Tuesday, June 30, 2015

New Evidence About A Cannon Found In Johnsburg

Johnsburg Revolutionary War CannonThe story goes that, in the summer of 1970, a Town of Johnsburg highway crew was straightening a Garnet Lake Road near Crane Mountain. While removing some of the ancient corduroy logs that once carried the road across a swampy section, they discovered what appeared to be an old cannon.

Vincent Schaefer had the cannon dated at the Watervliet Arsenal and it was determined that it was a swivel gun of the type probably used by Benedict Arnold’s troops during the battle of Valcour Island.

Another version of the story has the cannon being discovered by the town highway crew in the late 1950s or early 1960s on an old section of the Bartman Road near NYS Route 8 in Bakers Mills. It was said to have rolled out of a sandbank as the crew was widening the road. Adding some authenticity to the second story is that near Bartman Road is a trail on Eleventh Mountain called “The Old Military Road”.

Unfortunately, at the time of its discovery the exact location where it was found was never documented. The cannon is in private hands.

The cannon measures 18 inches long, 4 inches in diameter at the large end of the taper, and has a bore of 1 inch. It was found in perfect condition and appears to be a naval cannon of the type often mounted on the bow of a small warship. These were also used on land expeditions during the French & Indian Wars and during the American Revolution. It may have been used by Sir Johnson and his Loyalist troops in 1780.

Sir John Johnson portraitWhen the Revolutionary War broke out Sir John Johnson of Johnstown remained loyal to the Crown; many of his neighbors did not. Johnson began fortifying his estate and building an arsenal of arms at Johnson Hall.

To address the threat, General Philip Schuyler of Albany led 3,000 armed patriots to disarm Johnson and 700 of his loyalist followers. Once Schuyler’s men withdrew, Johnson again began to stockpile arms. A regiment of Continental troops was then dispatched to arrest him. He fled north to Canada and there organized a regiment of fellow Loyalists, the King’s Regiment of New York, to fight against the rebels.

Arthur Pound’s 1930 classic Johnson and the Mohawks includes a sketch of the purported route Sir John Johnson used in May of 1780 when he led a detachment of 400 soldiers from the Royal New Yorkers and 200 Algonquian warriors down from Canada to raid the settlement of Johnstown on the Mohawk River, his former hometown.

bmsite27pic1According to Pound’s sketch and research by Vincent Schaefer, the trail Sir John Johnson used to attack Johnstown went from Bulwagga Bay on Lake Champlain, down the Schroon River to Schroon Lake, crossed the Hudson River at Riparius and then on to near Crane Mountain in northwest Warren County. It then headed south to Baldwin’s Spring, long known for its plentiful supply of good water. Next East Stony Creek, to Harrisburg, to Sand Lake and then the military road to Northville and, ultimately, Johnson Hall.

When Sir John Johnson and his men reached Johnstown they rescued 143 persecuted Loyalists and then went on a rampage burning 120 barns, mills and houses of those former neighbors who supported the rebel cause. They also destroyed any stores and provisions essential to the rebel cause including a large wheat crop potentially destined to feed Washington’s Continental Army.
We tend to forget that the American Revolution was a civil war, especially in New York. New York’s population was equally divided between those that wished to remain English citizens and those who were rebelling.

After the raid Johnson’s men quickly retreated north, pursued by Colonial militia. The cannon is made of cast iron and weighs 36 pounds. Speculation is that soldiers abandoned it because they grew tired of carrying it, or being pursued by Colonial militia, they dropped because it was slowing them down.

There is also speculation that Sir William Johnson, Sir John Johnson’s father, acting as Colonel of the New York Colonial Militia during the French and Indian War 25 years earlier, may have used this same route through the Adirondack wilderness when he and his men were ordered north to harass and alarm the French settlements along Lake Champlain.

Both of these versions of the story regarding the origin of the canon were shared in my book Echoes in These Mountains (2008). Since that publication, new evidence of where the cannon may have been found has been unearthed.

Johnsburg Found Cannon ballsRecently a local resident shared with me two round iron balls he uncovered while working in his garden. They measure 1.26” and 1.062” in diameter and were found in the late 1980s near Bartman Road in Bakers Mills, Township of Johnsburg. Although they do not fit in the barrel of the found cannon, they appear of that era and might have been used in a naval swivel gun, possibly also from Sir John Johnson’s raid of May 1780 or his second raid in October of 1781.

Unfortunately we will probably never be able to document the exact route of the old military trail from Bulwagga Bay on Lake Champlain, then by Crane Mountain, to Johnson Hall nor have a documented provenance on the old cannon found near Crane Mountain years ago.

But, as we celebrate the 4th of July on Saturday, we might wish to contemplate what it was like to have war parties traversing through the heart of this dark and foreboding wilderness more than 235 years ago amidst the terror and chaos of the American Revolution.

Photos, from above: The cannon found in Johnsburg; a portrait of Sir John Johnson; the map included in Arthur Pound’s Johnson and the Mohawks; and the cannon balls found in a Johnsburg garden in the 1980s.


Glenn Pearsall

Adirondack historian Glenn Pearsall is the author of Echoes in these Mountains (2008), When Men and Mountains Meet (2013), and the Adirondack novel, Leaves Torn Asunder (2016).
In 2000, Glenn Pearsall and his wife Carol established and funded the Glenn and Carol Pearsall Adirondack Foundation dedicated to improving the quality of life of year round residents of the Adirondack Park.

When not pursuing a passion for history and philanthropy, Pearsall is a senior partner and Portfolio Manager for a wealth management team in Glens Falls, NY. He and his wife Carol live near the base of Crane Mountain in Johnsburg.




3 Responses

  1. Ann Breen Metcalfe says:

    Glenn Pearsall always presents new and well-researched information. It’s a pleasure to read his work in Adirondack Almanack.

  2. Jim Schaefer says:

    In Dad’s (Vincent J Schaefer) autobiography (Serendipity in Science:Twenty Years at Langmuir University) he describes in great detail the whole story of his involvement in detective work with friends and locals tracing Ancient Indian Trails and the likelihood of the location of the Sir John Johnson Trail which took advantage of the Indian trail near Crane.He relied on Pound, the Lanthier Map (1779) and his woods sense related to his establishing the Long Path of New York which follows the present route by bushwhack! I believe the cannon was actually found on the Johnsburg-Thurman Road near Garnet Lake according to his chapter (pg 309). Chuck Severence and Sterling Goodspeed were involved in the 1984 location of the cannon. Dad protected the identity of the caretaker “WH” and son “FH.” We knew them from our activity on Edwards Hill over the years…..Glenn Pearsall and I hgave spoken about it and I shared an earlier version of Dad’s draft chapter. Ergo the story by Glenn.

  3. Dave Gibson says:

    Thank you, Glenn, and thanks Jim for adding on to Glenn’s fascinating aspect of Johnsburg-Bakers Mills-Thurman history.
    I recall Vince’s brother Carl telling me of old Indian trails in the area. Glenn Pearsall and The Schaefer’s, Jim included, offer a scope of understanding about the region which is remarkable.
    Glenn’s Where Men and Mountains Meet is a terrific read by the way.