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Cannon Captured by Groton Men at Chelsea Creek In 1775 Gets New Life

As today’s technologies and events move fast-forward to the future, knowledge and emotional connection to the American Revolution recedes from memory like the diminishing wake of a ship. But, here in Groton, we now have a single item linking us back to the reality of those times and specifically the people of Groton.

We tend to think of Groton as a town with little national import, but the people of Revolutionary War-era Groton were significant actors in the unfolding events. Few physical manifestations of that era exist. Mostly what remains are a few buildings bearing little resemblance to the originals, some aging slate headstones, and many histories of the times.

But, incredibly, there is one several-hundred-pound item that can connect us to those times. It is the very same cannon captured by eight Groton men, part of a contingent of about 100 Americans at the battle of Chelsea Creek on May 27, 1775, 241 years ago - only 20 days before the battle of Bunker Hill.

Place your hands on the bulk of this cannon, look at the seal of King George III stamped on top, look at the marks of the royal acceptance of the cannon in the name of the king. This is the very cannon captured by those colonial forces including Groton’s own.

The cannon was captured when the British gunboat H.M.S. Diana, fitted with four cannon and swivel guns, sailed up Chelsea Creek from Boston Harbor to engage Colonial forces. Exposed to heavy gunfire, the British were forced to abandon Diana at about 10 pm. When British Lieutenant Graves abandoned Diana, he  transferred his men to HMS Britannia, which was successfully towed to deeper water. Unmanned, Diana drifted and ran aground on the Mystic River side of the Chelsea coast, tipping onto one side.

American forces, including the eight Groton Minutemen, commanded by Asa Lawrence, boarded the Diana and removed four cannon, one of which is pictured on the front page of the paper. Other American forces rapidly removed everything of value, including other guns, rigging, sails, clothing, and money. They laid hay under the stern to serve as kindling, and the vessel was set on fire at about 3 a.m. to prevent it from falling back into British hands.

Twenty days later, these same four captured cannon were deployed at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Three of the four cannon were lost in the battle, with this one cannon remaining in American hands. Immediately following the battle, a great amount of the armament and gunpowder, including this cannon, were taken to Col. Barrett’s farm in Concord for safe hiding from the British. But, soon, the British learned of this hiding place and sent a large contingent to confiscate these military stores.

Upon learning of the British move toward Concord, this cannon was moved to Groton for safe-keeping and has remained here ever since. Legend says that the cannon was brought to the Farnsworth Farm, currently owned by Kevin Lindemer. At that time, maps show that the farm covered a huge area, extending all the way to what we now call Route 40, Lowell Road. Although this cannon has been in Groton ever since, it has been moved occasionally within and around the center.

The cannon barely escaped being melted down during the World War II drive for metal. The woman who was in possession of it at the time would not let it go because she claimed she didn’t “know who it belongs to.”

Because this cannon has not been submerged in salt water for 200 years as most others were, it is in extremely rare, pristine condition and spent many years mostly buried in an environment with minimal oxygen.

It is expected that the public will be able to view and place their hands on this incredible piece of American and Groton history at the Fourth of July fireworks display, courtesy of Earl Carter, the man who is responsible for building the new carriage and resurrecting this important piece of our history.

PHOTOS:
Top: Earl Carter, local historian and town benefactor, has spent many hours building a carriage for Groton’s historic cannon, including handmade hardware. The carriage is being constructed from live oak logs left over from building The U.S.S. Constitution. As was common practise, logs had been carefully submerged for preservation in the swampy land at the Charlestown Navy Yard in case additional material was needed for repairs. When building the new Spaulding Re-hab Center, this cache of timber was discovered. A number of truckloads were purchased by Bret Stevens and he was thoughtful enough to donate the material to build this carriage.

Bottom: At the top of the photo, note the royal seal of King George III. Photos by Russ Harris.

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