Monday, April 5, 2010

Search for Secrets of A Sunken Cannon - 53

After 161 years of disappearance, the remaining two cannons appeared if by magic as the severe winter storms washed away record amounts of sand unearthing them. Two cannons? Yes, but this discovery happened in Cannon Beach, Oregon in 2007 and not in Cannonsburg, Michigan in 1986. Weather had changed history in 1846 for America's first warship called the "SHARK."

America was proud to launch its first anti-piracy vessel called the US Navy Schooner "SHARK" in 1821. She was America's first tiger of the sea and traveled the world protecting American commerce, but an unplanned weather event changed history and she sank before the onset of the Mexican War 1846-1848. She was to return to sea duty off the California coast.

In Sept. 1846, the US Naval schooner Shark, broke into pieces at the mouth of the Columbia River. A large section with 3 small iron cannons eventually floated to shore in Arch Cape, just south of Cannon Beach. One was recovered years later and rests at the Cannon Beach History Center.

The other two cannons were discovered (2007) by Mike Petrone and his daughter Miranda beach walking. They looked like two stumps. It was Miranda's inquistiveness who told dad "I don't think it's wood, Dad. It's rusting." Never in his entire life had he found anything larger than glass balls. The two cannons went missing in 1846 and had been buried under 20 feet of shifting beach sand until severe winterstorms of 2007 made them visible.

The Shark was 98 feet long, draft 10'4", carried 70 men and officers and armed with ten-18 pound carronades, 2-9 pound French guns and 3 small cannons. The Shark was the first American Man of War and first warship to sail thru the Straits of Megellan to Calia, Peru in December 1839.

The shark's crew offered assistance to American commerce in the Pacific all the way to Hawaii and it had return orders to explore the lower Columbia River for pre-settlement 1846. Sailors charted her across sandbars and shoals into the Columbia where she explored for several months, but on her return trip back to the Pacific the sailors had to remark sand bars and shoals that were shifted by pounding surf, but they missed one. The Shark struck an unmarked shoal hard. She floundered, the heavy surf and shoal tearing her to pieces. With the exception of the three small cannons, the rest of the larger cannons were all salvaged. Not everything that flounders in the flotsam or buried beneath sand is junk so when you beach walk be inquisitive and maybe you'll find a historical "cannon." Never try to unearth it. It might be live.

Settlers were pouring into the southwest and it wouldn't be long before America would be at war with Mexico. The northwest was being explored and settlers were arriving in the rich Columbia River area (Oregon) in the late 1830's and John Ball was one those adventurous pioneers who met E. B. Bostwick before returning to Troy, New York.

John Ball and Le Grand Cannon of New York might have seen America's first Man of War warship called "SHARK" in 1821. After years of fighting the British we now had the knowledge to build ships, but not cannons. We had excellent wood craftsmen and NY capitalists like Le Grand Cannon, John Ball and Bostwick helped shape the direction of America. They formed an unusual partnership, graduated college in 1821 and shoved off into the future destined for bigger and better things. They took chances and risked everything to achieve goals and made their lives and the lives of others more rewarding.

"Life isn't fair, get used to it," said Bill Gates, the founder of MicroSoft. Le Grand Cannon, John Ball and Edmund Bostwick all faced bankruptcy many times, but Bostwick failed thrice, 1836, 1842, 1849, but it was Charlotte Bostwick along with friends who funded him with $40,000 to set himself up in business in Grand Rapids in 1842. Many went bankrupt in the mid 1830's or 1930's. Life is tough. They scratched for money, too, so bankruptcy is an accidental occurrence when life doesn't go the way we planned.

Cannons in America prior to 1861 were mostly captured or stolen. It was extremely rare to find quality brass cannons. When the Civil War started whether Union or Confederate each side had an armament of about 40 cannons each. In 1986 Bob Alcumbrack's cannon was described as old meaning 50-60 years, but he wasn't sure if it was Army or Navy issue.

Le Grand Cannon only knew Gillispie's official rank as Captain, but Gillispie was a private during the War of 1812 and ranked Captain from 1830-1846. They met as combatants, but I was unsure of exact date. I knew Bob was incorrect to assume the Cannonsburg cannon was a 6-pound cannon. The awesome blast and its notation as a small military ordnance wasn't conclusive evidence to support his claim it was an American field ordnance.

