Gunboat Philadelphia, lost at Valcour Island this day in 1776

When my brother and I were little (5 and 6), during the summer of 1961 our parents took us on a vacation to my father's native State of Connecticut. My Dad was always a lover of history and loved to regale us in stories of colonial America. His favorite author was Kenneth Roberts in whose novels he reveled*. In this way we saw Fort Ticonderoga, Mystic Seaport, Fort William Henry, Fort Niagara, and the Charter Oak all through the eyes of my daddy. I never lost that interest.

During one trip through New York State near Exeter at the side of the road Dad spotted a sign which marked the location of the Gunboat Philadelphia. I recall it well, located in a old barn a very old woman the wife of Colonel Lorenzo Hagglund, a World War I veteran. This was her husbands life's work, his magnum opus and she was exceptionally careful that it was not damaged. There was a board walk around the gunnel's and I suppose were I taller I could have look onto the deck. I was enthralled.

Left: Col Haggland stands on the deck of the raised Philadelphia

"...During the summer of 1935, Colonel Lorenzo F. Hagglund, an experienced salvage engineer from new York, located the Philadelphia with a sweep chain, midway between Valcour Island and the New York shore. She was lying upright in 60 feet of water, her mast still standing, its top barely 15 feet beneath the surface. Hagglund describes his dives:

We are now approaching the blunt bow. Just above the mud line there is a hole in her side through the outer planking, a shattered rib and the inner planking; it measures about 10 x 12 inches. Just forward of this hold the starboard anchor stands in the mud under a cathead. The stock, made of two pieces of oak pined together, is now worn thin, but the remainder of the anchor, made of wrought iron, is so well preserved that in places the hammer marks can still be seen. It carries the number 320. A little forward of the cathead is what appears to be a white hole above the wearing strake. It is a lead-lined hawse pipe and the wear of the anchor rope is clearly visible.

We have arrived at the bow. In place of a bowsprit, we find a cannon with a peculiarly shaped object fixed in the muzzle. This object, now covered thickly with rust, is a bar shot. The bow gun crew had not completed the loading the their gun, and as the Philadelphia went down bow first, this bar shot slid forward and half out of the muzzle, where, as one end dropped, its own leverage clamped it in position. The carriage of this gun is full forward on its slide..."

A narrative of the actual battle may be found here...

The Gondola Philadelphia as it is at The Smithsonian Institution today. Note the cannonball protruding out of the starboard quarter. This ball is the one which holed and sank her.

I found this boat in the Smithsonian during a tour of duty at M.C.B. Henderson Hall in 1974, I recognized her immediately. Now that I live close to Washington with each trip my memory returns to that summer in 1961.


*A collection of Robert's novels reside in mother's home, some of which are first or second editions.

1 comment:

Anita Moore said...

That is one for the Just Too Cool file.