The West Woodstock Cannon

Photo of Lucius "Lute" Raymond (b. July 27, 1821). The "Keeper of the Cannon."

Photo of Lucius "Lute" Raymond (b. July 27, 1821). The "Keeper of the Cannon."

 

Recollection by Hiram W. Johnson, July 20, 1960.

"The cannon was made in West Woodstock after the Civil War in the late 1860s. It was made of the finest cast steel available. The breech was hammered in the forge shop of Reuben Daniels, located between the mill road and the old canal almost directly in back of the present West Woodstock store. A trunnion band was shrunk around the middle, intended for use in transporting it from place to place, but no wheels were ever used. It was bored and machined in Aaron W. Whitney's machine shop, which was located on the west side of the Ottauquechee River around 150 yards south of the present highway bridge.

It was sponsored by Mr. Whitney and several young men of the community among whom were Norman M. Cobb and my father, Wales N. Johnson. The names of the others have long since been lost.

The equipment used in firing it consisted of a plumbers charcoal furnace for heating the six foot firing rods, a swab, ramrods and sledge hammers. The cannon is loaded and primed with powder at a hole (touchhole) at the breech. A red hot firing rod is applied to the touchhole and it discharges instantly. A swab dampened in water is used to clean the gun barrel and free it from any hot grains of powder, thus preventing a premature discharge on the next loading. The ramrods are used for tamping the wadding to hold the powder; the sledge hammers are used to drive the wadding compactly together. The harder the wadding is compressed, the louder the report.

Who had possession of it in the early days is not definitely known, but it was always available when the occasion demanded. In 1876 Lucius "Lute" Raymond purchased a small house near where the Whitney shop stood before it was carried away by the freshet of October 4, 1869. The cannon or "gun," as Lute called it, was placed in his hands and remained in his possession until his health failed in 1905. It then fell into "hostile" hands who were determined to silence it forever, but Harold A. Mack spirited it away from them and the donor (Hiram W. Johnson) took it away from him.

To celebrate the election of Benjamin Harrison as President in 1888, the late Frederick Billings procured a brass cannon to be fired from Mt. Tom. West Woodstock was not to be outdone and the cannon was placed at the top of Thomas Hill near Highland Cemetery and the King Farm road. It answered round for round the brass cannon on Mt. Tom, the shots of both echoing back and forth between the surrounding hills and valleys. Arthur E. Thomas, who was born and still lives at the top of Thomas Hill, states that some of the wadding blown from the old cannon landed in the mill pond more than a thousand feet away. The cannon being made of quality steel would ring like the sound of a bell when warmed up by frequent firing.

In the years that followed Lute and his "gang," which I occasionally joined, fired this cannon many times from Mt. Peg each Fourth of July until Lute burned his feet quite badly, caused by a grass fire ignited by the wadding shot from the gun.

On one occasion a group of Woodstock Village boys tried unsuccessfully to take it away from us. More than one broken window was laid to the concussion of this old cannon. We never lacked for wherewithal to buy powder and those that declined to "chip in" were quite likely to feel the jar and hear the roar of its discharge near their premises. On one occasion several large panes of glass were broken and paid for by a bag full of large copper cents.

The last time it was fired was at Antrim, New Hampshire, by my son, Carroll M. Johnson, and me, celebrating the election of Calvin Coolidge as President."