The Cannon Controversy
It started with a fascinating scrapbook article from the Society’s collection: “Ex-Army Officer Raps Women Who Object to Placing War Cannon on Common.” In August, 1936, the townspeople of Acton had voted to obtain a United States army field piece as a World War memorial. A veterans group proceeded as instructed by the town. Soon, however, a furor arose over locating the gun on the Common. The selectmen granted a hearing about the issue, and fifteen people spoke in opposition. They said that Acton had too many war memorials, the gun was too war-like for the Common, and the gun would ruin the view and “would serve to depreciate property in the neighborhood.” Those claims seem a little outrageous today, but the “pro” speakers made the proceedings interesting as well. One accused the opposition of being Tories and threatened to go to court. Another stated that “Acton soldiers are the only ones who have brought glory to this town.” Meanwhile, granite blocks had already been placed on the Common to be ready when the gun arrived from the arsenal in Illinois from which it had been ordered.
Another hearing followed, described in a second scrapbook newspaper clipping, this time with about 300 in attendance. “A more lively meeting has not been held in the town hall since the days when the site for the present high school was being discussed.” A special town meeting was held on October 21, 1936. Attempts to stop the gun from arriving were unsuccessful. Through a vote, the townspeople expressed their wish that the gun be placed to the side of the World War Monument (near the Town Hall), rather than on the Common itself.
One would have thought from the opposition statements reported in the newspaper clippings that the town Common was a pastoral place suddenly being invaded by military armament. However, pictures in the Historical Society’s collection confirm that there were already cannons on the Common at that point, as well the large Monument to Isaac Davis and others who fell in the Revolution. Evidently the underlying issue, not clear from the articles, was that some of the townsfolk (men included) wanted to change the "atmosphere" of the Town Common. One of the Articles on the agenda at the special town meeting in October was that “the town will remove all objects, monuments, and other impediments, from the Town Common…” (The Davis monument was excluded from the Article.) Nothing happened; the cannons already on the Common stayed.
Don't believe everything you read, online or elsewhere - No one is perfect.
At this point, it seemed a good idea to research exactly when the Town Common's cannons arrived and where they came from. Searching old local newspapers online for articles about the installation of the cannons produced nothing. One internet site said that "The Town Green area includes: cannons (installed 1812)..." That unfortunate wording led to a fruitless research project. In an effort to learn about the installation of the cannons, Acton Memorial Library’s online transcriptions of Early Town Records were consulted. Searching the early 1800s through 1829 revealed that the townspeople of Acton were mainly concerned during that period with whether or not they could let their cows, cattle, horse kind and swine roam the Common in any given year. It is very safe to say that installing memorials on that land was not a high priority for them.
Eventually, an article was discovered about the Town of Concord’s gift to Acton of the Davis Stone (upon which, supposedly, Isaac Davis fell). It gave an approximate date of 1900 for their installation. Searching town reports confirmed that on August 21, 1900, the town appointed a committee of three to "procure two cannon to place on the Common" (Town Report for the year ending March 12, 1901, page 10). A later report (for the year ending March 12, 1902, page 33) showed that the cannons were shipped by railroad and then "teamed" to the Common where they were installed on bases, most likely granite. There was no description of where or what era the cannons came from. Phalen’s history of Acton (1954, page 284) stated that they were from the War of 1812, but no documentation was given. The Davis Stone article mentioned in passing that the cannons were from the Civil War, not 1812.
When all else fails... get out of the car
Because a good picture of the cannons would be useful when asking for identification help, a visit was made to the Town Common. Today, no one is concerned with pastoral views of the Common; a much bigger concern is safely crossing the street to get there. Doing so, however, yielded much more useful information than extensive online research. The result is shown in the pictures below. Each cannon has foundry markings. Acton’s were marked RPP (evidently the initials of Robert Parker Parrott, 1804-1877, whose gun designs were commonly used during the Civil War). They were 30-pounder guns, one produced in 1863 and the other in 1864. One question answered - they are Civil War guns.
... or ask someone who knows
At this point, all of the online and written sources we could think of had been exhausted. But then a simple question to a Board member confirmed that the cannons on the Common were, in fact, Civil War cannons that are officially on loan to the town from the Department of Defense. Solving the mystery of the cannons would have been made considerably easier simply by asking the right person in the first place!
And what about the World War I field piece that started this research project? For many years, no one seemed to know where it went. See our blog post for the answer.
Due to COVID-19 concerns, our usual open hours have been suspended. Please contact us for an appointment or to ask your research questions.
Hosmer House Museum:
Open for special events.
Mailing Address: PO Box 2389, Acton, MA 01720
Copyright © 2022 Acton Historical Society, All Rights Reserved