The Cannons of Stage Fort

Photo by Marty Luster

By Jude Seminara

With the return of the Parrott Rifle from its restoration to its emplacement at Stage Fort Park, I thought I would share some information from my research on the guns Of Stage Fort Park for the Gloucester Historical Commission from a few years ago. I have to give credit to artillery historians Jim Bender and Jack Melton; and to Bernie Paulson of Paulson Brothers Ordinance for assisting me in my research. 
There are four artillery pieces located at the fort. Throughout the history of the park the number and style of guns varied. In its early history as a defensive position up to the American Revolution, there may have only been one or two hard-to-find guns. During the War of 1812, two heavy guns were mounted there. In the Civil War, there were three, as indicated in period photos, and in the Spanish American War there were several rapid-fire guns and 3” muzzleloading field guns. Artillery pieces had been placed and removed at times. Sometimes they were stored in the “gun house” at the junction of Prospect and Pleasant Streets, and some sources say that cannons were even melted down and recycled into anchors. 
Few relics of the martial use of the park are still extant. The turf and masonry ramparts and parapets seen in 19th century photographs are long gone. Immediately behind the fort, what was probably the powder magazine, visible in those same photographs, is filled in and blocked off. The 1812 barracks burned shortly after that war’s end, and any remains of the 1898 barracks near where the playground is have vanished long ago. 
When the fort itself was restored, four pieces of artillery, two authentic and two replica (though significant nonetheless) guns were placed on concrete bases overlooking the harbor. Historically, large artillery pieces would be mounted on some sort of carriage or mount that managed the recoil that resulted from firing, and period photos indicate a few types that were used. 
As one enters the fort area of the park, the first gun one encounters is a naval gun, which was typically mounted aboard warships rather than in fortifications. Coastal defenses were manned by the Army and not the Navy. On the cannon’s trunnions (cylindrical projections from the body of the gun that mount it to a carriage and allow for elevation adjustments when aiming), the markings indicate that it is a 32-pounder — that is, it fires a shot weighing 32 lbs — of 6.4 inch caliber or bore diameter, manufactured in 1848, and that it was proofed by Navy Ordinance Inspector Levin M. Powell (P for proofed above LMP inscribed in the left trunnion face). Powell inspected artillery for the Navy from 1844 to 1848. 
Additional markings on the gun, which are barely legible, are W.P.F No 325 57.0.17. indicating that this particular piece of artillery was made at the West Point Foundry and weighs 57 hundredweight or about 6400 lbs. This gun, serial number 325, is one of 105 surviving Navy 57cwt 32-pdr guns. 
The next two cannons are replica pre-1818 French patterned guns cast in 1906 for the USS Constitution. Fifty-four were cast but as they were not historically accurate (though sometimes mid described as original) for the armament carried aboard Old Ironsides in 1812, they were discarded in the late 1920s and early 1930s, sold for $150 apiece to fund the restoration of the warship. Thirty-three are still around, fourteen of which are in Massachusetts. Three of these ended up on Cape Ann. Two of the three are at Stage Fort Park and one is in Rockport on Broadway. 
All of the above described guns are smoothbore guns. That is, the inside of their barrels are smooth. As these particular guns are not breechloaders and instead are loaded by ramming power and shot down the barrel from the muzzle, smoothbore guns are often faster to load because the shot does not make contact with the barrel walls. Since there is a small amount of windage smoothbore guns are inherently less accurate than what is known as a rifled gun. In a rifled gun, spiral grooves are cut into the inside of the barrel and the ammunition is snug into these grooves. The result is a more accurate projectile; much like the spiraling football follows a more precise trajectory. 
The last piece or ordinance that a visitor to the fort will encounter, and the subject of the restoration project is the Parrott Rifle. This particular piece of artillery is marked on the muzzle face, indicating that it is an Army, rather than a Navy Parrott Rifle, which were marked elsewhere. The markings on the right trunnion (RPP) stands for Robert Parker Parrott, the inventor of this style of gun. On the muzzle, starting at about the ten o’clock position and going clockwise are the markings “No 391 1865 WPF RMH 4.2 4286” which identify this gun as serial number 391, manufactured in 1865 at the West Point Foundry, inspected by Richard M. Hill, of 4.2 inch caliber (firing a 30 lb projectile), and weighing 4286 lbs. This particular piece or ordinance is one of 206 surviving 30-pdr, 4.2” Army Parrott Rifles. 
I’m excited to see the Parrot Rifle being fired for the first time in over 150 years!

“THESE MANY CARDS” revisited

On May 6, 2012 I posted a photo and poem describing a gift of several old picture postcards I had received from a friend of GMG living in Maine. Now, nine years later, I received an email from Rita Teele, currently residing in New Zealand, but still pursuing the history of Annisquam. Rita’s correspondence provides interesting details that help us better understand and appreciate the postcards.

Here is the original post followed by Rita’s email.


First posted on May 6, 2012 by Marty Luster

These Many Cards

Early in the morning on Wednesday, the 22nd of August 1906,

Donald affixed a 1 cent stamp on a card that

contained a fine German print of the Annisquam Light.

By 1 o’ clock the same day, the card, having passed

through the Gloucester Post Office, was received

in West Medford and was soon delivered to Miss Mary McLeod.

A year after that, Annie sent Sydney Davison, then

residing at 10 Duke Street in Liverpool, England

two cards, each with color scenes of Annisquam;

one of the Yacht Club and the other of the bridge

across Lobster Cove. In one she laments her failure

to write more often and, in the other, she promises to “be over” soon.

Margaret, too, writes to Sidney assuring him that she

hasn’t “quite forgotten” him. She thinks the fellow

sitting alone on the rock in the picture of a yacht

race in the Squam River looks lonesome.

