Monday, March 29, 2010

Search for Secrets of A Sunken Cannon - 50

Where the original five men capable of burying the Cannonsburg cannon went to dispose of the piece had stayed hidden for 103 years. Bob's mind envisioned a six-pound of English registry. Bob knew very little about Mr. Cannon, with the exception he was a wealthy New York eastern capitalist. and land speculator. He was shrewd and had the backing of many influential friends and financiers.

Le Grand was a risk taker, a man of adventure who traveled extensively throughout Michigan to Colorado and Oregon with friends like John Ball, his attorney who's name is still associated with Grand Rapids today. His name is above the gates of the John Ball Zoological Park in Grand Rapids. Le Grand Cannon, John Ball, Edmund Bostwick and O.N. Bostwick were the largest freeland holders in Michigan and Oregon with Mr. Ball owning about a million acres of timber and farmland in the 1840's ouside of Michigan. Mr. Cannon owned more than 3000 acres and 24 lots in Cannonsburg and 7000 acres in Ottawa County with the Bostwick owning thousands of acres, too.

Mr. Cannon's wealth in Michigan was a mere drop in the bucket to his other interests. He had a go-getter type one personality like Ball. Cannon was engaged in building railroads, foundries and had mining interests in gold and silver west of the Mississippi and they did it together traveling extensively after graduation from Dartmouth College in 1821. They would have graduated sooner, but both men were heavily engaged in the six-year war (1812-18) that broke out.

Cannon was wealthy in the 1840's and he could have purchased the cannon outright or had one cast by a skilled craftsmen in one of his finest foundries. Why Bob Alcumbrack thought it was a 6-pound cannon wasn't logical since it was illegal for a private citizen to purchase small military field ordnances. He could only purchase a cannon from a private foundry and he couldn't purchase a small cannon from another country, but he could from a private foundry. The only other plausible place to get a cannon was a gift from a friend or a cannon rescued from a shipwreck by Capt. Gillispie.

Bob was right to assume that whatever Mr. Cannon gave it must be an old gift cannon made of cast bronze with his name and date engraved, but what he didn't understand was it was downright dangerous and difficult to engrave a cannon after being cast. Hardened metal fractures upon contact with chisels and when engraved after being cast the chisel makes tiny unforeseen fractures in the castings making them more likely to explode so that practice ceased before 1850. Bob's information sources said the cannon was "old" when referring to the Walter Tompsett accident. If it were indeed "old" in 1885 and since Mr. Cannon dropped off the cannon to town elders in 1848 conceivably the cannon would originate from the War of 1812 or American Revolutionary War era. Was the cannon older or newer?

Historians at the Rensselaer County Historical Soceity in Troy, New York were unaware that a township government and village in Michigan were named in honor of Mr. Cannon. Searches of his personal archives in New York and the archives of Ball (one) and Bostwick didn't reveal any information about the small cannon Mr. Cannon gave as a gift to Cannon Township's first elected officials in 1848. This was only a small piece of Le Grand Cannon's secret life. Men throughout history leave behind many unseen secrets. We don't share as easily as women.

Mr. Cannon left no clues about the special Cannonsburg cannon, but did note it was engraved with his name and date. Was it in the gun metal? If it was a captured gun it'd have the original engravements from a king or queen with his name and date either in the metal or a brass plaque attached to the carriage like the Twin Sisters' of Texas. It might have been a decommissioned brass military piece because of its age, but why would he donate something that old if its life expectancy was already growing dim. The cannon could have been a captured, rescued or family heirloom ARW held in personal storage. The cannon had to be a product of England, France, Scotland or the Netherlands and Bob had envisioned a standard issue military cannon. I felt it was more likely the cannon was bronze and a brass plaque added to the carriage or engraved in the carriage. This put Bob's cannon on the international scene.

