Dorchester Illusration 2308 Cannons for the War of 1812



Dorchester Illustration no. 2308           Cannons for the War of 1812

The Dorchester Historical Society has acquired 2 brass cannons that were made for the New England Guards in 1814.  The Guards used them in their encampments, including on Savin Hill, Dorchester, and Lafayette fired one of them during his farewell tour to America in 1824 when he visited the Guards at Savin Hill.  The New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette of September 6, 1824, repeats information from the Boston Centinel, describing part of his visit: “After passing South Boston, we understand, he visited the New-England Guards, now on camp duty at Savin Hill, in Dorchester, and witnessed their skill at target firing.  On his visit to the encampment of the New-England Guards, the General, we are told, tried his skill in gunnery , and directed one of the field pieces with such good aim, as to pierce the target.  A large assemblage of the visitors of the encampment announced his success with reiterated cheerings.  He then dined with Governor Eustis, in Roxbury.”

The following is from Antique Views of Ye Towne of Boston by James Henry Stark. (Boston: 1882) Stark is describing an engraving showing the Guards at Savin Hill.

“The News England Guards camped annually on the level ground on the south side of the hill.  The illustration shown here was produced from an oil painting in the room of the Bostonian Society in the Old State House.  It shows the camp as it appeared in 1819, with the large bell-shaped tents in the foreground, and the high rocky hill covered with cedar trees.  When Lafayette visited Boston in 1824, he attended the camp, and fired one of the field pieces, putting a shot through the centre of the target.

The following is from Proceedings of the Bostonian Society at the Annual Meeting, January 13, 1885. Boston, 1885. p. 23-26

“These cannon, which for a long  period  have been disused, have been given the necessary attention, and are now in  excellent condition. Their weight is about seven hundred pounds apiece when dismounted, while each gun with  its  carriage, represents  a  total  weight  of about  twelve hundred pounds.  Upon the breech of these pieces is exhibited a representation, in relief, of the Indian figure borne upon the shield of the Commonwealth, with an engraved inscription, as follows:  ‘Cast and Mounted by Order of the Board of War, for the  New England Guards, 1814.’  The  carriages upon which these guns  rest are constructed  of  white  pasture oak, and in their  shape differ materially from the pattern now in use for  ordnance  of this description.  The guns are identified, in the memories of early members of the corps,  with many interesting associations.  They mark the period when the duties of the organization, although  described in the preamble of its Constitution as those of  ‘a Company of  Light  Infantry,’  were, in part at least, those of  Artillery, to which branch of service it appeared, in the early years of its existence, to especially incline.  Ample testimony is afforded by the records to the fact that the guns thus granted  by  the  Government were faithfully  exercised by the corps in persevering efforts to perfect itself in target practice,  during frequent tours of military duty, a custom which appears to have been measurably adhered to in subsequent years, during its  memorable encampments at Woburn, and at Savin Hill.  At the  latter place, in the year 1824, it had the honor of welcoming, as its distinguished guest, General Lafayette, then making his last visit to America, who, escorted by Governor Eustis, paid a visit  to the camp.*”

*The  official existence of the New England Guards dates from September 22, 1812.  Upon that date “the persons named in the petition of Lemuel Blake and others, associated for the purpose of forming a Company of Light Infantry,” met at Concert Hall, at six o’clock, P. M., in accordance with Brigade Orders, signed by Bryant P. Tilden, for the election of officers. The choice was as follows, by a unanimous vote:  Samuel Swett, Esq., Captain; George Sullivan, Esq., Lieutenant; Mr. Lemuel Blake, Ensign. The Constitution of  “The Company of New England  Guards” was adopted September  25, 1812.

The carriages for the cannons are gone. The Dorchester Historical Society is currently researching the appropriate design of a gun carriage for at least one of the cannons.

The Bostonian Society had a two-fold reason for de-accessioning these cannons. The Bostonian Society interprets the Revolutonary-era history of Boston, so the cannons fall outside of their mission, having been produced and used in the 19th century. Additionally, due to their size and weight, The Bostonian Society was unable to display them in the Old State House but considers them important objects that should be available to the public.  They were pleased that the Dorchester Historical Society would give them a home, where they can be used to help interpret the history of Dorchester and the Commonwealth.

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