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June 16, 2010

Historic Trades Artisans to Reproduce Revolutionary War Cannon June 23

Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Trades artisans will knock out the plug on their brick casting furnace near Great Hopes Plantation, releasing nearly 700 pounds of molten bronze, streaming down a sluiceway into a carefully crafted mold Wednesday, June 23.

In a matter of a minute or two, the liquid bronze will disappear into the five-foot-long mold, where it will solidify into the shape of a three-pounder cannon of the Revolutionary War era used by British infantry.

Colonial Williamsburg’s first-ever cannon pour is the result of extensive research and trial-and-error testing to rediscover the 18th-century art of large object casting practiced by foundrymen of the time. Since the cannon-casting program began two years ago, the foundry trades artisans have poured two smaller artillery pieces —both mortars. The experience gained through the two previous efforts will be put to good use during the cannon pour.

Casting the bronze cannon barrel is one of the more ambitious tasks ever undertaken by Historic Trades. It begins with making a pattern, using the pattern to create a mold and pouring hundreds of pounds of molten metal at the casting furnace. The goal is to create the highest quality, most accurate reproduction of an 18th-century cannon in the Historic Area and, quite possibly, in England or America.

“Reproducing the cannon requires the participation of a number of trade shops,” said Jay Gaynor, Colonial Williamsburg director of historic trades. “Founders, blacksmiths, wheelwrights, gunsmiths, harness makers, tailors, weavers, brickmakers, tool makers and carpenter joiners — together, they illustrate the complexity of production needed to support the American Revolution. The finished cannon will be a showpiece of Colonial Williamsburg’s capabilities, and we will use it in a variety of special demonstrations and presentations.”

The project involves casting and finishing the bronze barrel, mounting it on a wheeled carriage, building a limber to tow the gun and equipping both with their full complement of tools, accessories and inert ammunition. With the exception of boring the barrel, all work will be performed in Colonial Williamsburg’s trade shops using 18th-century technology.

The cannon is a reproduction of original cannon produced at the Royal Brass Foundry at Woolwich between 1776 and 1778 — primarily for use in North America during the Revolution. The cannon were in service in eastern Virginia and several were captured during the siege of Yorktown.

Light infantry three-pounders consisted of a 41-inch barrel mounted on a wooden carriage. Easily transported over rough terrain, the cannon was essentially self-contained and designed with compartments for ammunition and equipment. “During the War of American Independence, there is no doubt that these highly maneuverable cannon were at the top of the wish list for both armies,” said Erik Goldstein, Colonial Williamsburg curator of mechanical arts and numismatics.

Materials used in the project and video documentation of the process are funded by a generous grant from the Ambrose and Ida Fredrickson Foundation of Summit, N.J.

The cannon pour is weather dependent, and timing of the pour will be determined by when the molten bronze is ready to pour – probably in late afternoon. The rain date is Thursday, June 24.

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the not-for-profit educational and cultural organization dedicated to the preservation, interpretation and presentation of the restored 18th-century Revolutionary capital of Virginia. This town-sized living history museum tells the inspirational stories of our journey to become Americans through programs in the Historic Area and through the award-winning Revolutionary City program.

Williamsburg is located in Virginia’s Tidewater region, 20 minutes from Newport News, within an hour’s drive of Richmond and Norfolk, and 150 miles south of Washington, D.C. For more information about Colonial Williamsburg, call 1-800-HISTORY or visit Colonial Williamsburg’s website at

Media Contact:
Jim Bradley
(757) 220-7281