, she was ultimately preserved at Boston where she still resides.
H.M.S. Santa Margarita was a 38 gun frigate of the Spanish Navy, built at Ferrol in 1774 and captured off the coast of Portugal in November 1779. Absorbed into the Royal Navy under her own name, she became a lazaretto (quarantine ship) at Pembroke in 1814 and lasted until 1836.
The little known incident depicted here took place during the two-year undeclared war between France and the U.S.A. (1798-99) during which, if not actually allies, England and the U.S. at least maintained reasonable close and friendly relations.