Friday, May 21, 2010

Search for Secrets of A Sunken Cannon - 85

Search for secrets of a sunken cannon yielded many surprises and one of which was the discovery of an English warship PLUMPER. This an unexplained mystery ghost ship that had escaped the annals of English history probably because of how it met its doom during the War of 1812 and the fact it might have been an embarrassment to the English navy. I found this vessel in 1990 while reading microfiche of the Grand Rapids Weekly Enquirer in 1852. at the Grand Rapids Public Library with a colleague Dr. Carl Bajema, GVSU. I reported my discovery to English authorities, but the PLUMPER remains in obscurity to this day by England. It's a solved unexplained mystery.

The Boston Courier said that treasure hunters had begun to "explore the wreck of the British frigate PLUMPER, which sank near Dipper Harbor about halfway between Eastport and St. Johns, New Brunswick in 1815. The vessel was carrying $50,000 to $100,000 in Spanish silver. The wreck lies in fifty feet of water (liquid ice water) and portions of the vessel was partially buried beneath 6' of shifting sand by water currents. The PLUMPER sank taking 75 lives with her to the bottom."

A followup article buried in text said, "that because the water was so cold (July) divers could only garnish about $220 in whole or one-half pieces. Human skulls were everywhere and the coins were black in color as if they were scorched by extreme heat."

From these two short articles I began researching North American treasure hunting and historical shipwreck logs and the PLUMPER didn't exist in book documentation or records of treasure ships lost and found. In fact, the name didn't appear in a list of vessels in "The Fighting Ships of the Royal Navy 897-1984." Her obscurity in English history is what intrigued me and I started investigating the vessel's demise. In fact it is the word "scorched" that got me wondering was the PLUMPER engaged in a sea battle with American's or Spanish pirates, but as it happens salt water tarnishes Spanish silver black. All that once glittered takes on an end of life complexion and gets lost in shifting sand. The vessel became a ghost ship and escaped American documentation until I stumbled upon a letter written by Captain Hull of the USS Constitution dated August 2, 1812. A smart historian doesn't reveal how he found all his information.

He said the "Plumper" was an escort vessel (secret) to a convoy of captured American vessels being sent northeast up the coast to England. It wasn't a frigate, but a two mast British gun-bring weighing 177 tons made of Canadian White Pine, her bottom sheathed in copper. It was 81 feet long with a breadth of 22.5 feet carrying 12 big guns and sailing with a crew of 50.

It was launched from Halifax, Nova Scotia on Dec. 29. 1807 and her bottom sheathed with Canadian copper. It was towed to England for rigging, cannons, supplies and men before returning back across the north Atlantic. All vessels coming and going across the North Atlantic skirted the coasts of Newfoundland, Greenland and Iceland before making the journey eastward or westward across the narrowest part of the North Atlantic. That's about the same route as Transatlantic flights today.

On February 5, 1810 the PLUMPER was assigned to part of British adm. Sir Alexander Cochrane's fleet at the capture of the Guadeloupe from the French. The Guadeloupe's were the twin islands called "Leeward Islands" (St. Martin) in the southeast Caribbean. These islands get pummeled by hurricanes each summer that move west along the equator from Africa towards South America, which eventually, but not always strike America.

In November 1810 while under the command of Lt. William Frissel the PLUMPER sank in the St. Lawrence River. It was raised, he copper sheathed bottom repaired and launched again in the Spring of 1811. From the Admiralty's list entitled "Present Disposition of His Majesty's Ships and Vessels in Sea Pay" dated July 1, 1812, the PLUMPER was now a 10-gun brig under the command of Lt. James Bray, with a crew of 50 based on the North American Station.

From a list of "American Privateers taken and destroyed by His Majesty's Ships and Vessels at the Halifax Station between 16-18 July 1812", the PLUMPER captured three American schooners: The FAIR TRADE in the Bay of Fundy, the ARGUS with one-gun and 23 men and the FRIENDSHIP with one gun and 8 men. The Bay of Fundy is an ocean inlet off the North Atlantic that separates Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Maine USA.

