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Thanksgiving’s First Rifle: The Mayflower Wheel-lock Carbine
guns.com ^ | 21 November, 2012 | Kristin Alberts

Posted on 11/22/2012 5:19:28 AM PST by marktwain

What’s even more American than turkey, cranberries and pumpkin pie these days? An Italian gun, that’s what. The only known surviving firearm that crossed the wild Atlantic aboard the good ship Mayflower, settled with the pilgrims at Plymouth Colony and ultimately helped the first colonists not only survive, but prosper. Meet the Mayflower Gun.

The Gun

Affectionately dubbed the Mayflower Gun and thought of as an American icon, the gun is actually an Italian-made wheel-lock carbine. This single-shot musket was originally chambered in .50 caliber rifle, though ages of heavy use have worn away the majority of the rifling. Given the combination of natural wear, repairs and modifications, if the gun were to be loaded and fired today, it would require a .66 caliber.

According to curators at the NRA’s National Firearms Museum—where the gun has found a most comfortable home—markings recorded on both the barrel and lockplate demonstrate a connection with the Beretta family of armorers.

One of the features making this musket instantly recognizable is its namesake. The surviving detail of the actual wheel-lock device—the rotating mechanism, which provides spark and ignition, not unlike that of our modern day cigarette lighters—is a thing of fine craftsmanship and beauty. The wheel-lock’s engineering, execution and efficacy far exceed those of its predecessor, the matchlock.

The man: John Alden

Without the adventuresome spirit of one young man with an eye for quality arms, the Mayflower Gun would not be a part of our American history today. Enter, John Alden. Alden was around 20 to 21 years of age at the ship’s departure. However, his original intent was never really to set sail. John AldenHe was simply hired as a ships cooper—a barrel maker by trade—at the yard where ships docked. But being a young man with much hope and courage, he decided to board the Mayflower for its daunting passage. Sometime near debarkation, it is speculated that Alden purchased the firearm used, perhaps from a traveler or mercenary as was common in those days. Of the guns widely available at that time, this was one of the finest and most expensive, so certainly young Alden was wise beyond his years.

Following an arduous three-month winter passage at sea, battered by the north Atlantic’s gales, the Mayflower reached its destination in 1620. History recognizes John Alden as the first man to step ashore, and when Alden’s feet hit terra firma, this gun was most likely his sole means of protection. Though the early years at the new settlement were marked with many tribulations, Alden prospered. Along with the other men who made the passage, he was one of the signatories of the Mayflower Compact, documenting the freedoms and liberties of the new colony. Among his many ventures, Alden is remembered for his service under Capt. Miles Standish, with whom he is rumored to rivaled over the courtship of the woman who eventually became Alden’s wife.

Part of this story is recounted in Longfellow’s poem “The Courtship of Miles Standish.” Between the years 1633 to 1675, Alden served not only as assistant governor of the Plymouth Colony, but often, due to absence, fulfilled governor duties. He was known to have served on many juries including participation in at least one witch trial. Through all this time, including a move inland and away from the original colony, the Mayflower Gun remained in Alden’s possession. At the time of his death in 1687, the gun began its long succession of Alden family ownership.

The History

The Alden family dwelling, like the gun, has survived for nearly 400 years. The Mayflower gun was discovered—still loaded, nonetheless—in a secret protective cubbyhole near the front door of the home during a 1924 renovation. The Alden home, which was occupied by family members until the mid-1890’s, is currently a National Historic Landmark in Duxbury, Massachusetts. Though it is certain that other settlers would have carried similar arms, this is indeed the only known surviving piece, likely because it was tucked away and forgotten after its years of service had ended.

Because the gun was something of a large caliber at the time, it would likely have been used to take down deer and other large game as well as birds—perhaps even a Thanksgiving longbeard. Naturally, the original stock was fashioned of fine European walnut, though sometime in the gun’s history, a worn portion of the front stock was replaced with American walnut. There is great beauty in the wear patterns of the wood, simply for knowing the many hands and circumstances that have handled this weapon. The Mayflower Gun is currently on display at the NRA Museum.Oh, the stories it could tell of game hunted, lives taken and families saved! This tool was at once a protector and a provider. In fact, the Mayflower Gun may well have been present—or at least played a role—at the 1621 birth of the Thanksgiving holiday we celebrate today. The gun, in fact, is one of the few surviving pieces known to have made the trip aboard the Mayflower.

