By Ted Como
My favorite photo of my late parents was taken while they were dating about 1940 and has them straddling Long Tom when the historic cannon was located behind the former state armory at the end of Mechanic Street. I photographed my daughters astride it some 35 years later.
Long Tom has been part of Ogdensburg’s history for more than 180 years but some confusion about it seems to remain. It’s now located near the Dobisky Center, pointed directly at Canada’s Fort Wellington and guarding against any repeat attack across a frozen St. Lawrence River.
On July 31, 1889, the Ogdensburg Journal reported that Mayor Edgar A. Newell had Long Tom placed on the lawn at the Opera House but every bit of the remaining story was incorrect: “Long Tom is of greater age than the stone placed in the Town Hall, on which is inscribed ‘Francis Picquet laid the foundation of this habitation, in the name of Almighty God, in 1749.’ (wrong.) The cannon was cast in France (wrong) in 1628, (wrong) the date upon it being quite distinct. It was brought to this country and used in the war between the French and English (likely wrong.) Long Tom was the bow gun of a French schooner scuttled Aug. 25, 1760 in the Oswegatchie River (wrong)… It was raised by a slave of Nathan Ford in 1802… (wrong.)”
Three days later in the Journal, Gates Curtis, who wrote a history of the city, elaborated on the same incorrect information. In the same edition, a city blacksmith named James Newell disputed the earlier account. He said Long Tom was brought from Utica to Ogdensburg in the winter of 1839 as part of a campaign to buy a gun for July Fourth celebrations and that “Amos Bacon and Charles Hill collected enough money” among the residents to pay for it, went to Utica and “conveyed it here on a sleigh. It was taken to the foundry and machine shop of Mr. Chaney and the barrel bored but. Israel Lamb made the wood work to mount it and James W. Lytle did the iron work.”
However, three days later came yet another story supporting Curtis’ incorrect claims. It described a plot found in F. B. Hough’s history of St. Lawrence and Franklin Counties that in 1808, American soldiers stationed at Ogdensburg planned to seize the gun and throw it in the river. “The fact being recorded in history that an old French cannon belonging to the village, at that early date, and an iron six pounder, having been taken from a gunboat, is evidence that the first version of Long Tom by Mr. Curtis, is correct.”
Not so. But all was finally settled in a letter in the Aug. 30, 1889 edition from Charles Hill of Cleveland whose father, also Charles and a city resident at the time, did indeed purchase Long Tom in 1838 from Jonas D. Daniels of Utica. James Newell’s account was upheld.
Hill had all of the documents regarding the purchase. The owner purchased Long Tom in Oriskany, NY and it was probably used by the British in the Battle of Oriskany in 1777 during the American Revolution. In 1838 he sold the gun to Hill for $45, plus $5 for the screw. Daniels was paid back by 83 Ogdensburg residents who donated to the cause of obtaining a cannon for the city. As to the gun raised from the wreck, Hill said it was used in the Patriot War when Americans attacked the windmill near Prescott in 1838 and had the documenets to prove it.
There is another cannon of interest to city residents because it was used by the French in the Battle of Fort Levis at Ogdensburg in 1760 and may now be seen at Sacket’s Harbor. The nearly 6,000-pound cannon was cast in Britain in the mid-17th century and sent to New York in November 1739 on the HMS Vanguard. During the French and Indian War, it was moved to Oswego’s Fort William Henry, captured by the French in 1756 or 1757 and recaptured by the British at Fort Levis.
Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Historic Site has now taken possession of the cannon and plans are in the works for a long term loan to allow for the cannon’s display at the Village of Cape Vincent’s East End Park. It should have come to Ogdensburg, where it was last fired in battle.
- Ted Como is a member of the board of the Fort La Presentation Association.