MHS News

The MHS Adds a Cannon to its Arsenal

Saltonstall Cannon

The Society has received many interesting objects over the last 200 years. Often, these are personal artifacts--watches, jewelry, and the like--that are donated along with collections of family papers. At the end of 2010, one of the largest, and certainly heaviest, gifts received by the Society arrived: the Shepherd/Brooks/Saltonstall cannon, captured from the British at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. As a gift from Mrs. William L. Saltonstall, the cannon joins the immense collection of Saltonstall and Brooks family papers at the MHS.

Members of the Saltonstall family have been active in the MHS for almost two centuries, but none can match the 40-year service of our late Fellow, William L. Saltonstall. He was one of the most active and generous Board Members of the Society. Now an object that he cherished, and until recently decorated his home, has come to the MHS.

The brass six-pounder cannon on a ship-style gun carriage has an interesting provenance. It has no apparent identifying markings, but bears the following inscription engraved on the top of the barrel: "This Cannon was captured from the British at the Battle of New Orleans January 8th 1815. Later, at the sale of sundry effects of the United States Government, this gun, amongst them was bought by Mr. R. D. Shepherd and has descended to his heirs."

Rezin D. Shepherd (1784-1865) of Shepherdstown, Virginia (now West Virginia), purchased the cannon as a memento of his service during the War of 1812. In 1815, he served as a volunteer aide to Commodore Daniel T. Patterson, the commander of United States naval forces at the Battle of New Orleans. Shepherd, a widower, eventually transferred his shipping business to Boston, where the cannon passed on to the family of his only child, Ellen. Years later Ellen's granddaughter, Eleanor Brooks, would marry Richard M. Saltonstall, bringing the cannon, via the Brooks family, into Saltonstall family hands. It then came into possession of Richard and Eleanor's grandson, William L. Saltonstall.

Family lore has it that the identifying marks on the cannon were removed to prevent any attempt by the Royal Navy to forcibly reclaim the weapon when it went to sea aboard one of Shepherd's ships. Today, the cannon is safely preserved along with the other extraordinary Brooks and Saltonstall family papers and artifacts held by the MHS-and the library is ready to repel boarders. Time will tell if the MHS continues the long-standing family tradition of firing it on festive occasions.


Published: Friday, 14 January, 2011, 11:45 AM