Thursday, March 11, 2010

Search for Secrets of A Sunken Cannon - 39

Secrets of a sunken cannon was Bob Alcumbrack's ultimate treasure hunt, but the discovery of not one, but three cannonballs c. 1643 made our search rival a national treasure hunt. It was a local historical challenge that became a worldwide event and it was something he wasn't prepared to handle. What he wanted was little fanfare, but got the opposite. It would have been a digging nightmare had our secret about finding real gold gotten around Cannonsburg. We couldn't chance bringing in larger crowds. Actually not finding the cannon on July 4, 1986, was the best news for Bob.

Discovery of tangible evidence in 1987-88 gave Bob solid physical evidence the cannon was real and not simply a legendary rumor. It was where the balls were found that ties them to the Cannonsburg cannon. It was the place where the artifacts balls were found that helped us uncover secrets that the ultimate secret society of Cannonsburg 1885 wasn't willing to share with Bob. Discovery of the cannonballs would put us on track to discover more secrets. The paper trails of raised print sometimes ended abruptly, but sometimes the ability to discover more secrets is reading the invisible print between raised text. Uncovering secrets sometimes led to more questions than answers. Good clues took us down false trails and as many treasure hunters know good things always don't pan out with the thrilling action of movies. Bad clues led us astray on several occasions, but new clues appeared from unlikely sources.

The ultimate treasure is finding sunken cannons in America, that's on land or sunken. Rare was it to find a lost cannon or any cannon that wasn't made in America with the exception of the Twin Sisters' of Texas. Whether its the Cannonsburg cannon or the Twin Sisters or other historical cannons of America they are priceless antiquities and that why the Cannonsburg group kept silent and we didn't share secrets about their search for the Cannonsburg cannon. No treasure hunting group can afford to tip off other treasure looters that may be lurking in the shadows on darkest nights watching. Why lead them to the source? Bob Alcumbrack's mission was to silently recover the Cannonsburg cannon for historical preservation and to keep invested organized criminals from stealing it in our absence, smuggling and selling it to the highest national bidder. Our group sought to protect the cannon from those who might steal history for collectible markets. To unravel the Cannonsburg mystery I had to do lots of research, but it took ancient history to unravel the secret society.

I wasn't sure if the cannonballs came from the 1643 circa, but the size of the balls places it from 1450-1635, because these cannons were expensive to make. They were made of brass and not of cast or wrought iron. These weren't made in England. Between 1643-1744 the only ones founded were specialty cannons poured before a king or queen and fact is very few were listed as being used on English ships after 1743. Remember the Twin Sisters were too old to fire at 25 years old, the Cannonsburg cannon was 38 years old and no doubt it was repeat fired many times. Michigan weather is just as bad as Texas weather minus the hurricanes, but the Tompsett tragedy happened not because of age of cannon, but unsound judgement.

When Charles II died Anne, Queen of England and Ireland (1702-1714), the daughter of James II was dominated by the Whig Party until 1710. She along with her party made the Fullers of Heathfield England's primary gun-founders between 1706-1775. After England settled the Peace of Utrecht in 1713, Her Majesty's service went large amounts of captured cannons to Moorsfield for recycling and recasting into larger cannons. Huge piles of old cannons were amassed on Windmill Hill, but transferred to the Woolrich proving grounds. Master gun-founder Mathew Bagley was frustrated by the queens orders, because he had to endure great expenses for moving the ordnances to Woolrich. He would have liked to have disposed of the broken wares instead of the journey to Woolrich.

After Queen Anne's death King George I (1714-27) tried to entice private foundries to work for England. King George was upset because he had only two 18-pound cannons and no 24-pound cannons for Land Services for Homeland Protection. It wasn't until May 1716 that Bagley started casting large guns from captured old cannons at Moorsfield. The entire lot was smelted down to make two 24-pound cannons, but an accident in June 1716 at pouring time killed Bagley and 19 foundry assistants and maimed many others. The accident was preventable because another Master gun-founder named Andrew Schlach inspecting Bagley's operation previously pointed out to Bagley that his sand molds were too damp. Schlach tried to warn onlookers that they were standing too close and that an explosion was imminent when the molten metal would be poured, but Bagley refuted him.

After the dreadful accident King George I began hearing rumors about Schlach's suspicion of doom for Bagley's refusal to let the molds dry and he thought he had found a man of good character who wouldn't put his loyal subjects in harms way. "In Harms Way" is a World War II movie starring John Wayne and Kirk Douglas in the 1960's. Schlach became the kings new Master gun-founder. He had found his niche in life. Experts in cannon-founding were rare since no many were dying at the hands of bad kings. Schlach thought by the actions of the king, the king to had a sense of good character. Schlach produced two 24-pound cannons, but one failed to proof. Schlach wanted to find out why, but the King said that it'd take too much time when he should be making cannons. Schlach would live to regret his assumptions of King George.

