Meet Thundering Barbara

“Thundering Barbara”


It was common practice in the 18th Century for all military and naval cannons to be named. The cannon owned by the West Jersey Artillery is called Thundering Barbara in recognition of the patron saint of artillerymen, Saint Barbara.

The final construction of Thundering Barbara began in early 2012 and proceeded only after intensive and meticulous research was completed to assure the highest degree of authenticity. Craftsmen and suppliers were selected only after in-depth discussions were held and all were satisfied that the final product could meet precise specifications. The result today is one of the finest reproduction cannons ever constructed for the Revolutionary War living history community.

DSCN0684The cannon style of Thundering Barbara is called a butterfly. A butterfly cannon had the ammunition boxes mounted on platforms above the axle on both sides of the cannon barrel Cannons at the time were designated according to the weight of the solid shot they fired, thus a 3-lb cannon, fired a solid 3 lb cannon ball. Thundering Barbara is a light 3-lb cannon.

A cannon is composed of several components- barrel, wheels, carriage and accoutrements. Here is how those components were specified and how the cannon was built. The barrel is a solid bronze construction based on the Verbruggen design. This design was created by a Dutch cannon designer by the name of Jan Verbruggen who developed his piece in the mid 18th Century, and was utilized as the standard throughout much of the European army’s. The barrel was cast by Gillmor Ordinance in Ohio, who has produced some of the finest cannons for living history groups and numerous governmental park services. The barrel is made with gun metal bronze and has all the correct proof markings engraved.

DSCN0682The wheels were built by a long-established wheelwright in Lancaster County, PA. The wheels are segmented with iron hardware and are made of solid ash. An iron tire is installed on the wooden wheel and secured by hand forged period iron hardware. Thundering Barbara’s wheels are made of ash, and the carriage and ammo boxes of white oak.  All are cut to exact specifications and measurements.

Final assembly was done by a blacksmith in western Pennsylvania, who built all the rolling stock for Fort Ligoneir. All iron hardware and furniture installed on Thundering Barabara was expertly handmade and all items are copied from existing originals.

Ammunition boxes, sponges, rammers, buckets, drag ropes, linstock, etc., meet the same exacting requirements as the cannon itself. All sources were carefully chosen and much of the final detail and rope work was completed by the West Jersey Artillery members themselves.

The cannon is transported to the events by a brand new flatbed trailer. Special hardware, tie down straps, a storage unit and a reinforced steel ramp were custom made to facilitate the easy loading  and unloading of the cannon. All this was accomplished to ensure a robust method of securing the piece while being transported. Attractive black signs with red lettering of the West Jersey Artillery since 1776, are attached to both sides of the trailer.

DSCF7683The artillerymen of the company wear exact reproduction copies of the original uniforms worn by the West Jersey Artillery in 1776.

Artillerymen of the Continental Army tended to dress well and always in regimental coats, even when the rest of the army had few supplies. Cannon crews in the latter part of the 18th Century wore dark blue coats with red facings which tended to hide the dirt acquired in working the their guns in battle. The men of the original West Jersey Artillery were ordered into the established blue coat uniform, but the black coats with brass Continental Artillery buttons became a somewhat official Continental Artillery uniform and is the historical justification of our selection of black coats.

The uniforms are made of all natural fibers, such as linen, wool, hand cast brass and pewter buttons and constructed of with the same techniques used in the period. The clothing also consists of breeches or overalls, white wool waistcoat, linen shirt, leather neckstock, and a cocked hat trimmed with yellow tape. The men carry canteens, haversacks, small swords and several men serving as matrosses are armed with English Brown Bess muskets, cartridge boxes, bayonet and bayonet belts.