Mr. Cannon was 62 years of age when he gave the cannon to town elders. He was ailing and his aches and pains told him it was time - now or never to make the trip. Bob Alcumbrack felt the aches and pain each morning and his health was suffering at age 55. He felt it was time to engage in physical activity and didn't like the senior status being placed on him by his friends at the Honey Creek Inn. They thought he was daft in the head for undertaking such a huge risk with his limited funds to find the missing cannon. I'm now 62, the same age as Mr. Cannon and feel the aches and pain in the morning, but I resist getting that senior soda or coffee. It's the young state of mind that refuses to admit or let go of our usefulness. We think young, not old. It's time to be irresponsible. Can't do it when young so I guess it's best to do it in the twilight years, but at least its adventurous and nobody is kicking into the tar pits without a fight. Although only fiction Earl Sinclair was looking forward to tossing his wife's mother, age 75, in wheelchair off the mountain top into the tar pit. That was the culture of dinosaur extinction.

Bob's time for heavier physical and mental activity was dwindling and it was getting harder to supercharge his mind to get his bones and muscles to react favorably to strenuous work habits. His physical window of opportunity was closing. It was time to dig up his wildest dream cannon. What skeptics thought was immaterial. Think positive. Start somewhere. There were times when he didn't like his crew calling him President Manual' Labor. We laughed, but he snarled and bristled with indignation of his new title - hard work.

A search of Le Grand's archival records to John Ball, his Dartmouth College friend, who became his attorney and best friend for life showed he handled Mr. Cannon's land procurements and selling affairs in Cannonsburg, Cannon Township, Kent and Ottawa County. Cannon in a letter informed Ball he was sending Capt. Gillispie to replace E.B. Bostwick in 1849 soon because of Bostwick's failing health. Gillispie was going to protect Cannon's timber property from those who were stealing lumber.

Bostwick failed to collect mortgage and tax payments owed to Mr. Cannon from the 24-lots he sold in Cannonsburg. Bostwick received land in payment for his services to collect money, but he had to pay all property taxes on his acquired holdings. John Ball handled all of Mr. Cannon's legal work for his 24-lot enterprise in Cannonsburg 1843-1850. If Cannonsburg settlers were honest and promised to pay the taxes without defaulting and took a home building mortgage with Mr. Cannon, the property was FREE.

Wouldn't you love to find find free land holder/builder/mortgager like that today. A half-acre lot in a subdivision today costs upwards of $90,000 or Lake Michigan frontage of one-acre cost up to $850,000 in 2009. In 1843 land was expensive at $1.25 per acre, but cheap by comparison to today. The standard of living income is about the same, but Le Grand Cannon bought land at 1.50 per acre and sold it for twice its original amount.

Le Grand Cannon and John Ball would hunt rabbits together in north central Kent County. They fished for trophy Brown trout in Lamberton Creek downstream from Lamberton Lake to where the Michigan Veteran's Hospital is on Monroe Ave. in Grand Rapids. Another favorite haunt and jewel was Silver Lake and Bostwick Lake off the towering pines for slab-sided blue gills, which both Ball and Cannon were planning to do when he returned to Kent County in 1848, that after Cannon presented his gift to town elders. He cancelled the fishing trip and returned passage home hastily by steamboat from Grand Rapids. He had a yearning in his mind and body that he should get his affairs in order. He was ailing, but didn't elaborate nor did he let his family know he was sick.

Bostwick went into bankruptcy in 1842 to wealth with Mr. Cannon and Ball and back to poverty in 1849 before leaving Michigan. Unfortunately Capt, Gillispie didn't arrive until after the death of Mr. Cannon May 7, 1850 and the death of Mr. Bostwick in 1851 on a train trip to California thru the Rocky Mountains with his wife Charlotte (Charlotte, Michigan named in her honor). Bostwick Lake named in his honor. The humid air in Michigan made it difficult to catch his breath. Some believed asthma was responsible for his ill health. Bostwick's doctors thought he would feel better out in California.

Shortly after Le Grand Cannon's death his son Le Grand B. Cannon, Jr., took over his father's many businesses. Gillispie had finally arrived to stop the pilfering of his timber in the Cannonsburg area until Mr. Cannon's remaining acreage listed at 1,100 acres was sold after 1855. The younger Mr. Cannon never visited. He just let Ball take charge of his Michigan holdings. O.N. Bostwick and Le Grand Cannon were the largest freeholders of land in Gaines Township of Kent County, too, with John Ball owning more than 6000 acres in Ottawa County in 1844 and 75,000 acres elsewhere. O.N. Bostwick with no relation to Edmund Bostwick was also an attorney at law who graduated with Mr. Cannon and Ball.