On Display

Those near Fairfax, Virginia can visit this amazing and well-traveled weapon at its home in the NRA’s National Firearms Museum. It is currently being featured on display as part of the “Old Guns in a New World” gallery, an exhibit in which firearms bridge the gap between the Old World and the new colonies. In addition to this one, the Museum is home to 14 other galleries housing more than 2,700 firearms of remarkable significance. Admission is free and the museum is open daily. For those interested in learning more without making a physical visit, detailed virtual tours are easily navigated at their website.

In Thanksgiving

Nearly 400 years have passed since the Mayflower Gun traversed the Atlantic to forever become a priceless, tangible slice of American history. In the spirit of Thanksgiving celebration, the time is right to remember not only all those who came before us, but also the hardships they faced to get us where we are today. In reminiscing on this beautiful Mayflower Gun, we here at Guns.com are thankful for our first amendment freedoms. So with a nod of the clichéd black pilgrim hats, take some special time this holiday to enjoy family, friends, freedoms and of course, firearms.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Philosophy
KEYWORDS: alden; banglist; mayflower; rifle
It says something of the value and availability of firearms at the time that a 21 year old cooper could obtain one of the best made guns.
1 posted on 11/22/2012 5:19:35 AM PST by marktwain
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To: marktwain

Wheellock rifles were used for hunting well into the flintlock era as they gave reliable & quick ignition. The drawback as noted was cost.


2 posted on 11/22/2012 5:32:37 AM PST by elcid1970 ("The Second Amendment is more important than Islam.")
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To: marktwain

He had a good trade (barrelmaking). He probably could afford good weapons. He certainly made a good choice there.


3 posted on 11/22/2012 5:42:27 AM PST by GenXteacher (You have chosen dishonor to avoid war; you shall have war also.)
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To: marktwain

“Assault” wheel lock with “cop killer” ammunition.


4 posted on 11/22/2012 5:44:21 AM PST by SkyPilot
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To: SkyPilot

A state of the art weapon...at the time.


5 posted on 11/22/2012 5:59:08 AM PST by marktwain
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To: marktwain

Editorial note: the article used the words musket and rifle interchangeably, but this is not accurate. This gun is a musket, a smooth bore weapon fired at the shoulder.

Rifles are distinct from muskets by having a rifled, or grooved barrel interior that imparts a spin to the bullet, drastically increasing its accuracy and range. Effectively, they have only existed since the middle of the 19th Century, but were a major breakthrough.

Typically, a musket only had a range of 50 yards, with an effective range of half that, at best. The rifle increased the range to 300 yards, with accurate fire perhaps 2/3rds of that distance.

Hat tip to French Army captains Claude-Étienne Minié of the Chasseurs d’Orléans and Henri-Gustave Delvigne.

By the time of the US Civil War, until rifled artillery could be developed, rifles had a range just slightly less than field artillery. Bad for field artillerymen.


6 posted on 11/22/2012 6:04:09 AM PST by yefragetuwrabrumuy (DIY Bumper Sticker: "THREE TIMES,/ DEMOCRATS/ REJECTED GOD")
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To: yefragetuwrabrumuy
This single-shot musket was originally chambered in .50 caliber rifle, though ages of heavy use have worn away the majority of the rifling.

You are saying this sentence is incorrect?

7 posted on 11/22/2012 6:06:23 AM PST by ClearCase_guy (Global Warming is a religion, and I don't want to be taxed to pay for a faith that is not mine.)
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To: marktwain

So is it a musket or a rifle?


8 posted on 11/22/2012 6:07:55 AM PST by Sherman Logan
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To: marktwain

The purchase of that wheelock carbine for Alden was roughly equivalent to one of us purchasing a luxury automobile. That was a BIG ticket item for him.


9 posted on 11/22/2012 6:14:32 AM PST by Little Ray (I have VOTED AGAINST Obama in the General.)
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To: marktwain

@DanRiehl: Thanksgiving’s First Rifle: The Mayflower Wheel-lock Carbine http://t.co/pryb5iUZ http://t.co/mGJUIxiE


10 posted on 11/22/2012 6:17:05 AM PST by smokingfrog ( sleep with one eye open (<o> ---)
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To: yefragetuwrabrumuy

“Effectively, they have only existed since the middle of the 19th Century, but were a major breakthrough.”

