While researching maritime history, I have come to find that I like learning about cannon and cannon balls. There is just something about them! I am fascinated by the history of naval warfare in the age of sail, when cannon balls and shot were used to such devastating effect.

Showing up for a dive at Lincolnville Beach, I noticed a small cannon overlooking the water, perched at the parking area near the Lobster Pound across from the Post Office. The memorial plaque mounted under the gun states on May 18, 1957, this particular piece was restored to its original location and that Edwin W. Kibbe had given it to the town of Lincolnville.

The Lincolnville Cannon points out towards the Islesboro Ferry Charles H. Lagerbom

Original location? What did that mean? So, I decided to do some digging. That search led me to the infamous Penobscot Expedition of 1779 when the British occupied Castine and controlled the Bay and most of Downeast Maine for the rest of the Revolutionary War.

Pictured is the memorial plaque explaining the gun’s role in the War of 1812. Charles H. Lagerbom

Massachusetts sent an attack force known as the Penobscot Expedition to dislodge them in the summer of 1779. Disagreements and arguments between the American military and naval commanders resulted in delays and lost chances to remove the British. A British relief force then arrived and bottled up the American fleet forcing them to retreat upriver. The result was the worst American naval defeat until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. No American vessel escaped, one was captured, most were destroyed by their own crews to avoid being taken by the British.

Immediately after and then later through the years, first the British and then Americans salvaged many of the cannon and armaments left-over from these wrecks, which were strung out between Stockton Springs and Bangor. More on that later!

At one point, it appears that one of the salvaged guns was recovered by the Americans and eventually sent to Lincolnville Beach, where it was installed to help with coastal defense during the War of 1812. According to the plaque, this was the gun that had been returned in 1957.

But was that entirely accurate? There had to be more to the story, so I decided to dig deeper. This spring I came across a live online course offered by the Nautical Archaeology Society in England entitled “Understanding Cannons.” It sounded interesting, so I signed up, even though it started at 4 a.m. my time. What a great course!

Not only did we get into the names for the features and parts of a cannon, but we also learned of their history and development, construction (cast iron, cast bronze or banded wrought iron) and the different national identities. We also covered how to spot them underwater, what condition they might likely be in due to prolonged submersion and the possible concretions or environmental factors that may have affected them during their time submerged.

One of the main things to figure out is how old it is. Identifying the different parts is therefore crucial to helping date it. The muzzle, trunnions, base ring, cascable, vent field and chase are all diagnostic elements of a cannon, and they can all aid in dating the piece and/or its national origin.

The rear of the gun shows its Blomefield pattern breeching ring and cascable Charles H. Lagerbom

Trunnions are the arm-like parts that hold the gun in its wooden bed. The cascable is the tail end of the cannon, usually with an ornate button or end piece. In muzzle loaders, it is the base or rear of the cannon. The vent field is the part near the cascable that has a touch hole where the firing takes place, while the chase is the part of the barrel that extends from the trunnions out to the muzzle.

The trunnion rests onto the wooden bed for the gun. Charles H. Lagerbom

The chase and muzzle can help identify nation of origin as either English or Swedish; these two countries were the main producers of European cannon. The chase on an English cannon tends to continually widen, until the muzzle flares out even more, while the chase on a Swedish cannon tends to get narrower until the muzzle flare. So, a wider chase is of English origin and narrower chase is of Swedish origin.

So, what does all that mean for the Lincolnville piece? Putting my newfound cannon course instruction to work, I went back down to Lincolnville Beach to more closely inspect the gun. According to the course, I approached it from an analytical perspective. Using my GoPro, I videoed in detail all the diagnostic elements of the gun.

Then I closely looked it over and checked the piece for markings. This was rather difficult as it was coated with thick layers of paint applied over the years to keep it from rusting. Still a few marks came through, which I recorded in my notes.

Then I broke out some measurement tapes to record the sizes of all the diagnostic elements. The gun was 53 inches in length, with a muzzle opening of 4 inches in diameter. The muzzle measurement indicated the piece likely fired a six-pound cannon ball.

The short length of the gun may indicate it was an insurance gun, sold by ship chandlers to arm merchant ships. This could be, if it came from one of the armed merchant or privateer ships in the Penobscot Expedition. Most of them, at least 19 transport vessels, including one with Paul Revere’s personal baggage, beached and burned themselves at Mill Cove just before the Narrows. But we do not know if it had come from one of them, the plaque does not contain more information.

The gun might be what was known as a carronade, a smaller type of cannon which fired the standard six-pound size cannonballs but had a shorter barrel and lighter weight. This made them easier to handle aboard ships. I read one account of them even being hoisted into the rigging to be fired from above! Their shorter barrel length meant they could also be manufactured and bored more accurately.

Using the photos I took of the gun, I then did a good internet search for similar case studies in comparative analysis. The online cannon course led me to join their Facebook group page called Big Cannon Project. I posted the photos and measurements I had taken and asked if anyone could provide more information. Within minutes the page was lighting up with likes and comments. One person suggested it was a gunnade, a later development of the carronade which did have trunnions.

Near-exact images of the Lincolnville Beach gun found online causes even more confusion. In Mirimachi, New Brunswick there is a cast iron 12-pounder 6-cwt smoothbore muzzle-loading carronade with a Blomefield pattern breeching ring set on wooden blocks on the ground beside the city fountain. Then there is a cast-iron 32-pounder smoothbore muzzle-loading Carronade with a Blomefield pattern breeching ring. Was the Lincolnville Beach gun just a mini version of these larger brothers?

If it was a carronade, it may have been built by the Carron Iron Company of Falkirk, Scotland sometime after 1770. This would fit the historical question of coming to Maine with the Penobscot Expedition aboard a Massachusetts ship and lost in the defeat. Retrieved from the wreck by Americans, it would then have been available for shore defense in the War of 1812.

However, if it is a gunnade, which is what some of the Big Cannon Project people suggested, then it was not cast by the Carron Company, but possibly by its near neighbor, Falkirk Ironworks. They apparently specialized in producing these small caliber gunnades for the commercial market, as well as general iron castings. However, Falkirk Ironworks company was not founded until 1819, which then calls into question whether the Lincolnville Beach piece could have participated in Maine’s coastal defense during the War of 1812.

Pictured is the cannon memorial at Lincolnville Beach. Charles H. Lagerbom

So, what actually is this gun at Lincolnville Beach and what is its accurate history? The more we find out, the less we seem sure. But that is what makes this so fun and interesting and keeps me digging! Son of a gun, what a good mystery!

Charles Lagerbom teaches AP US History at Belfast Area High School and lives in Northport. He is author of “Whaling in Maine” and “Maine to Cape Horn,” available through Historypress.com.