Monday, March 8, 2010

Search for Secrets of A Sunken Cannon - 36

Search for secrets of a sunken cannon was difficult without any physical evidence it even existed except on paper; three different depictions, a book and a small article about the Tompsett Tragedy in newsprint and oral descriptions by 'awesome' eyewitness accounts. The later is how Bob created his wildest dream.

The previous history lesson on kings, queens and cannons dated the cannon when Bob Alcumbrack found some physical evidence. I had strong doubts against the 6-pound size of cannon Bob was trying to dig up when I found that four older men had dismantled and buried the cannon the first time as a means to stop the younger fellows from firing it. Four men couldn't physically remount a piece weighing 800 pounds. This didn't make sense so its important to continue with more information about "The Lost Colony" as a means to an end. We must continue with our round-about-history.

Got any ideas on what happened to England's lost colony left on Roanoke Island off the coast of Virginia and North Carolina? Scholars disagree on whether or not the settlers fearing starvation dissolved into the Chesapeake, Delaware, Cheraw and Catawba Indian tribes. The last two tribes were descendants of the largest of southeastern tribes called the Lumbee Indians. Sir Grenville never returned to Roanoke Island at least not since he discovered the island nearly deserted in 1586 and retrieved John White who was nearly delirious after being accidently left on the island by Sir Francis Drake.

White returned to Roanoke Island after 1590. He had hoped the second batch of colonists had survived, but when he arrived he couldn't land because his ship had sailed into the jaws of a mighty hurricane and it blew him out to sea and that's 'when weather changed history' again. After the storm passed, his ship had lost its heavy anchor in gigantic waves and provisions destined for Roanoke were lost overboard. Since the crew was low on provisions he bypassed the island and returned to England. When he did return the island was deserted, but found the descriptive word "C-R-O-A-T-O-A-N" carved into a post on the island to let him know where and what happened to them before 1590. White found Hattaras Island and mainland Indian children with blond hair, blue eyes and the names of colonists left behind by Sir Richard Grenville. Faced with starvation they diffused into the Indian tribes.

Nearly 400 years later some commercial fishermen dragging nets off North Carolina snagged a 54-inch long cannon weighing in excess of 300 pounds. They wanted fish and not the worthless, but highly unrecognizable cannon covered in calcium carbonate coral and rust corrosion. They donated it to East Carolina University's archaeology so students in college lab could gain experience using electrolytic reduction cleaning methods to restore artifacts. Electric current chips off the corrosion, but unknown to everyone until nearing the end of cleaning, the cannon was live primed with grapeshot and a two-pound cannonball. They had been using an electric charge on a live cannon filled with dry gunpowder for over four years. Salt water had not penetrated the gunpowder filled chamber - oily wadding and plugged vent sealed the old iron cannon. Had it exploded in the college lab it could have blown the top floor off the building. This is another example of why you should never assume a found cannon is harmless.

A university conservationist at ECU in 1983 named Bradley Rodgers said the cannon was almost unrecognizable and the chamber was perfectly sealed from water intrusion, the gunpowder remaining as dry as the day it was inserted and here they were using electrical current to clean and chip off coral. Had an electrical spark hit the vent hole an instantaneous explosion could have occurred causing much damage to students and the building structurally. It nearly scared him to death when he pulled the fuse' from the vent hole and smelled live gunpowder.

After cleaning the cannon it was apparent the cannon wasn't ordinary. It was special because it had decorations Rodger's and students couldn't understand. No cannons like this had ever been found in North American waters or to the best of their knowledge not on American soil. The decorations, the placement of trunnions, the two knobs that stick out on the side that rest on a carriage including the shrink bands that reinforce the barrle of the cannon didn't match anything ECU archaeologists knew about cannons. Upon consultations with officials at the Tower of London and Britian's National Maritime Museum they put them in contact with a British ordnance expert named Charles Trollope. He identified the cannon as a late 16th century British field artillery piece called a Falcon, but Trollope couldn't decipher the decoration and up until 2009 it still remained unidentified.

If this small cannon wasn't on a naval carriage, but a fortification piece how did it get on the bottom of the ocean off Carolina? That's exactly what Rodgers and other underwater archaeologists that were once students in 1983 tried to find out in 2008. They have reason to believe it is a cannon from the Lost Colonies pinnance or from the deck of John White's ship. Pinnances were 6-8 oared ship's boats from a Man of War used ferried supplies from ships to shore, but they were small armed vessels and it may have been offloaded on the island or when moving it to the mainland it sunk at sea. Since the cannon was loaded with live gunpowder, grapeshot and cannonball its easy to speculate they intended to either sabotage the gun or fire it on purpose. Was someone attacking a ship or was it being transported by small pinnance that was about to be captured or sunk in a gale?

It might have fallen accidently overboard when one of Sir Francis Drake's ships sank or did it roll off or was it tossed off during the gales of the violent hurricane gales that Sir Richard Grenville and John White encountered. Some speculate the cannon might have been destined for protection of the 1607 Jamestown colony, the first permanent settlement in Virginia. The cannon appeared to be from English stock, but the decoration is what had them stumped for answers. Its heritage might be a mystery, but sometimes such cannon's were made in pairs before kings and queens for special occasions.

Professor Rodgers in 2009 now specializes in Nautical Archaeology, Conservation Science and has writtien several books on Ship construction and the transition of Sail to Steam, Wood to Iron Hulls, Great Lakes History and Archaeology and is on the faculty for Program in Maritime Studies at ECU. The cannon decorations he discovered in 1983 still haunt many today, but since then I've discovered thru researching the Cannonsburg cannon, what I believe are the strange decorations on the ECU cannon. To understand the possibilities of those decorations much has been learned over the years about Elizabeth I including her father King Henry. She seems to have inherited the word 'turmoil' from King Henry VIII for what was now happening in Her Majesty's kingdom.

Elizabeth's half-brother Edward VI was a minor annoyance as compared to Mary I, Queen regnant of England and Ireland, the Queen consort of Aragon, Castile and Naples, hence her name Bloody Mary who said Elizabeth was unfit to rule. Being an illegitimate child of King Henry VIII she had more legal right to be Queen of England than Elizabeth. Although Mary had the strongest claim to the line of succession after Elizabeth, the dysfunctional king didn't list Mary I or Catherine's descendants and purposely cut them from his will of succession. Mary was England's rightful English Royalty from the House of Tudor line, because the Catholics worldwide denied the legality of Henry's divorce and adulterous marriage to Ann Boleyn, the mother of Elizabeth.

Elizabeth did execute Mary I and Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, and yes, both were killed based upon mistrust of religions and the perceived notion that either or could cause rebellion in England and challenge Elizabeth's protestant rule. Catholics throughout Europe and England believed Catherine's descendants were the true heirs to the English throne. King Henry VIII had committed adultery as a devout Catholic against Catholics worldwide and the church and they didn't recognize his Protestant divorce decree. He denounced his Catholic beliefs so he could divorce under Protestant decree himself from his Catholic wife Catherine of Aragon. The divorce separated the Church of England from papal authority.

King Henry committed adultery as a Catholic and the church didn't recognize his Protestant divorce decree. Next time we'll dig a little deeper into the fiery relationship between Elizabeth, Mary I, Mary of Guise and Mary Stuart (Catherine's descendant).

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