Powder, ball found in 18th century cannon

central park cannon

A cannon that sat in New York’s Central Park for nearly 150 years was discovered last week to have been loaded with a cannonball and black powder the entire time, it was announced last week.

Parks workers came upon a live cannonball, loaded in a Revolutionary War-era cannon currently being refurbished, New York television station CBS 2 reported. The artillery piece was one of two British cannon being stored at a Central Park shed near the 79th Street transverse, according to the station.

Preservation workers for the Central Park Conservancy called police last Friday after opening up the capped artillery piece for cleaning and finding the cannonball, cotton wadding and 28 ounces of black powder wrapped in wool, still capable of firing, according to the New York Times.

The loaded cannon was on public display from the 1860s until 1996, when the Central Park Conservancy decided to bring it indoors to protect it from vandalism. It was donated to the park around the time of the War Between the States.

The cannon, believed to be more than 220 years old, was apparently donated after it is believed to have been salvaged from the HMS Hussar, a British frigate that sank in the East River around 1780 during the American Revolution, according to the Associated Press.

“(The cannon) was put on display at the park, and capped with concrete,” the television added. “No one even considered the possibility that British sailors had loaded and sealed it before their ship went down.”

Ultimately, police removed the powder, but left the cannonball.

(HT: Bring the Heat, Bring the Stupid)

9 thoughts on “Powder, ball found in 18th century cannon

  1. Aside from the interesting historical aspect of the finding in New York City’s Central Park, a rather cynical thought occurred to me: wouldn’t potential vandals have had a ‘bang-up’ surprise once they tried to take it apart to guage its worth perhaps?

  2. Neat story. Nothing to add except that the placement of the gun’s trunnions, well below the center-line of the barrel, mark it as being a very old piece — could have been decades old when it sank.

    And they said that history degree was a waste of time. . . .

    • I’d argue that no knowledge is wasted, and history in particular is invaluable, although the riches it brings are often the non-monetary sort.

      As I see it, the past is a big puzzle. When you’re able to take bits of information from identifying features on the barrel of a cannon, as you’ve done, and place its year of manufacture with some degree of precision, you’re able to put a piece of the puzzle together.

      Our world didn’t just randomly end up in the state it’s currently in. But if we can’t put at least some of the pieces of the past together by accurately interpreting the past, we’re never going to get a decent understanding of what brought us to where we’re at, both the good and the bad.

      The thing I respect about those who study history is that they often pursue the subject for no other reason than because they enjoy it. That, ultimately, is the difference between someone who opens doors into the past, as in the case of a historian, or makes advances in science, as in the case of a biologist, and someone who simply pursues the most lucrative career they can find with no real love of their profession.

      I didn’t mean to ramble, but you – through your blog and other avenues – have likely opened the eyes of many more people than you realize.

  3. Maybe impossible to answer here; if the cannon went underwater it might be the wadding and black powder were soaked behind the cannon ball as the barrel clearances would have allowed river water into the charge and perhaps through the fuse.

    It might take a chemist’s knowledge, if wetted and remaining wet for months for whatever reasons, could the material return to a volatile condition?

    • It sounds as if the British sealed the cannon before the ship sank with the piece on board. Perhaps they anticipated being able to raise the gun before too long. Given that they had the upper hand for a good part of the Revolution, this wouldn’t be an unreasonable assumption. I suppose if it were sealed well enough, or if the cannon were covered with sand relatively quickly, it could have stayed sealed for the 80 odd years between 1780 and the early 1860s.

      As to whether it would remain volatile after being exposed to water and then drying, I don’t know. An interesting question, though.

  4. Bravo, guys! Andy Hall’s Comment and Cotton Boll’s Reply are neat, neat!
    I’m sending this whole thread to my grandson who is very interested in the study of History — all history. He has travelled exensively in Europe on school and work vacations. At one time he seriously considered getting pg degrees to enable him to teach at the college level. Maybe this will spur him on.

    • I’m flattered that you would think enough of my words to pass them on to your grandson. If history is his passion, then he should definitely consider a career in the field. Too many history courses are taught be individuals who either have lost their passion for the field, or never had it in the first place.

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