Old Hallowell Cannon

An article from the series celebrating Hallowell’s 250th Anniversary, as published in the Capital Weekly on January 27, 2012

It was commonly called “The Old Thunder Jug”. This cannon is an English artillery piece which was taken from a British ship in battle with the USS Enterprise. During the War of 1812, after an intense battle off Portland Harbor, the Boxer surrendered to the fire power of the USS Enterprise. As was commonly said in those times, “to the Victors go the Spoils”. The prize was to the British brig HMS Boxer of 14 guns. It was subsequently towed into Portland Harbor for dismantling.

On the cannon’s barrel is cast the royal coat-of-arms of King George III of England. Additionally, the weight of the barrel reads 11-3-23. This translates to 11 hundred weight (112 lbs per 100 weight); 3 quarter weights, and 23 lbs) for a weight of 1339 pounds.

The coming of the Cannon to Hallowell in the year 1839 originated in the mind of Captain John Beeman, a Hallowell citizen. He had been in search of just such a gun which happened to be the last cannon off the Boxer. The rest of the cannons had been sold to the US Government for junk. Captain Beeman interested three other Hallowell business people to raise the necessary funds for the purchase of the cannon and for a long time it was known as the “Beeman Gun”. A wheelwright named Currier built a carriage and wheels for the gun and converted it to an artillery piece. For many years the cannon was kept for the purpose of firing a salute upon each recurrence of a national holiday and the firing was generally done at the edge of the Kennebec River at the foot of Central Street. It is also a memorial to Hallowell Light Infantry and the Hallowell Artillery Company, both units having been organized in 1783 as part of the Eighth Division of the Massachusetts militia. Both served during the Revolution and the War of 1812.

For many years the historic cannon was mounted on the lawn of City Hall. Alternatively, it was stored in City sheds and a Granite Hill for a number of years. Time does take a toll, however, and by 2006 the deterioration of the carriage and wheels was so great that it was clear that all the woodwork had to be replaced. Row House, Incorporated the active historic preservation organization in Hallowell stepped up to the plate to fund the cost of a complete rebuilding of the carriage and wheels.

We were fortunate to engage Rob Saucier, Custom Carriage Works of South Gardiner to rebuild and replace all the cannon wooden structures. The spokes and wooden wheel rims were manufactured by a wheelwright from the Amish country in Pennsylvania.

The restoration of “The Old Thunder Jug” turned out to be a work of art. It was towed at the Old Hallowell Parade in 2011. Now it has been returned to the “hill” and sits proudly on a new crushed rock base beside its working partner the Powder House, on property historically known as “Couch’s Ledge” on High Street and maintained by the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Our thanks to Row House for the funding, to Rob Saucier for the white oak carriage frame and ash wheels and to Wallace Brown of Gardiner who furnished the necessary iron work.