On August 31, 1909, Rosie, of Gloucester, drops a card

featuring the surf at Long Beach to Mary Davison of

Annisquam letting her know that Marj came down on

Sunday and was sorry she couldn’t get over to see her.

These many cards, these timeless scenes, these stories

partly told; these flashes from life of decades ago, this collage

of people now gone and places still here;

these many cards posted in Annisquam more than 100 years ago

and delivered this day to you in Gloucester;

these many cards, this gift to me – and now,

my gift to you.

Marty Luster

Hello Marty—from New Zealand!
Paul Horovitz may have mentioned that I am involved in uncovering Annisquam’s history—although that has been a challenge.We stayed in New Zealand as the pandemic evolved; thank goodness for the internet that is Covid free if not virus free.
I thought you might like the followup to your post from May 2012, These Many Cards.I was searching for Sidney Davison and Google captured your story.
Sidney Davison is of interest to the Annisquam Historical Society because he was one of the founding members.He was very involved in the community affairs in his lifetime. Best I can tell, he was involved in the frozen food industry; he also held a patent for an apparatus for freezing materials.

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I believe that he was in England at the time those postcards were sent—from his mother Annie, and his sister, Margaret.I found no evidence that he had children. The cards were likely part of his estate.

A Gloucester Ghost Story

By Jude Seminara

The Charles Haskell

Anyone who spends enough time at sea is bound to see some strange things from time to time.  Sailors are a superstitious lot, and no maritime community is without a take of a ghost ship.  Gloucester has the Charles Haskell. 

The Haskell was built in 1868 and made her maiden voyage to George’s Bank handlining in February 1869, captained by Clifford Curtis. Her first trip was a success; she returned to Gloucester with 75,000 lbs of fish in her hold. Three days later, the Haskell again made for George’s. 

On March 6, a gale pummeled the fishing fleet at anchor on the banks.  Crews stood ready with axes to cut anchor cables should the lookout see the lights of a drifting vessel bearing down on them. Cutting the cable may save the ship from a collision, but the peril of drifting onto the shoals or into another anchored vessel was an ever present risk. 

Contemporary newspapers related the tale of the Haskell after she limped into port missing her bowsprit and head.  Within a month, the ghosts showed up. 

When the Haskell cut her cable during the gale, she scudded at the mercy of the wind. With the captain at the helm and sails set, she bore down on an unidentified Salem schooner and collided. The Haskell rose up upon a wave and before she could get clear of the Salem schooner, her bow crashed down again and cleaved the Salem schooner nearly in half, sending her to the bottom almost immediately with all hands.  The Haskell was the rare vessel that survived a collision on George’s and managed to return to port. 

The damage to the Charles Haskell was repaired and she soon put to sea for another voyage.  As she returned to Gloucester, off Eastern Point, so the story goes, a phantom schooner, that of the Salem vessel sunk on George’s Bank, came alongside.  Her crew of ghostly fishermen came aboard and demanded that the Haskell alter her course to Salem.  When the captain refused, the specter sailors jumped overboard.  Another version of the tale, recounted in a late-nineteenth-century ballad called The Ghostly Crew (1874) has the ghosts of the dead Salem crew coming aboard as the Haskell’s crew were handlining on the Bank.  The ghosts assumed their position at the rails as if they were fishing, then climbed back overboard into the sea. On one occasion on George’s, the crew was so shaken by the otherworldly visitors, the captain was compelled to return to Gloucester with no fare. The Cape Ann Advertiser called the haunting of the Charles Haskell “such a silly ghost story” and reported that despite it, the Haskell was on a trip to George’s in April of 1870.

The story of the haunted schooner made the rounds of Gloucester’s waterfront; sailors, being a superstitious lot, refused to board her.  According to John Winters, the last surviving member of the Charles Haskell’s crew, who retold the story to his dying day in 1920, four crews refused to sail aboard her, and she ended her days as a sand freighter. The fate of the Charles Haskell is disputed: she was either lost in a shipwreck or rotted at the wharf. The ghostly visitors were not reported to have been seen again. 

The Devil’s Soldiers in Gloucester

By Jude Seminara

Photo by Marty Luster

During the summer of 1692, while all of Essex County was gripped by the Witchcraft Hysteria, a Gloucester husbandman was plagued by nightly visitations by a spectral raiding party. England and her colonies were involved in King William’s War, the first of the colonial French and Indian Wars.  Brutal attacks on the settlements at the Eastward (Maine) flooded Essex County with traumatized refugees. The Province of Massachusetts Bay had been operating without a charter in a sort of legal ambiguity since the overthrow of the Dominion of New England under the hated Sir Edmund Andros. The new Charter arrived in February of 1692, and the new governor, Sir William Phips arrived in Boston in May.  One of his first acts was to establish a Court of Oyer and Terminer to deal with the increasing number of witchcraft accusations being dealt with by the Essex County courts. 

The Province of Massachusetts Bay contributed men and material to the efforts of England during King William’s War, and the prospect of French and Indian raids were an ever present fear. So when Ebenezer Babson returned to his home at The Farms behind Good Harbor Beach late one evening in early July 1692 and saw two men rushing from his door yard, he rightfully grabbed his gun and gave chase. The intruders fled into Babson’s corn field but not before he heard one remark to the other that, had he not returned, they would have “taken the house.” 

Twenty-five year old Babson hurriedly assembled his household, which included his widowed mother Elinor, and repaired to the local garrison house, two miles distant. The garrison was a fortified house of the type commonly found in 17th century Massachusetts towns as protection against Indian raids. Gloucester had at least one garrison house, located for a time on the site of the rectory of St. Ann’s church on Prospect Street.