Monday, May 24, 2010

Search for Secrets of A Sunken Cannon - 86

Time stands still for nobody. One must remember what I wrote about the PLUMPER in search for secrets of a sunken cannon #85 was written in 1990 and lots has changed over twenty years. The British navy has recovered more than half the specie from the PLUMPER and today this shipwreck is a protected provincial site. You are forewarned not to explore this shallow wreck, but you be welcome to dream about finding another lost shipwreck. Searching for sunken shipwrecks, treasures and cannons isn't a cheap hobby unless you are one of Joan River's "How'd You Get So Rich" shows on TV Land. Inventing something useful like Chia Pets yields faster rewards than finding treasures in the sea. It isn't finders keepers!

It seems the vessel's booty has risen since Capt. Hull of the USS Constitution described it in his memoires about the PLUMPER. He wrote it was carrying 4 tons of Spanish sterling silver, so when did it change to 36000 pounds of silver and gold coinage and that's 18 tons. Silver today is $18.00 an ounce in U.S. currency. That's a sizable lot to be carrying that much weight and 10-14 big guns and 75 men with all the rigging on an 81-foot gun brig. Or is it that the passage of time has swelled the legends about the PLUMPER's cache? Could it be that Capt. Hull was misinformed or could it been a secret paymaster vessel? Lost shipwrecks tend to amaze treasure hunters.

Most cannons recovered today become trophy treasures to be saved. Most recovered spend their days decorating gardens at Disney World or marinas or recycled as junk. Those in the best of condition might end up as historical keepsakes to remind those of the future where we've been and to stay alive by not striking or touch a match to vents of any found cannons. The normal useful life of an iron cannon was 20-40 years old, while bronze in good condition lasts for hundreds of years on the bottom of the seas or buried on land, that's wet or dry. Don't assume that just because a cannon has been on the bottom of the sea the powder is wet. The guns might be sabotaged, but fully loaded, the gunpowder charges protected with oily ropes or wadding.

The class names of cannons are all named after reptiles, birds and birds of prey or things similar to the enemies of man and beast. Often they sound fierce and fierce weapons they are. The word "Culverines" was French for couleuvre meaning common snake; the "Sling" is the English version of the German schlange, meaning serpent; the "Saker" from the French sacre meaning sparrow-hawk; Falcon, Falconet, Fauconnett and Drake meaning birds of prey; the Robinet meaning robin-redbreast; the Shrimps mean many smaller calibre guns.

For every hundredth weight of metal it requires one man for military or field service. For every 500 pounds of metal one horse is required to draw any piece of artillery. Bob Alcumbrack believed the Cannonsburg cannon was a big 6 pound cannon and with caisson for moving it it would weigh over 7000 pounds. What he didn't realize was that it would require 70 men and 14 horses to service this piece and not seven men and four horses. If pulled in winter snow or thick trail sand such a cannon would require a minimum of 14 yoke of oxen to move it and a third part more by Mathemetician Nathaniell Nye's calculations in 1670.

Bob was sure wrong in his assumption the Cannonsburg cannon was a six-pound field service piece, the smallest calibre cannon in the US Army prior to 1858. His only evidence of the Cannonsburg cannon's existence was brief description in the Cannon Township Historical Book describing it as a small military cannon bearing his name and date.

Other than this Bob had no physical or tangible evidence to support his claim it was a 6-pound cannon and he never ventured a guess it might be smaller and not American made. Maggie McCarthy recognized this as being odd. Bob's repetitive dreams of finding the cannon were based on circumstancial evidence based upon what writers in the book stipulated, but how did Bob get the idea it was a U.S Army cannon. The Federal government doesn't give private citizens military cannons, but the military did transport small field cannons to western villages and towns to protect them from Indian raiding parties.

The US Army was attempting to transport two cannons northward into Michigan's central region in 1836 to counter renegade Indian uprisings when the Treaty of Greenville was signed deeding all lands north of the Grand River to the Federal government. One was lost crossing the river and one survived a dunking and was hauled north to parts unknown. These were four pound field cannons and probably captured guns from the British during the War of 1812.

The discovery of the 1.87 inch cannonballs in the Thomas residence in 1987 is where Bob had to change his dowsing mantra so he could find the right sized cannon, a Falconet or Culverine, the size that did correspond with Bob's measurements at the third and last secret burial site. Three cannonballs rolled and dropped out of the second story floor and he believed they were keepsakes stored for personal reasons and Bob assumed they were from the Cannonsburg cannon. Why assume they weren't?

Finding three cannonballs didn't give him proof positive they were from the Cannonsburg cannon. No visible markings other than a circular pattern, not pits or markings, just the ghost image, which two different cannon experts could agree on whether or not they were shot. The balls might have been keepsake momentos from James Thomas' grandfather who came from France to fight against the British for American independence during the American Revolutionary War. The balls had a 50/50 chance of being from the Cannonsburg cannon and Bob and crew pursued the theory they were iron cannonballs made in Cannonsburg at James Thomas' blacksmith shop after 1867. This date is when he set up his business.

The British were still firing ordnances of 2.01 inch calibre, but cannonballs were last manufactured in 1735 by the Fullers of Heathfield, Sussex, UK, who were Sussex master gunfounders (1706-1775). Falconets being manufactured by the Fullers in 1754 shot 2.75 inch cannonballs. Dating cannonballs is done by size changes over time.

Falcons and falconets, were the smallest of two pound cannons, but in 1644 four smaller bores of 1-inch calibre (Eng) called model guns or Robinets were made for Charles, Prince of Wales and feathers were engraved upon them. They were 30 inches in length and weighed 200 pounds each and shot 1.2 pound stone shot or pea stones with devastating effect. Very few two pound cannons were made after 1650. They were replaced with three-pounders and pea shooters that shot 1/2 pound balls.

These were considered heavier versions of the swivel gun Davy Crockett bestowed to Mike Fink or the one attached to the bow of the Grand River steamboat called the Hummingbird. This vessel was small, but had a shallow draft which allowed it to maneuver in shallow water or rapid currents. It had collapsible stacks.

English falconets were the best brass cannons money could buy, but they were highly sought as war trophies for their ability to be discharged 140 times a day withut fusing the vent from excessive heat or bursting prematurely. That's why iron guns had two vents just in case one was plugged. Usually iron guns burst prematurely before the 30 repeat firing the same day.

Proof of falconets was to fire it and place a stick of butter or piece of candle wax on the barrel. When cannon was fired and if it didn't melt it was quality brass (bronze) and that's the only reason why Mike Fink's arms weren't burned by the blast firing his little poop gun at the Indian canoes, but Fink did go overboard from its powerful blast. Not even Paula Dean on the FOOD channel could melt her stick of butter on a Georgia fortress bronze cannon during a demonstration firing.

British vessels may have ruled the seas from 1373 to present, but during King Henry VIII (1509) reign he forced England to become one of the largest producers of various sizes and types of cannons to survive. Seems the country was always embroiled in war someplace. England lost nearly a thousand cannons during the Battle of Calais, France in 1538 and the falconets disappeared fast as war trophies. After this miserable loss it was evident that in order for England to survive it had to have a fierce fighting navy or cease to exist. Well its getting late blogging and I must go to work otherwise I cease to exist. Can't have fun writing all the time. See you next time.

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