Archaeology Museums

Amber Cabading, Texas Historical Commission

Internship Report of the Marine Archaeology Department at the Texas Historical Commission

Texas Historical Commission & The Texas Navy Association

My research began when my internship supervisor, State Marine Archaeologist Amy Borgens, attended a lunch meeting with a member of the Texas Navy Association, who posed a question on the origins of an eighteen pounder (18pdr) swivel cannon currently residing at the Texas Seaport Museum in Galveston. Supposedly, the cannon was said to belong to the first Texas Navy war schooner Brutus; however, that research which was conducted by Mike Davis in the 1970s was never cross referenced and may no longer exist.  The next thing I knew, Amy was strolling into the office and dropping a seemingly simple research project in my lap: did the 18pdr cannon really belong to Brutus?

Figure 1. Brutus Cannon—Eighteen Pounder Swivel Displayed at the Texas Seaport Museum

Figure 1. Brutus Cannon—Eighteen Pounder Swivel Displayed at the Texas Seaport Museum

Through my research, I was able to glean the following facts about the history of this cannon, at least since it was first deposited on land after being sunk.  The cannon was one of two that were uncovered from the seafloor in 1884, when the Galveston Wharf Company decided to widen the Galveston Channel.  The dredging plowed through the remnants of a ship, bringing up parts of a shredded deck and two cannon. The Galveston Warf Company then sold the guns to a local businessman named John Stoddart Brown, who displayed them on his property for 14 years until a massive hurricane hit Galveston in 1900 (Galveston Daily News: March 28, 1982).  The hurricane of 1900 was devastating, and city officials decided to undertake a massive grade-raising project to raise ground level in order to reduce the damage of future hurricanes.  In return, the grade-raising project covered the two cannon under about three feet of sand.  There, the cannon lay forgotten until 1974, when Gulf Oil Company began expanding on a service station on the site of Brown’s property and accidently discovered the nearly 5,000 pound cannon. The Gulf Oil Co. donated the cannon to the Historical Foundation, which put it on display at Ashton Villa until the cannon was moved to The Strand Visitors Center (Galveston Daily News: May 11, 1986).  The 18pdr cannon now resides at the Texas Seaport Museum.

The cannon was crudely made, as was the case with most Texas artillery in the years leading up to the Civil War.  Interestingly, when the cannon underwent restoration in the 1980s, it was discovered that it was loaded with an eighteen-pound cannonball snuggly lodged in the bore of the cannon (Galveston Daily News: May 11, 1986).  The other cannon that was dredged up with the 18pdr and displayed on Brown’s property was never recovered.

Figure 2. Rendering of the 18pdr cannon and its case on the deck of Brutus.

Figure 2. Rendering of the 18pdr cannon and its case on the deck of Brutus.

I began my research by familiarizing myself with the history of Brutus. I hunted down the artillery the schooner was built to carry, and sought after an account that mentioned the artillery Brutus carried near the time she sunk. I organized my research into two excel spreadsheets: one kept a record of every account that mentioned the type and number of guns aboard the ship, while the other was a timeline that followed the history of Brutus. This spreadsheet was used to determine if the location of where the cannon were unearthed agreed with where Brutus was said to have wrecked.

Brutus was a part of The First Texas Navy, which included three other ships—Liberty, Independence, and Invincible—all purchased between 1835 and 1836.  Unfortunately, within three years all ships had wrecked.  Of these four ships, Brutus was the largest with a twenty-two foot beam and a length of eighty-two feet (Powers 2006: 53).  She was built in Franklin County, Maine and bought by Augustus C. Allen who outfitted her in New Orleans with the intention to prey on Mexican vessels (Powers 2006: 53).  Allen then sold the schooner to the Texas government for $15,000 (Miller 2004: 133). For three years, the war schooner sailed for the Texas Navy until 1837.  Texas then commissioned seven more ships to replace their navy in 1839 and 1840.

The exact circumstances as to how and where Brutus wrecked are inconclusive; however, newspaper articles printed at the time, as well as official correspondences of the Texas Revolution, agree that the schooner sunk on anchor during a storm that hit Galveston in 1837. Yet, there are some sources that state that the storm capsized Brutus after she ran aground near Galveston’s east end in the ship channel near 37th St. (Galveston Daily News: May 11, 1986).  In either case, the general consensus is that Brutus was destroyed in the storm of 1837.

There are two possibilities explaining how the cannon could be found at the bottom of the Galveston Channel.  One avenue was that the cannon could have belonged to an artillery cash off the coast during the Battle of Galveston in 1863. The other possibility was that the cannon were on board a vessel that sunk in Galveston Harbor.  However, as previously mentioned, the Galveston Warf company had dredged up the cannon along with parts of a ship. Therefore, the two cannon had been aboard a vessel of some type. Now the question is, from which ship did these cannon come from?

