Cannons, Princeton.

Cannons, Princeton. The Big Cannon in the center of the quadrangle back of Nassau Hall and the Little Cannon between Whig and Clio Halls were both left in Princeton after the Revolution, and both loomed large in student life in the nineteenth century.

After lying on the Campus for years, the Big Cannon was taken to New Brunswick during the war of 1812 to defend that city from possible enemy attack. It remained on the common there until one dark night in 1835 when the Princeton Blues, a military company of citizens of the town, loaded it on a wagon and headed back to Princeton. Their wagon broke down at the outskirts of the town, and they abandoned the cannon at the side of the road. There it lay until another dark night a few years later, when about a hundred students, led by Leonard Jerome 1839 (maternal grandfather of Winston Churchill), hoisted it onto a heavy wagon they had engaged, along with a team of horses and driver, brought it to the campus, and -- before Vice-president Maclean could intervene -- dumped it in front of Nassau Hall. In 1840 it was moved and planted muzzle down in its present location.

Since the 1890s, the Big Cannon has been the focus of championship football bonfires and the seniors' class day exercises in June. It inspired Joseph F. Hewitt '07 and Arthur H. Osborne '07 to compose ``The Princeton Cannon Song'' (``With cheers and songs we'll rally round The Cannan as of yore/And Nassau's walls will echo with the Princeton Tiger's roar'').

The Little Cannon was the cause of the celebrated ``Cannon War'' with Rutgers in 1875, when it was taken to New Brunswick by Rutgers students under the mistaken impression that it was a lost cannon belonging to that city. After a retaliatory raid by Princeton students and some sharp correspondence between the presidents of the two colleges, a joint committee was appointed by the respective faculties and the dispute settled amicably, Princeton students agreeing to return some muskets they had taken from New Brunswick, Rutgers students the cannon they had taken from Princeton.

The day the New Brunswick chief of police brought the Little Cannon back to Princeton, President McCosh and the whole college assembled between the two Halls to greet him. The Nassau Hall bell rang and the President made a speech. He said he was reminded of the contest over Helen in the Trojan War and suggested that the Cannon War should be immortalized in a new Iliad, written in Greek and in hexameter verse. The students cheered wildly, but there is no evidence that McCosh's effort to give the Cannon War a cultural turn bore any fruit. The ``War,'' however, was well covered by the press.


From Alexander Leitch, A Princeton Companion, copyright Princeton University Press (1978).

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