Tuesday, November 29, 2016

War of 1812 Cannon

(Fort Wayne Monthly “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” – July 2016 No 138)
2016 Indiana Bicentennial Commission Legacy Endorsed Project

War of 1812 Cannon

The War of 1812 was touched off over two-hundred years ago and raged on until it ended in 1814 when the American militia, “took a little trip down the Mississip.” Students learn that although the Treaty of Ghent was signed on December 24, 1814, the news had not reached General Andrew Jackson nor had his British adversary General Pakenham both of whom were still at it in New Orleans until January 8, 1815. Much happened in the war which finally forced England to recognize the United States as a sovereign nation. Students also learn if they dig deeply they find the garrison at Fort Wayne was part of the great saga.  William Henry Harrison’s army put a halt to the siege of the fort during October 1812.  When the war was over and a treaty agreement signed, hope for peace reigned once again.

Among the fallout of the great events in history come stories and myths. One of the spoils of that war was a cannon taken by U. S. Commodore Perry’s men as a prize. It is presumed so from reading through the stories related by twentieth-century history writers. According to the Fort Wayne Daily News of February 22, 1913, “The cannon is a relic of the war of 1812, and was captured by Commodore Perry in the Battle of Lake Erie.  It was taken to Detroit with a great many other pieces of stolen arms, and for years was stored away, untouched and forgotten. When the late Hon. Franklin P. Randall was mayor of Fort Wayne, he heard of the cannon, and sent for one of them.”  It is important to note that Randall was elected Mayor in 1859 then reelected in the elections held in 1861, 1863, 1869 and 1871.

In their 1914 Guide to Fort Wayne, B.J. Griswold and C.A. Phelps made the claim that the cannon was captured from the British before taken to Detroit.  Mayor Randall secured the artifact and had it placed on the Court House lawn. Other claims say that for a time the old cannon was used for firing salutes on July Fourth celebrations. It is alleged, that on one such occasion, after firing the cannon a man was accidentally killed and another injured. The gun was “spiked” and removed to the mayor’s house on Berry Street to be used as an ornamental hitching post. 

In 1916 the big gun was dedicated as “Commodore Perry Monument.”  By 1952 it was mounted in Hayden Park and in 1960 was placed with the Historical Society when that organization’s museum was located in Swinney Park on West Jefferson Street; and later removed the old piece to the entrance of the Historic Fort Wayne’s ticketing and gift shop.  It is now on display in the History Center Museum.

It 1960 it was described as the, “Six pounder naval gun, relic of Battle of Lake Erie 1813, used in dedication of Wabash and Eire Canal July 4, 1843. Gun carriage authentic replica made from old canal timbers 1960.”  A “Six pounder” meant that the ball it fired weighed six pounds. 

Cannon firings were reported to have been a part of both July Fourth and canal opening celebration days.  Typical stories passed along say a cannon was on the first Wabash & Erie Canal boat that traveled from Fort Wayne to Huntington, on July 4th and 5th 1835.  One traveler, Dr. George Fate, carried one with him firing it from time to time. Such an incident in 1835 is too early for this to be the 1812 Perry Cannon.  That big gun it did not make an appearance in Fort Wayne until Mayor Randall is said to have acquired it during the 1860s.  For the same reason, it is doubtful that the claim that “a cannon – a souvenir from one of the British vessels captured in Perry’s victory in 1813 – boomed a noisy greeting” when the Great Canal Celebration took place in Fort Wayne on July 4, 1843.  Nonetheless, the Commodore Perry cannon remains in Fort Wayne and can be seen resting peacefully on display in the atrium of the History Center.

Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail,” which is broadcast. Mondays on WBOI, 89.1 FM; and “Historia Nostra” heard on Redeemer Radio 106.3 FM. Enjoy his previously published columns on the History Center’s blog, “Our Stories,” at history centerfw.blogspot.com.


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