Figure 3. Reconstructed rendering of Brutus

Figure 3. Reconstructed rendering of Brutus

According to Amy Borgens Galveston Harbor was the anchorage site for the Texas Navy, so other armed Texas Navy ships could be considered as potential candidates. She provided a spreadsheet that summarized Texas Navy losses, and only Zavala and Brutus were known to have wrecked in this general area.  Amy also provided a table that summarized the Battle of Galveston. From this table, there were only two known losses from this battle: the Confederate steamship Neptune, which was documented to have sunk further to the west near Zavala and USS Westfield, which was the second naval loss from the Battle of Galveston that occurred at Pelican Spit.

Amy also mentioned that eighteen pounders were popular for use as pivot guns on privateers, and also among privateer-styled navies like that of Texas. Privateers were essentially government licensed pirates who were granted permission to prey on foreign vessels. The privateer fleets of Louis Michel Aury and Jean Lafitte between the years 1816 and 1820 could also provide an explanation for an armed ship in Galveston Harbor.  However, this period is not well documented, so it is possible that there are other wrecks from these fleets that are unaccounted for.

The THC shipwreck database has four ships mapped between 22nd and 24th street in Galveston Harbor where the two cannon were recovered.  Of these ships, one includes Brutus (labeled THC No. 78) and unknown THC No. 1014, 1015, and 1101. These latter three wrecks were taken from the US Coast Survey’s 1856 chart titled Galveston Entrance, Texas.  Shipwreck 1015 is at the end of 24th street and may also represent Brutus.  In other words, 1015 may be a duplicate of Brutus. The identities of the other two shipwrecks are unknown. Modern growth of downtown Galveston has caused these areas to become filled, and because of the deep foundations characteristic of modern twentieth century construction—these wrecks may now lie under sediment or modern structures.

In order to comprehend the exact location of the four unnamed shipwrecks on the 1856 Galveston chart, Amy Borgens and I georeferenced the chart into the THC’s shipwreck database. Georeferencing is taking something with locations in physical space, such as a map, and formatting it to an aerial photo or internal coordinate system, for which we used the THC’s ArchGIS database. We uploaded the chart into ArchGIS and created a layer for it to fit on top of the modern coordinate system.  Three locational points are needed to affectively align the map to the database, which allows the chart to stretch to the scale of the database.  These points need to be places or landforms that coincide with the map and the database.  For example, the 1856 map had a lighthouse that still existed today, so we plotted that point on the map and then matched that point to the modern-day reference. It was difficult to find two more points to align, because most of the surface area of Galveston is artificial and has been built up a number of times throughout the years.  However, after rigorously searching for historical charts and maps of Galveston from the late 1800s to early 1900s, we were able to find historic buildings and streets that had remained intact throughout the many alterations of the city.  Thus, we had successfully aligned the two maps together and charted Brutus.

On the accounts of armament aboard Brutus, each reference was drastically different, which made it exceedingly difficult to determine whether or not the 18pdr cannon was from the Texas Navy Ship. The table below summarizes the different accounts of the artillery on Brutus:

Table 1. Accounts of artillery on the Texas Navy Ship Brutus.