Edmund Bostwick owned several thousand acres, too, but before leaving Michigan he had forfeited all his holdings to Le Grand Cannon, because of failure to pay property taxes. John Ball's fortune was increasing and he owned more than 1,000,000 acres across America. Ball and Cannon gobbled up Bounty-land warrants that were originally deeded to soldiers for military service, but the government sold the Cannonsburg lots to relatives of the deceased who then resold, transferred or traded with relatives and then resold the property to Mr. Cannon. Mr. Cannon purchased the property for 1.25-1.50 per acre and resold lands for $2.50-3.00 per acre
per ads offering Michigan land for sale in New York newspapers in 1848.

Mr. Cannon's health was failing when he gave town elders the special cannon in 1848, a piece of his honor. He kept that secret from everyone and never informed his family he was making the trip to Michigan for that purpose. He just said it was a business trip. It was in a roundabout way. John Ball (John Ball Lake in northeast Grand Rapids Township named in his honor) and Capt. Gillispie knew about the gift. Only Gillispie knew if it was an iron or brass cannon and our secret was that whatever cannon was given it wasn't an iron cannon, because perfected iron cannons didn't come into being until after 1850. Iron cannons from the American Revolutionary War or War of 1812-18 would be too dangerous to fire. Life expectancy of a iron cannon was 20-40 years depending on wet weather, but brass had an unlimited life.

Bob was unsure about life expectancies of cannons until near the last big dig. Cast iron cannons couldn't be engraved post haste, because of the metals hardness. England's cannons after the 1600's were cast iron, with the exception of swivel or poop deck guns, but these ended production runs before 1643. Bronze cannons such as English falcons and falconets were used up until the early 1700s, the French falconnes and Spanish falconetes were rarely carried on naval vessels after 1550. Time and labor is a consummation issue to engrave iron without breaking the piece and those that are can be damaged causing explosions. Few iron cannons were made, with the exception of those experimental guns in Cincinnati, before 1860.

Mr. Cannon could have had his tradesmen make a cannon at his Rensellaer Iron works after 1840, but search of arhival records didn't reveal anything. America simply didn't have any skilled cannonfounders. The iron mill formerly known as the Troy Vulcan Co. ceased to exist, however, Mr. Canon was heavily invested in both companies and he could have purchased a cannon or Mr. Gillispie supplied him with the cannon and would have been easy for an foundry worker to engrave the cannon, brass plaque or carriage. Le Grand Cannon was very influential.

He was a trustee and investor in the Troy Water Works in 1829. Director of the Rensselaer and Saratoga Railroad (1833) and Director of Le Grand & Co. and principal owner of One Cannon Place, a prominent building that still stands today and Director of the New York and Albany Railroad in 1844. Mr. Cannon and John Ball's hometown was Troy, New York and John Ball was licensed to practice law in courts for the Rennselaer County Bar in 1835, both men set up shop in One Cannon Place.

In the spring of 1835 John Ball was the speaker for the Young Men's Association and presented "Tour Across the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific" a journey where he met E.B. Bostwick and later hired him to be Le Grand Cannon's front man and land agent in Cannonsburg, Michigan. Le Grand Cannon dedicated One Cannon Place in Troy, NY, a historic landmark. The buildings exterior architecture resembled British and French designs, while the top floor (mansard roof sides of building) resembles an English or French warship. The top floor of the building has remained the same since 1835.

Le Grand's heritage was French and Bob Alcumbrack missed this fact for it could have led him sooner to correct identification of cannon, its approximate age, size and physical characteristics. The two different cultures of One Cannon Place would uncover bigger secrets to come. When Le Grand Cannon died his family, his sons and daughter inherited his fortune in Troy, NY. His wealth was divided amongst his children. He died at 64 years of age and soon you'll read more about his journey to Michigan in 1848. Enough for this morning. Wow! I'm windy - the flow of words ran like water over a dam. Unusual.

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