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Washington and the Quaker Cannon

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William Washington at the battle of Cowpens
Image = Wikipedia

By Grant Davies

On this day in 1780, while engaged in an armed disagreement (later known as The American Revolution), a high ranking officer named Washington prevailed in a small battle by using a big cannon.

The officer in our story was not the one you might have assumed. Our guy’s name was William Washington, and he was a Lieutenant Colonel, not a general. He was also second cousin (once removed, if you keep track of that sort of thing) to the more famous Washington, a guy named George, who went on to become the first, and maybe the last, great President of the United States.

The battle came to be known as “the capture of Rugeley’s Mill.” As it happened, William had “treed” a Loyalist Colonel by the name of Rowland Rugeley, and his 112 men, in his own house and barn. The property, near Camden, had been heavily fortified. But even so, one big cannon was all that was needed to blow the barn and its inhabitants to smithereens. And Rugeley, who was inside, knew it.

Trouble was, Washington didn’t have a big cannon. Or actually, any cannon at all. But since ole Rowland didn’t know that, William decided to build one. He settled on the design. It was to be a ”Quaker Gun.”

A ”Quaker Gun” was so named because it was the same design used by the pacifist Quakers. They had a lot of success scaring the hell out of anyone who had thoughts of attacking their encampments by making fake cannons out of tree trunks.

So William had the place surrounded by some of his 60 men while the rest fashioned the phony cannon out of a real pine log and propped it up on some wagon wheels. It must have looked pretty intimidating from a distance because once Washington informed Rugeley that he intended to pulverize him if he didn’t come out with his hands up, Rugeley came out with his hands up. (History doesn’t record if he was quaking or not.)

So the Colonel won the day without firing a shot from a cannon that couldn’t shoot. And Rowland’s military career was over because he had been “treed” by an old Quaker trick.

To celebrate the victory, hoist a brew to bluffing the next time you join your buddies for a poker game. But just be sure someone else doesn’t have a trick up their sleeve before you throw in your cards.

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