A standard training exercise for the Detroit Police Department Dive Team quickly became historic.
It was 2011 when Dive Team member Sgt. Dean Rademaker submerged into the Detroit River. Visibility was probably about three feet, said Sgt. Mike Carpenter, the Detroit Police Department Harbor Master who oversees the Dive Team.
Through the murk churned up from the tides flowing from Lake St. Clair, Rademaker spotted something.
“He knew right away it was a cannon,” said Carpenter.
It was an 18th century cannon, a relic left behind from the Revolutionary War by the invading British in 1796 when they abandoned Detroit.
“It would have been when the English left Detroit,” Carpenter said. “We think they were told to get rid of them, so they hauled them and put them on the ice” to make sure they didn’t fall into the hands of Americans.
Come spring, the ice thawed; the cannons sank.
” … Based on markings on the cannon, it was made in East Sussex, England, in the mid-1740s” and “embossed with the crest of King George II,” the Associated Press reported. “The Detroit Historical Society says the cannon likely was used in various conflicts before being moved to Fort Lernoult in Detroit.”
Beneath the muck this cannon remained until the 2011 training exercise.
It took the next three years to restore it and now it is on display to the public at the Dossin Great Lakes Museum on Belle Isle.
Six such cannons have been recovered from the Detroit River since 1984, said Joel Stone, Detroit Historical Society senior curator.
The others are at the Michigan Military Heritage Museum in Grass Lake, Michigan Historical Museum in Lansing, the Dossin Great Lakes Museum on Detroit’s Belle Isle and the Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority.
Handmade from a mold, no two of the cannons are the same. The one now in Grass Lake bears the seal of King George III and other markings that distinguish its origins.
The cannons were stationed at Detroit’s Fort Lernoult, a British-occupied fort, located in front of where Cobo Hall stands today, Stone said.
When the Revolutionary War ended in 1783, the defeated British knew there weren’t enough colonial troops to make them get out right away, Stone said. They stayed 13 years before finally departing for a new post across the river in Canada, he said.
Before they left, right about this time in the winter of 1796, British soldiers dragged these cannons, which were worn out and obsolete, onto the ice at a spot called “Chicken Bone Reef” to keep them out of the hands of their “enemies.”
When the river thawed in the spring, the cannons sunk. And they weren’t discovered until the Detroit Police Department Dive Team began doing training in the area and stumbled upon them, Stone said.
According to records from the old fort, two more cannons are unaccounted for and still could be at the bottom of the river.
200-year-old cannon raised from Detroit River, CBC News, Windsor.
For more information, see http://www.clickondetroit.com/news/British-cannon-revealing-clues-about-…
Gus Burns, “200-year-old British cannon from Revolutionary War found in Detroit River restored”, MLive, December 10, 2014.
Leanne Smith, “200-year-old Revolutionary War cannon comes to Grass Lake museum”, MLive, February 16, 2016.