Not so. I used to think the same thing, until my son sent me this. They were rifling barrels in Europe in the mid 1700’s......

And riflemen in the Rev. War could hit a 7” target at 250 yds. WITH OPEN SIGHTS! I’ve got some great rifles, but couldn’t do that with any of them.......

http://www.sniperinfo.com/forum/showthread.php?938-The-American-Rifleman-in-the-Revolutionary-War


11 posted on 11/22/2012 6:35:55 AM PST by Arlis (.)
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To: marktwain
You mean it wasn't a Blunderbuss?


12 posted on 11/22/2012 6:53:13 AM PST by KC_Lion (Build the America you want to live in at your address, and keep looking up.-Sarah Palin)
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To: ClearCase_guy
Sounds to me like it is. Someone at guns.com is assuming a bit too much, as in maybe some of the bore has been worn out and he's assuming there's not any rifling left because of the wear.

As someone has already pointed out on this thread, rifling hadn't been invented yet, and any competent gun writer oughta know that.

13 posted on 11/22/2012 6:54:47 AM PST by OKSooner
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To: yefragetuwrabrumuy

Because of the commonality of the term “musket” in military drill and terminology, it appears to have been used even early on as a synonym for “military long guns”. I have seen the term “rifled musket” in contemporary letters from the Revolution.


14 posted on 11/22/2012 7:00:28 AM PST by SampleMan (Feral Humans are the refuse of socialism.)
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To: marktwain

http://www.nps.gov/jame/historyculture/history-of-armour-and-weapons-relevant-to-jamestown.htm

Two complete and six fragmentary wheel locks have been discovered at Jamestown which pre-date the Plymouth Colony by more than a decade.


15 posted on 11/22/2012 7:06:02 AM PST by afraidfortherepublic
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To: marktwain

Thanks I enjoyed this article...

John Alden’s House in Duxbury, Massachusetts

https://s5-us4.ixquick-proxy.com/do/show_picture.pl?l=english&cat=pics&c=pf&q=Alden+family+dwelling+Duxbury,+Massachusetts&h=788&w=1198&th=105&tw=160&fn=AldenHouse.jpg&fs=933.1 k&el=boss_pics_1&tu=http:%2F%2Fts3.mm.bing.net%2Fth%3Fid%3DI.4952664965120786%26pid%3D15.1%26W%3D160%26H%3D105&rl=NONE&u=http:%2F%2Fwww.benbowfamily.com%2Fshowmedia.php%3FmediaID%3D435%26medialinkID%3D605&udata=d98ca16937714f81185a257cddcc9e19&rid=LHLNPNPTQQNL&oiu=http:%2F%2Fwww.benbowfamily.com%2Fphotos%2FAldenHouse.jpg


16 posted on 11/22/2012 7:15:05 AM PST by virgil283 ( "I Tawt I Taw A Proletariat.....I did I did...)
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To: OKSooner

I suspect that you are correct. I will point out, however, that rifling had been experimented with as early as the mid 15th century. Odds are good though that John Alden’s weapon was not a rifle.


17 posted on 11/22/2012 7:22:21 AM PST by ClearCase_guy (Global Warming is a religion, and I don't want to be taxed to pay for a faith that is not mine.)
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To: OKSooner
As someone has already pointed out on this thread, rifling hadn't been invented yet, and any competent gun writer oughta know that.

Excuse me but rifling had been invented at that time, actually, even earlier. It was not used often as rifles were difficult to load fast after being fired a couple times due to black powder residue build up in the barrel and were also expensive, therefore smooth bores, or muskets, were normally purchased.

18 posted on 11/22/2012 7:22:32 AM PST by calex59
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To: OKSooner
To amplify my last comment to you I submit this line from an article on the history of rifling

Barrel rifling was invented in Augsburg, Germany at the end of the fifteenth century.[5] In 1520 August Kotter, an armourer of Nuremberg, Germany improved upon this work. Though true rifling dates from the mid-16th century, it did not become commonplace until the nineteenth century due to loading difficulties and cost of manufacture.

19 posted on 11/22/2012 7:27:06 AM PST by calex59
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To: marktwain

Most likely this intelligent young man realized that where he was going money was worthless and a fine weapon was priceless. He likely spent every penny he had to buy the best weapon available. Good call.