Information Cannon Source
“Recovered from Galveston Channel in 1884, this cannon from the Texas Navy Vessel Brutus was displayed for many years at the residence of John Stoddart Brown. Buried and lost for several decades, the cannon was once more unearthed in 1974 during the expansion of a service station at Broadway and 45th Streets.” 18pdr swivel,  9 guns Texas Seaport Museum plaque
18pdr swivel, 9 short guns, 8 guns Amy Borgens’ Database
Brutus was a single deck vessel Registered in Baltimore.  127 tons. 82ft in length, her beam measured 22ft, and her hold depth was about 8ft. Said to be the largest vessel in the Texas Navy One long 12pdr pivot gun, two medium 9pdrs, eight long 6pdrs Powers, The First Texas Navy (pg. 53)
(from a petition of 28 underwriters of New Orleans to US District Attorney Carleton) 6 cannon, 1 large cannon on pivot, 8 guns Dienst, The Navy of the Republic of Texas (pg. 202)
160 tons one long 18pdr swivel gun, 9 short guns TSHA The Handbook of Texas. https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/qtb02
The 18pdr cannon was one of nine guns The Galveston Daily News 3/28/1982. newspaperarchives.com
A.C Allen to President of the Consolation:  New Orleans, Oct. 17, 1835.  He is stating his concerns for the protection of the Texas coast and “that there should be an armed & well manned vessel to cruise of the coast of Texas for its protection”.  He states that he already has a vessel picked out that could “out sail anything in the Mexican service, and will mount” (pg. 8) *does not mention Brutus by name. “9 guns and 50 stand of small arms” Binkley, William Campbell, 1936. Official Correspondence of the Texan Revolution, 1835-1836, Vol. II. Appleton-Century Company, Inc., New York, London.
Allen proposed to “arm, man and fit out a vessel mounting… to cruise off our coast as a privateer.” “The consultation and the provisional government later approved this policy. The governor, with the consent of the council, was to use the army and navy “in proper ways” for the defense of the country” (pg. 37-38). *does not mention Brutus by name. “9 guns, and 50 stands of small arms, with 50 volunteers on board and four months provisions” Fischer, Ernest G. 1976. Robert Potter: Founder of the Texas Navy. Pelican Publishing Company. Gretna, LA.
George M. Collinsworth to the Council: Matagorda, Jan 24, 1836: He states that there are two vessels in port.  The Schooner Brutus with the “Capt W. A Hurd has arrived with her as a merchant man, although she is regularly fitted out as a Government Vessel mounting” (pg. 336). “7 guns & is well armed” Binkley, William Campbell, 1936. Official Correspondence of the Texan Revolution, 1835-1836, Vol. II. Appleton-Century Company, Inc., New York, London.
James Ramage New Orleans, Jan. 4, 1836:  Brutus “has been in repairs on the right side of the Mississippi; that she is now on this side of the river, and is armed; that she has on board” (pg. 481). a pivot gun, and has portholes and two other guns Jenkins, Papers of the Texas Revolution
Edward Hall Jan. 4 1836: He says that he knows that Brutus is now at the New Orleans Port and IS ARMED. “She is advertised to go to Texas. In consequence of her being armed, witness shipped some goods on board. Witness does not know that Mr. Allen has any commission as captain of an armed vessel. Witness put on board od said vessel some provisions and arms of cargo” (pg. 486). four guns of 6pdr Jenkins, Papers of the Texas Revolution
Cushing’s Account (pg. 90). 8 guns Michelle M. Haas, Voices of the Texas Navy

Therefore, having various contrasting accounts of what this particular vessel carried has proven extraneous in determining if this 18pdr cannon did indeed belong to Brutus. However, the general consensus is that Brutus was armed to the teeth, with one large gun and a number of smaller guns.  The difficult translation here is that the term ‘guns’ is an all-catch phrase for any type of weapon, from 18pdr cannons to a musket. Nonetheless, despite these contrasting accounts, due to the strong evidence regarding where Brutus sunk and the likelihood of a different vessel wrecking in the same location while carrying a massive cannon, I strongly believe that the 18pdr swivel cannon at the Texas Seaport Museum did at one point sit on the deck of a First Texas Navy war schooner in 1836.

Interning at the Texas Historical Commission has been a wonderful experience.  I not only had this overarching research paper on the 18pdr cannon, but I was also exposed to data processing of shape files and georeferencing maps in ArchGIS. I cataloged several La Belle sword artifacts and learned the mechanics of artifact photography.  The best aspect of interning at the THC was the massive knowledge of history I obtained.  Amy Borgens is a walking-talking encyclopedia and she exposed me to a knowledge base that I never really knew beforehand. There are 1,954 recorded historical shipwrecks in Texas waters, and each one has a story.

References

Binkley, Campbell W. 1936. Official Correspondence of the Texan Revolution, 1835-1836, Vol. II. Appleton-Century Company, Inc., New York, London.

Borgens, Amy. Amy.Borgens@thc.texas.gov.

Elledge, Michael. “Portfolio—Museum and Other Exhibit Displays: Texas Seaport Museum”. www.jmelledge.com/PortfolioMuseumOtherDisplaysPg3SeaPortMuseum.html.

Fischer, Ernest G. 1976. Robert Potter: Founder of the Texas Navy. Pelican Publishing Company. Gretna, LA.

Galveston Daily News. 1982. March 28.

Galveston Daily News. 1986. May 11.

Haas, Michelle M. 2013. God Favors the Bold: Voices of the Texas Navy, 1835 – 1845. Compano Bay Press, Ingleside, TX.

Hall, Andrew. tigone@wtez.net.

Jenkins, John H. 1973. The Papers of the Texas Revolution, 1835-1836.  10 Vols. Presidial Press, Austin, TX.

Maritime Texas. “Texas Navy Schooner Brutus”. www.flickr.com/photos/36584779@N05/sets/72157650165586799.

Powers, John. 2006. The First Texas Navy. Woodmont Books. Austin, TX.

The Texas State Historical Association (TSHA) Handbook of Texas. https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/qtb02.

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