As for Le Grand Cannon, well he was a man of obscure secrets, too, and didn't tell his family and friends all they needed to know. He had a particular fondness for a certain piece of property northwest of Cannonsburg. He loved the high advantage point where he could look down at his achievements in the valley. Woodcrafters we had plenty of, but not metalcrafters up until 1858. Most couldn't read blueprints so the skill of cannonfounding wasn't of any benefit until we started sawing cannons lengthwise and making sand mould impressions to make reproductions.

Steal foundries at Philadephia and Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, previously made a few cast iron cannons during the Civil War. The Cincinatti foundries did churn out experimental cannons for Sam Houston and a few more 2-4 pound iron cannons for private individuals, but that was about it for cannonfounding. Investigative research revealed that Le Grand Cannon did present Cannon Township officials with a special cannon on July 4, 1848 in which he praised the Cannonsburg people for naming the township in his honor. That's no secret, but how it got to Cannonsburg and its true description was a secret caught briefly.

His secret business trip from Troy, New York was exceedingly hard on Mr. Cannon's health due to old age maladies. After his presentation it was his plan to sneak in a little fly fishing with John Ball to Lamberton Creek (Grand Rapids Township) for trophy Brown trout and since he felt ill on the trip to Cannonsburg he returned home sooner than expected. He had been a driven man since 1828 and suddenly felt uneasy and anxious and had an incessant need for family. Time was getting short and he wanted to be prepared for his end of life destiny.

He saw Edmund Bostwick, his former land agent, and he was very sick, so sick he couldn't go far. He couldn't breathe in Michigan's hot, humid and sticky summer heat. His lungs collapsed with the least exhertion. His lung cramps and wheezing would only get worse so Bostwick told Mr. Cannon he had to leave and was going to California. Bostwick forfeited all his land to Mr. Cannon. He couldn't pay his mortgage or property taxes and it'd take another fifteen years after Le Grand Cannon died for his son to sell off all Cannon township property.

When I inquired if Bob Alcumbrack ever researched the lives of 1846 Churchtown's first acting officials (Cannonsburg 1848) he said, "No," because of the time constraints of how long the five cannon burying friends were gone." Between 1986-88 we investigated the properties of Supervisor, Andrew Watson; Clerk, Henry H. Worden; Treasurer, Lewis D. Dean; School Inspectors, Loyal Palmer, Matthew A. Patrick; Directors of Poor, Enenezer C. Smith, Martin Johnson; Commissioners of Highways and Byways, John Hartwell, Cornelius Wample; Justices of the Peace, Harlow T. Judson, John Bishop, Demas Hine, Jared Spring; Constables, Robert Howard, Major Worden, Isaac Tomlinson, Mindrus Whitney. Some of these men were absent when Le Grand Cannon presented his treasured gift, the small military cannon. No cannon here.

From this group of men one was fascinated with the cannon and in fact became a cannon expert and used his skills during the Civil War. When he was killed during the Civil War his wife was so proud of his valiant sacrifice that she designed and erected a gravestone in his honor in the likeness of a 16th century cannon. I wondered why and how a pioneer woman could design this specialty tombstone unless she patterned it after something she saw.

Three such gravestones exist only in two of three Cannon Township cemeteries and none appear in any surrounding cemeteries. The tombstone designs are that of two 2-pound and a 1/2 pound cannon. The center bore sizes match respective cannons, but the muzzle end had specialty ornaments, which have been lost over the years by vandals. These have now become known as "mystery" stones (1848-1875) and a few in moonlight or bright starshine appear to glow in the dark. Lots of paper digging uncovered the secret woman and Civil War veteran that held one of Mr. Cannon's best kept secrets, but now is not the time divulge this mystery.

Were the tombstones replica's of the Cannonsburg cannon or just an oddity in tombstone production? Bob Alcumbrack and crew never knew the person of interest in the old bunch above. The discovered secret helped match it to the cannonballs. We watched Bob dowse for the accurate dimensions of the cannon in 1988 after the discovery of these two sources. Once the cannonballs were discovered he could now envision the correct size. Dowsing requires mind's eye accuracy. Next time you'll discover how a Grand River steamboat reveal's a secret.

No comments:

Post a Comment