Local folks may have walked past the rusted relics from the 1779 Penobscot Expedition a thousand times, never realizing the historic significance of the items or the role they played in this country’s beginnings.
The Penobscot Expedition is the worst naval disaster in U.S. history, outside of Pearl Harbor. It also is known as “the battle no one ever heard of,” and it happened right here in the backyards of Bangor and Brewer.
Cannons, cannonballs and other projectiles — all rusty from their time spent on the bottom of the river — are the last remnants of the disastrous battle of more than two centuries ago and can be found at several area locations.
For the most part, the locations of the sunken vessels — or what’s left of them — are unknown, but it’s believed nine or 10 made it to Bangor, and over the last 228 years historic artifacts have surfaced.
The first items were found during the dredging of Bangor harbor in August 1876 and include cannons, cannonballs and other projectiles, some of which are on exhibit in the Harlow Street display window of Bookmarc’s bookstore. The items are on loan from the Bangor Historical Society, which is in the process of renovating a new home.
The cannon mounted on a block of granite in the Kenduskeag Mall has a plaque identifying it as one from the expedition. The basement of the Thomas A. Hill Historic House is home to a Howitzer cannon that was pulled from the mouth of the Kenduskeag, according to Bangor Museum and Center for History staff. The museum is located on the corner of High and Union streets. The Howitzer will be on display when the historical society’s new museum is opened.
Twin cannons, which sit on granite blocks with “1779” inscribed, sit parallel to each other on the Bangor waterfront. The twins originally were painted white and sat in Coe Park on Court Street, but they were stripped of their paint and moved to the waterfront within the last decade, city officials said.
Five cannons and cannonballs were recovered from the Penobscot River in September 1953 when excavation work was being done for the Joshua Chamberlain Bridge, but one was lost after it was brought to the surface and fell back into the river’s murky water.
One of the 1953 cannons pulled from the river was put on display in Brewer at the mouth of the Penobscot Bridge. It’s painted black to prevent further rusting and sits on a wooden carriage replica built in 1998 by Greg Bragan, an employee with the city’s Public Works Department. It is not marked with any identification.
Another of the 1953 cannons was given to the Dravo Corp., which was conducting the bridge dredging, and another was given to the Robert Verrier Construction Co. of Portland, which built the Chamberlain Bridge. Where the fourth cannon resides is “a mystery,” according to a Nov. 11, 1954, Bangor Daily News article.
“It was believed to be given to the city of Bangor, but city officials and historians, as well as construction officials, have no idea what happened to it,” the story states.