This blog follows the reconstruction of the Revolutionary War Public Armoury on the James Anderson site
Reconstruction of the Blacksmith's & Public Armoury
July 5, 2012
And Now for Something Completely Different
While our Armoury Blog has necessarily directed attention to the Armoury Project, Meredith and I thought that our readers and followers might share interest in a different but related Colonial Williamsburg project. For those of you who wander the Colonial Williamsburg Blogs, you may already be familiar with our cannon project. While independent of the Armoury project, the long term association will be obvious.
As our readers are well aware, Colonial Williamsburg is heavily involved in archaeological investigation of Williamsburg and its environs. But many of us in Historic Trades are also involved in what might be termed a sort of “experimental archaeology”. While Meredith, Andy, Matt, Lucie, Loretta, Jeff, and Wes are busy excavating remains of the past, tradespeople are busy applying the findings of our research in recreating the working environments of their eighteenth century workshops. The Armoury is a prime result of that effort, and the daily operation of the shop is the “experimental” part. We try to recreate the activity, environment, processes and products of a different time to learn what we can about the tools, the materials, the products, and how the interaction of economics, technology, material science, and object use in the eighteenth century affects the design, construction, and application of material culture. By understanding these interactions, we produce a better end product- both in the objects that we make, and in the educational programming that we offer.
Another such effort is our current cannon project. For many years, the brass founders have operated a shop on the Geddy property off of Palace Green, across from Bruton Parish Church. The majority of their work involves relatively small castings- from a few ounces to a couple of dozen pounds. Their products and activities reflect mostly peacetime work prior to the Revolution, typical of a small family- run gunsmith and brass founder’s shop. In addition to firearms and brass work, David and William Geddy advertised that they did cutler’s work- knives, swords, razors and the like. While James Anderson was the primary armourer in the city, the Geddys were also contracted by the Committee of Safety to maintain and modify firearms for wartime use. Interestingly, archaeological investigation carried out in the 1970s by legendary Director of Archaeology Ivor Noël Hume uncovered remnants of tar and feathers from the site as well.
A few years ago, members of the Trades Department began to explore the possibility of recreating a light three pounder, a small mobile cannon designed for infantry support and known to have seen service in North America during the Revolution. We knew that we could make the gun carriage, its limber, and the host of gear that was associated with the gun, but we had never attempted to cast anything as large as the bronze barrel. We had produced bronze castings of several dozen pounds, but this light three-pounder would require a pour of nearly seven hundred pounds.
The whole project required a furnace on a scale that we did not have, and skills that we knew we had on a small scale, but which we were not sure would transfer directly to the larger operation. The project has been pursued with financial support from the Frederickson Foundation, and with technical assistance from metalworkers from Newport News Shipbuilding, who have plenty of experience with large castings. Imagine the irony here- metalworkers from perhaps the most advanced shipbuilding operation in the world, assisting us with trying to recreate a technology from 230 years ago.
We have made 4 attempts at casting to date, beginning with two attempts on a smaller gun, and two attempts of the full sized gun. With each attempt, we get closer to success, and learn a lot about making the molds required and operating a furnace on this scale. You can learn more about our work on this project, and see photos and videos of the work at our cannon blog;
Funded by a generous gift from Forrest E. Mars Jr., of Big Horn, Wyoming.