King George was the first Hanoverian kings of Great Britian and he was truly ignorant of past English military history. He lacked committment with his cabinet members leaving government operations to Whig ministers. He was the "do nothing king," and the Whigs took full advantage of the king's ignorance putting Constitutional control over the Crown. King George ordered Schlach to recycle guns and mortars. Schlach job was to smelt them down, but waste no time in proofing them. Schlach was appalled that the king was willing to sacrifice his loyal subjects rather than make sure the cannons could be safely fired. Schlach pleaded with the king to let him find out why the guns exploded or burst, but the king told Schlach not to worry so much and make guns faster. The king wasn't interested in why they failed and dead men can't tell why they failed. Those that survived blamed Schlach, but what they didn't know was for Schlach to keep his head he couldn't challenge the king over safety. Schlach countered that less proofing meant more deaths among his soldiers. The king hardened his heart and wanted more guns produced. He wanted faster production to save money and this angered Schlach. The king made Schlach his fall guy.

The elder John Fuller produced 130 tons of cannons and 77 tons of short, but died in 1722. His successor son named John produced 410 cannons for King George (1827-1760) with many 6-pound ordnances ranging from 3.5 to 6.5 feet in length. Like his father he made cheap ordnances of cast iron, not dependable brass. Cast brass was expensive, lighter and more durable and less likely to explode upon proofing, but the king's only desire was to increase his armament at the expense of foundrymen and his soldiers. In 1740 King George supported Austria in the War of Austrian Succession and was the last king to fight in battle in 1743. The eldest Fuller's grandson was casting guns for Ireland while Col Wiedemann and Schlach were getting ready to proof. All Weidemann's guns proofed for the king in 1749, but despite this failure the "Interest of His Royal Highness, the late Duke William Augustus," cast more cannons without investigating the cause of its failure.

Since King George II never investigated cannon failures, the duke didn't care about the safety of the King's soldiers who had to fire his untrustworthy iron cannons. The duke knew the reason why they failed, because he was the architect of the fraudulent duping of the King and he didn't want anyone to find out why his cannons failed. The duke was substituting lead for iron in cannon founding. The duke's shoddy craftsmen cast the piece in lead, then poured a thin skin of iron or brass over them to make them appear as quality ordnances. After each firing the inside bore chambers melted from the extreme heat constricting the bore chamber. When the cannon's weren't being repeat fired, the melting lead sagged causing cannonball restrictions and that's why the cannon prematurely exploded or burst killing scores of His Majesty's artillerymen.

In 2008-09, the treasure hunting group known as Odyssey Marine Excavations out of Miami, Florida discovered the shipwreck location of the 17th century ship they dubbed the "Meat Wagon" southeast of England. This ship was loaded with lead and sank with one of England's richest cargos of lead. This lead at today's market value is worth 100 million dollars and even though it sank in the 1700's it is still owned by England. Odyssey found it, but it is not theirs to keep. When John Fuller's grandson died in 1755, the duke was still making faulty cannons. He was reaping the kickbacks in 1756 when the King appointed Jan and John Verbruggen as England's premiere gun-founders to build up the King's armament. The Verbruggens were hired for their fast turn around by producting guns faster than the king could lose them, but in 1756, Jan Verbruggens was transferred to the great National Foundry at The Hague.

For ten years the Verbruggens churned out cannons faster, but subordinates began complaining to the Dutch War office that the Verbruggens were hiding the fact serious mistakes in cannon founding when installing new furnaces. The two brothers were guilty of shoddy workmanship and too many of their cannons were killing to many soldiers needlessly. William Augustus, the Duke of Cumberland, hid his discrepancies too, until King George III found out and the Duke fearing he would be tried for killing thousands of the kings men out of greed and fraud for treason committed suicide. Shoddy workmanship continued until 1773. In the end the King ordered Andrew Schlach and Col. Weidemann to begin cannon production with iron cannons, bt the cannons were inspected and many cannons that were purchased a good quality cannons were disqualified as bad cannons prone to premature explosions. Again foundry workers were making lead and zinc cannons and pouring iron or brass over them.

King George III (1760-1821) told the Schlach and Col. Weidemann to begin production of as many iron cannons as they could produce. Tension with America was at hand and the king needed lots of cannons, however, His Majesty would soon be engaged in two wars simultaneously. Iron cannons were needed to fight against Napoleon's French Revolution and America's Revolutionary War. His Majesty's best ships and cannons were sent to France to fight Napoleon, while the Crowns oldest cannons were sent towards Canada on England's fourth and fifth rate man of war vessels before the American Revolutionary war started (1775-83). The best of England's artillerymen went to France, but few to Canada or America.

As you can see very few good artillery cannons were sent to America. The British were using old stock cannons and as a result of this we felt it highly unlikely that the Cannonsburg cannon, one that was repeatedly fired originated from the 1700's. Time to quit for tonight.

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