Capt. Hull of the USS CONSTITUTION in another letter said the PLUMPER was a gun-brig and considered a short haul vessel that escorts newly built Canadian or captured American ships into the North Atlantic. Larger vessels picked them up and towed them back to Scotland, England or both countries and returned under different names. Vessels that sank in the Great Lakes, but salvaged, repaired and launched again changed names, too, depending on who sold, salvaged, repaired or renamed them. Cannons recovered had legends of authenticity engraved upon them.

After escorting the three captured vessels into the North Atlantic she returned to the Halifax Station carrying 14 big guns. The PLUMPER's crew removed some American guns and returned the rest to England. British gunbrigs like the PLUMPER had nearly all carronade armaments, somtimes complimented with two long guns. Vessels with less than 24 carronades carried them on the main decks. Carronades replaced long guns after 1797, but not in the Great Lakes theatre of operations. Carronades were too large and heavy to transport overland. The British didn't want to risk losing these big guns to American guerillas who sought to sabotage them instead of stealing them. American militiamen sought easy to maneuver and move mobile pieces of artillery.

On September 5, 1812, while returning from Halifax to St. John's, New Brunswick, carrying four 12-pound long guns and ten 18-pound carronades and a crew of 75 and loaded with four tons of Spanish silver, the PLUMPER struck hard upon some rock ledges in heavy seas off Dipper Point (off Lepian Point) in the Bay of Fundy and sank. All cargo was lost and all her crew had reportedly drowned, with the exception of Capt. Bray, the only survivor, or so he thought.

Bray thought he'd disappear as the lone survivor, but he was found, arrested and transported in shackles back to the Admiralty in London. He was court-martialed and executed for treason, abandoning the crew and took its only lifeboat to save his neck. Examination of court and trial proceedings gave no mention that the vessel burst into flames upon collision with the underwater rock outcroppings.

Since all the crew reportedly drowned Lt. Bray thought he'd fade into obscurity, but three crew members survived. Two killed each other, but the last remaining man died naturally after living many years in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and returning to Canada. Only God knows who led the 1852 treasure hunters to the exact site of the wrecked PLUMPER. Since the finder wasn't mentioned in any court records it was someone in attendance of the dying old sailor or was it one of the other two men or did someone else show up after listening to a death bed confession?

In 1852 another byline article mentions in the Grand Rapids Enquirer that, "Divers had given up, but hoped in the future maybe some new scientific apparatus could help retrieve the specie," from Davy Jones' ice water locker. Accordingly the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London, UK, said the PLUMPER's treasure has never been recovered. Since my discovery all correspondence about the vessel's disappearance has been removed from public record. The PLUMPER was an obscure secret English navy vessel and England doesn't want you to know it whereabouts, but I've let the cat out of the bag. It was a big hush, hush secret and sort of like the secret train depot on Bray's Island in Texas in the Civil War at a time when the Twin Sister cannons of Texas went missing. Gone without a trace.

The treasure is worth $20,000,000. I've never seen a dime. I've preserved the ghost shipwreck and treasure and preserved a part of English history. The PLUMPER like the HMS VICTORY found in 2008 were both unsolved and unexplained mysteries of the British navy. Nobody knew what happened to them. They were secrets lost without a trace until modern man took interest in them.

Now it's your time to dream about finding lost treasures and cannons. Go forth with wisdom and use the force within you. If you're rich and have capital to invest in salvage operations for research and recovery operations be prepared to tangle with governments and expect the unexpected. To avoid is legal, but to evade is illegal. Treasure hunting can be exciting, exhilerating, adventuresome, but deadly. Pick and chose your crew carefully and that's what Bob, his crew and I discovered.

In short the PLUMPER was a secret English naval vessel on the North American Station at Halifax, Nova Scotia. It attacked American vessels, stripped them of captured guns and men and handed them off the larger vessels destined for Scotland and England and returned under different names. England returned the vessels to fight another day against the Americans that made them.

British warships (1807-) were being made in Canada of White Pine. England's white pine was extinct from British shipbuilding long before the American Revolutionary War began. England had plenty of iron ore deposits, but not copper and lead. These were imported. Next time I'll get back to the Cannonsburg cannon, but this was an exciting journey as a private historical investigator.

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