Bombshell report! Historians: Cannonball found at Bklyn Heights home dates to Revolutionary War

Bombshell report! Historians: Cannonball found at Bklyn Heights home dates to Revolutionary War
Photo by Matthew John

It’s a blast from the past!

Workers found a cannonball outside a home in the Brooklyn Heights historic district last week that’s likely a relic from the American Revolution, according to a local history buff.

“There’s really no way of knowing exactly where it came from or how it got there, but I’m sure it does date back to the Revolutionary War,” said borough historian Ron Schweiger.

Someone found the softball-sized cast-iron orb while digging a trench in the backyard of the house on Middagh Street at least two years ago during its initial demolition, and workers discovered it sitting on a table at the job site when they started new construction late last month, according to the project manager, who did not want his name used because his client hadn’t authorized him to speak.

And while several historians said they couldn’t pinpoint the ammunition’s exact origins, they offered a few educated guesses based on a major battle that occurred nearby.

There was no combat in the Heights during the war, but the nabe was home to the Americans’ main defense during the Battle of Brooklyn, the first major fight after the United States declared independence in 1776.

General George Washington eventually retreated across the river to the distant island of Manhattan, surrendering the land to the British, who set up a large encampment, Fort Brooklyn, near what are now Pierrepont and Henry streets.

The bulky dark gray shell could have belonged to either army — it’s hard to say because the Americans used many of the same weapons as the British — and may have landed there after it was shot from afar or accidentally discarded by passing troops, Schweiger said.

“It could’ve just been a leftover piece that may not have been fired,” he said. “There’s no way of knowing if it’s something that was fired and missed its target or dropped there accidentally during retreat or advancement.”

The ball — which has a hole on top that may have been packed with gunpowder so the weapon would explode — looks like ammo used during the Revolutionary War, according to another expert, who said it probably would have been fired from a small cannon.

Its discovery is particularly noteworthy because not many cannonballs have been found in the Heights, where many plots have not been dug up due to their homes’ historic significance, she said.

“It’s not super common because the houses in Brooklyn Heights and brownstone areas are older, and they haven’t been deeply excavated the way the high-rises have,” said Julie Golia of the Brooklyn Historical Society.

But it’s not surprising the sphere was hidden there for centuries, given all of the fighting in the area, said a historian who wrote a book on the neighborhood.

“The Downtown area was so militarized it’s not unusual for remnants of the war to be turned up,” said Bob Furman, author of “Brooklyn Heights: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of America’s First Suburb.”

The houses on Middagh Street are the oldest in the Heights, according to Schweiger, and the residence where the cannonball was unearthed is believed to have been built between the 1820s and ’30s, the project manager said.

Artifacts discovered on private land are allowed to be kept by property owners, but anyone who finds an explosive device is urged to call 911, a Department of Buildings spokesman said.

The cannonball is being stored in the home during its renovation, and will be given to its owner, according to the project manager.

The homeowner did not return a request for comment.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill