The well-traveled cannon

Stories surround War of 1812 weapon

The War of 1812 was touched off over 200 years ago and raged on until 1814 when the American militia “took a little trip down the Mississip.” Students learn that although the Treaty of Ghent was signed Dec. 24, 1814, the news had not reached either Gen. Andrew Jackson or his British adversary, Gen. Sir Edward Pakenham, both of whom were still at it in New Orleans until Jan. 8, 1815.

Much happened in the war that finally forced England to recognize the United States as a sovereign nation, and 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 in 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 Matthew Perry’s men as a prize. It is presumed so from reading through the stories related by 20th-century history writers. According to the Fort Wayne Daily News of Feb. 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 being taken to Detroit. Mayor Randall secured the artifact and had it placed on the courthouse 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 it was placed with the Historical Society when that organization’s museum was located in Swinney Park. The old piece was later moved to the entrance of the Historic Fort Wayne ticketing and gift shop. It is now on display at The History Center.

In 1960 it was described as the “six pounder naval gun, relic of Battle of Lake Erie 1813, used in dedication of Wabash and Erie Canal July 4, 1843. Gun carriage authentic replica made from old canal timbers 1960.” A “six pounder” meant the ball it fired weighed 6 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 4-5, 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 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.

First appeared in the July 2016 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.

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