J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, January 14, 2013

The Secrets of H.M.S. Hussar

Many news outlets are carrying the story, first reported by the local C.B.S. station and then spread by the Associated Press, of New York’s Central Park Conservancy finding that one of the park’s monuments had contained a loaded cannon.

The cannon was donated to Central Park about the time of the U.S. Civil War and remained on display, its mouth plugged with cement, until 1996. Then it was removed for preservation. Conservators who started to work on the gun recently discovered that underneath the plug was cotton wadding, iron ball, and 800 grams of black powder. A New York police explosives unit took over the job and removed the dangerous material with no harm to anyone.

Now Boston 1775 dives deeper for more of the story.

That cannon, the news outlets reported, came from H.M.S. Hussar, commissioned in 1763. The Hussar was part of Adm. George Rodney’s fleet in New York harbor in 1780. On 23 November, Capt. Charles Morice Pole sailed the ship out of the East River to Long Island, where the admiral had ordered the fleet to anchor. Crossing the difficult Hell-Gate narrows, the Hussar hit a landmark called “Pot Rock” and sank in sixteen fathoms of water.

An 1827 letter in the Edinburgh Observer from one of the ship’s officers said the wreck claimed “107 brave fellows, part of her crew.” A 1780 article in the Boston Gazette said eighty people survived. That sudden sinking during a move when French ships were known to be hanging about New York is probably why the cannon was loaded when it went down.

But the Hussar also had an afterlife.

TOMORROW: Rumors of treasure and skeletons in chains.

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