Amateur divers located gun at likely site of sunken schooner commanded by hero Oliver Hazard Perry, who beat the British in the War of 1812
US navy archaeologists are hoping to confirm that a cannon that rested in waters off Rhode Island for two centuries is from a schooner commanded by a hero of the War of 1812.
The USS Revenge became ensnared in a reef off Watch Hill in Westerly in 1811, amidst thick fog and heavy swells. Oliver Hazard Perry ordered his men to jettison guns, masts and the anchor, but the vessel sank. Treacherous reefs, rocks and poor visibility kept the cannon and other artifacts hidden until 2005.
That year, recreational divers from Connecticut, Charlie Buffum and Craig Harger, found what is believed to be the naval schooners wreck site. Navy divers recovered the cannon on 24 May. Its the first artifact the navy has raised from the site.
Buffum said it was exhilarating to see the cannon brought ashore.
To see it finally break the surface after being down there for 206 years, it was just really, really cool, said the brewery owner from Stonington, Connecticut.
The cannon, encrusted with sea life and calcium carbonate, was taken to a conservation lab at the Washington Navy Yard to be desalinated and stabilized. There are not many examples of early naval guns of this type, said George Schwarz, an underwater archaeologist with the Naval History and Heritage Command, which oversees the identification and management of sunken naval vessels.
Its a tangible reach back through naval history, he said, adding that he has a high level of confidence that the cannon is from the Revenge.
Perrys career languished after the wreck, until he was sent to the Great Lakes during the War of 1812. He is remembered as the Hero of Lake Erie for defeating the British navy in 1813, famously reporting: We have met the enemy and they are ours.
Archaeologists will look for foundry marks on the cannon. Even if there are none, Schwarz said they could corroborate its identity using historical documents.
There arent any other US navy vessels lost, as far as we know, right in this area, and there arent too many other armed vessels, as far as we know, lost here, Schwarz said.
The cannon is 5.5ft (1.7m) long and weighs more than 1,000lbs (450kg). Schwarz estimates the conservation process will take about two years. It could eventually be displayed in a museum.
The navy plans to continue mapping the site, but it has not yet determined whether any other artifacts will be recovered. The site is protected from any unauthorized disturbance under the Sunken Military Craft Act. Schwarz said he was grateful for the help of Buffum and Harger, who led the navy to the site.
Buffum said he will keep looking for other shipwrecks, though he doubts he will ever find something quite like this one. He is working on a new beer to celebrate the cannons recovery.
Harger, a retired industrial gas salesman from Colchester, Connecticut, said it still gives him chills thinking about the moment he and Buffum saw the cannon surface.
We just looked at each other and chuckled and thought, 12 years is a long time but man, it sure was worth it, he said.