Resource for Historians, Educators, Students and Visitors since 1997
|Guest Contributors... Edwin R. Scollon|
Diving Lake Champlain...
The Valcour Bay Research Project-III
What lies beneath?...
Discovery of the cannon
"I was having
difficulty dealing with the excitement of the discovery myself. I had
uncovered what was most likely a significant piece of early American
history; but what had once been protected and preserved by the sediment,
was now exposed and vulnerable. The initial excitement of that discovery
was quickly turning into panic."
In partnership with:
The audio signal of the metal detector startled me. I was about twenty minutes into my dive and I was beginning to wonder if it was working properly – I should have come across a beer can or two by now. I moved the detector’s coil back and forth in front of me, made a determination where I thought the signal was strongest and reached down into the silt.
recently studied a map in Russell Bellico’s Sails and Steam in the
Mountains that was titled “The Attack and Defeat of the American Fleet
under Benedict Arnold by King’s Fleet Commanded by Captain Thomas Pringle,
Upon Lake Champlain, the 11th of October, 1776”. The
engraving depicted of the Battle of Valcour Island. Besides Valcour
Island and several square miles of the lake’s features, the map also
included the British and American vessels, their routes of travel and
their positions during the engagement. Although it was produced in
London in 1776, the contours of the island and mainland shorelines
appeared fairly accurate. Were the positions of the fleets accurate
too? I had dived the bay before and knew its floor consisted of
heavy silt; could battle debris still be present but hidden from view?
Earlier in the month, I had searched for signs of the British line with little success. This was my first search for the American line. I continued to reach through the silt and felt nothing besides an underlying bed of clay. Although I found nothing, the detector continued to indicate the presence of metal. After I checked my air pressure, I reached deeper and still found nothing. This process continued until the full length of my arms, my head and shoulders were beneath the silt. I was about to give up when my hands closed around a large, round object. Its diameter seemed too large for round shot; was it a mortar’s bomb?
Whatever it was, its surface was still smooth. Its encapsulation in the heavy silt and clay had prevented its oxidation and corrosion. I tried to pull it up and out of the silt but it didn’t budge. I’d have to break the suction created by the sediment.
As I worked my hands around its contours, I soon found it wasn’t a mortar’s bomb; it was tubular rather than spherical. Several private camps had once populated Valcour Island and my next thoughts were that I had uncovered a section of sewer pipe. Then I felt the flare, moldings and bore of a cannon’s muzzle.
“What was it like to find the cannon?” or some variant, is the most common question that I’m asked. All I remember is a sense of disbelief and having to remind myself to breathe as my head flooded with questions: Why is it here? Is its carriage underneath it? Did the crew throw it overboard? Is it part of a wreck? Did it once belong to the gunboat that the Maritime Museum recently discovered? What am I going to do now?
I checked my air pressure and it was time for me to surface. It was also getting dark and I marked the site with a small buoy before returning to my boat. Once aboard, I called a friend and fellow diver, Terry Aubin, and made plans for returning to the site the following day.
Terry and I returned early the next morning. We agreed that Terry would check the site out for himself and draw his own conclusions as to what lay beneath the silt. Although we could see a small crater where I had excavated the previous day, it was filled with a cloud of silt that obstructed our view. Terry would have to make his determination by feel. I sat by as Terry’s arms, shoulders and head disappeared into the crater. A moment later he emerged, brushed off the silt and gave a “thumbs up” signal (diver sign language for “lets surface”).
At the surface, Terry agreed with my assessment and my concerns – it was a cannon and the excavation was clearly visible. In exploring the discovery, I left a scar on the bay’s floor - a scar that could possibly attract the attention of other divers. I was concerned about what unknowing divers would do with the excitement of such a discovery. Would they wrap a chain around it, quickly pull it from the bottom and possibly damage it? Would they agree that the cannon should be placed in a museum or a private collection of their own?
I was having difficulty dealing with the excitement of the discovery myself. I had uncovered what was most likely a significant piece of early American history; but what had once been protected and preserved by the sediment, was now exposed and vulnerable. The initial excitement of that discovery was quickly turning into panic.
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