Event Person

The Death of Joseph Tanner and Portsmouth’s Early Cannons

The headstone of Joseph Tanner at Greenlawn Cemetery in Portsmouth, Ohio, reads:

“Sacred to the memory of Joseph Tanner, husband of Elizabeth Tanner. who departed this life Sept, 21st, AD, 1836. Aged 35 years, 5 months and 17 days, whose death was caused by bursting of a cannon fired in honour of President Jackson landing in Portsmouth Ohio. He survived only 21 hours than departed to try the realitees of a better world we hope.”

Beneath his epitaph reads:

My friend once dear unto me
Our hearts so united in love
Were Jesus is gone we shall be.
In yonder blest mansin above.

Oh why than so lath we to part
Since there we shall soon meet again
Engraved on Immanuels heart
In a distance we cannot remain.

“The first Artillery company in Portsmouth was raised by Edward Cranston, in 1819 or 1820. There was then a six pound cast iron cannon there belonging to our venerable Uncle Sam, that the company used in their drills. A small frame house to shelter it was built on the north side of Second, a short distance west of Market street. The field piece was so into the house that its muzzle pointed toward the door. One night, about Christmas, in 1823, the cannon was heavily loaded by some unknown person or persons, a slow-match placed upon it, the doors of the house closed and the round fired; the explosion lifting the roof, carrying away the double door, blowing off much of the weather boarding, and badly shattering the house generally.”

“The first Light Infantry company was raised about the same time, of which Samuel Huston was captain. Both of those companies were large, well-uniformed, drilled regularly and had a glorious time on each day of general muster and on the Fourth of July. The ‘shoulder straps’ of the artillerymen were yellow colored and those of the infantry, white. Cranston made an effort to raise a horse company, of later days called ‘cavalry,’ but the project was abandoned after a few meetings of those who intended to join in. Suppose the muster rolls of those companies were called today, how many would answer to their names? The muskets belonging to that infantry company were destroyed at the time the first fire occurred that I mentioned in one of my former efforts. The cannons of the class I have spoken of, distributed among the towns in Ohio, were condemned, pronounced unsafe, and withdrawn from service, at which time an exchange was made and another six pounder was entrusted to the case of the citizens of Portsmouth.”

“In 1833, when President Jackson was going to Washington to enter upon his official duties, the cannon was brought out by unskillful gunners, promiscuously and hastily collected, to fire a salute in honor of the old hero of New Orleans; and after firing a few rounds the piece was prematurely discharged while Messrs. Tanner, Bonser and Ward were ramming down the cartridge. The three men here named and a boy were killed; Bonser, Ward and the youth immediately, and Tanner died from his injuries a few days afterward.”

“On New Year’s eve of 1835 or 1836, the cannon was brought out by the cannaile to welcome in the new year. Excitement ran high, and after a few rounds had been fired on the firade just west of Jefferson street, the reports made were not satisfactory, and some reckless fellow seized a pig of cast iron and thrust it into the mizzle of the piece after the chare had been rammed down.”

“The iron was too large in the middle to enter the bore and tapered off at each end. It was driven in with another pig so tightly that it could not conveniently be drawn out; so that it would go neither up or down, in nor out. John Merrill sang out ‘stand away!’ and applied the match to the priming. Off went the cannon, which was torn into fragments and the carriage as completely shivered as if it had been stricken by a thunderbolt, the spokes being torn from the wheels and the tires given worse than the Grecian bend. The most singular part of the circumstance was that although so many persons were around the cannon and on Front street, not one of them was materially injured. Merrill was prostrated, I presume by the shock, as he picked himself up and continued the jollification and merriment. The breech of the cannon, from the vent, was torn away, carried into Second street and planted in front of Kinney’s tannery.”1

  1. Early Reminisces of Portsmouth. (1869, January 2). Portsmouth Times, p. 2.