Used in aiming cannon from a ship in the War of 1812? A lantern at Oatlands sparks new discoveries

There are always new things to discover at Oatlands. Recently, we’ve been taking stock of our artifacts related to the War of 1812, because we are coming up on the bicentennial of what historians have called America’s Second War for Independence.

For example, William Eustis, the great-grandfather of the Eustis who lived at Oatlands, was Secretary of War during the War of 1812, and his portrait hangs over the sideboard in the dining room (more on him in a future post). Right across the room over the mantel hangs a portrait of Commodore Charles Morris, a naval hero of the War of 1812 and beyond. in 1835, Morris’s daughter Louise married William Wilson Corcoran, who was grandfather to William Corcoran Eustis, who owned Oatlands. As the executive officer on the USS Constitution (Old Ironsides) Morris led the boarding party in Constitution’s legendary victory over HMS Guerriere. He later commanded USS Adams, raiding British merchantmen, and was nearly captured in the Battle of Hampden. His 1823-27 stint as navy commissioner was briefly interrupted when he commanded USS Brandywine in 1825 to deliver the Marquis de Lafayette safely back to France.

Upstairs at Oatlands, on a highboy in the hallway, there is an old lantern, to which little notice had been given. Recently, a visitor to Oatlands who knew some naval history pointed out that the lantern is from an 1812-era ship, and would have been used by a porthole to provide light for the cannoneer to aid with aiming the gun at night. Did Morris bring the lantern to Oatlands? Could it be from Adams, or possibly from Constitution? Or is it simply a souvenir from his postwar service commanding the Portsmouth Navy Yard? A simple discovery leads to questions with possibly thrilling answers, and we are diving into this mystery. If you know anything about these lanterns and how they were used, please contact Oatlands.

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About oatlandsva

Director of Development at Oatlands, a National Trust Historic Site.
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3 Responses to Used in aiming cannon from a ship in the War of 1812? A lantern at Oatlands sparks new discoveries

  1. Dale says:

    Personally, this piece strikes me as being from a slightly later period, or at the very least of much higher quality than would normally have been found shipboard (with the possible exception of in the Captain’s Cabin). Ship’s equipment tended to be simpler and less decorative in the 1812 period. (Read “cheaper”…)

    Cheers,
    Dale

  2. 12thinfantry says:

    Cool! If Oatlands is ever interested in War of 1812 living history program, check out http://www.12thinfantry.org for a northern Virginia based group.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    Unfortunately, it’s pretty certain that Morris didn’t bring the lantern to Oatlands (he died in 1856, and William Eustis didn’t buy Oatlands until 1903). I suppose it could have been passed down through the family. The Eustis family was pretty patriotic, however, so it seems unlikely they wouldn’t have kept note of such an important piece (if it actually came from one of Morris’s ships), as they did with Morris’s handsome desk in the Oatlands drawing room. it also would be odd to mar the historic quality of the piece by electrifying it. But I guess the first place I would look for answers would be the collections records — what does your Past Perfect database say about the lantern?

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