20 posted on 11/22/2012 7:31:36 AM PST by jdsteel (Give me freedom, not more government.)
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To: yefragetuwrabrumuy
Barrel rifling was invented in Augsburg, Germany at the end of the fifteenth century.[5] In 1520 August Kotter, an armourer of Nuremberg, Germany improved upon this work. Though true rifling dates from the mid-16th century, it did not become commonplace until the nineteenth century.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rifling

21 posted on 11/22/2012 7:37:46 AM PST by Ditto
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To: ClearCase_guy

When you are 50 cal, you don’t need to be rifled.
You just need to be close.

And brave!

Actually, the American Rifleman’s video “Ten Guns that Changed the World” didn’t mention this one.
But it did mention the Kentucky Flintlock.


22 posted on 11/22/2012 7:39:25 AM PST by djf (Conservative values help the poor. Liberal values help them STAY poor!!!)
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To: OKSooner
Sounds to me like it is. Someone at guns.com is assuming a bit too much, as in maybe some of the bore has been worn out and he's assuming there's not any rifling left because of the wear.

This wheel-lock is in the NRA Museum. Its exhibit description says that "almost all traces of rifling have been worn away". Sounds like a very early rifled barrel to me. If anyone is near the museum, it's open today. Go ask!

23 posted on 11/22/2012 7:41:27 AM PST by Charles Martel (Endeavor to persevere...)
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To: marktwain
This article was of particular interest since my wife is an Alden descendant.
24 posted on 11/22/2012 7:42:35 AM PST by reg45 (Barack 0bama: Implementing class warfare by having no class.)
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To: marktwain

An early assault rifle.


25 posted on 11/22/2012 7:43:06 AM PST by lurk
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To: OKSooner; ClearCase_guy
As someone has already pointed out on this thread, rifling hadn't been invented yet, and any competent gun writer oughta know that.

No. Actaully most of the major developments: spring loaded matchlocks, the wheellock, striking locks, and rifling all date to the same period around or just after 1500.

But because military use was volley fire at the time, only the first and cheapest became normal infantry equipment.

Because of the additional advantages the wheellock gave to cavalry - and that fact that they were already more expensive and the relative cost increase was less, horse soldiers were carrying multiple wheellock pistols from 1520. But because their use was short range, rifling was not required.

That leaves the more expensive hunting arms, and there is no reason that a civilian wheelock rifle would not be available in 1620.

26 posted on 11/22/2012 7:50:45 AM PST by Oztrich Boy (To the living we owe respect, but to the dead we owe only the truth" - Voltaire)
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To: marktwain
Not diectly connected to guns, but of historical interest since it involves the gun owner John Alden.

from mayflowerhistory.com-
Priscilla Mullins was born probably in Dorking, Surrey, England, to William and Alice Mullins. She, her parents, and her brother Joseph all came on the Mayflower to Plymouth in 1620. Her entire family, herself excepted, died the first winter. She was shortly thereafter, in 1622 or 1623, married to John Alden, the Mayflower's cooper, who had decided to remain at Plymouth rather than return to England with the ship. John and Priscilla lived in Plymouth until the late 1630s, when they helped found the neighboring town of Duxbury. John and Priscilla would go on to have ten or eleven children, and have an enormous number of descendants, including poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams, and Vice President Dan Quayle.

27 posted on 11/22/2012 8:05:16 AM PST by Capt. Tom
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To: Sherman Logan; All
So is it a musket or a rifle?

The article makes the case that it was originaly a rifle, but when the rifling wore away, it became a musket. I have seen bores that were orginally rifled that only have faint traces of rifling remaining, so it is possible, I suppose.

Barrel rifling was invented in Augsburg, Germany at the end of the fifteenth century.[5] In 1520 August Kotter, an armourer of Nuremberg, Germany improved upon this work. Though true rifling dates from the mid-16th century, it did not become commonplace until the nineteenth century. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rifling

28 posted on 11/22/2012 8:09:17 AM PST by marktwain
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To: lurk
"An early assault rifle."

I really hate TV and rarely watch anything. But I do remember about 15 years ago there as a pathetic show called "sportsnight". In one episode some member of the TV crew found a revolutionary war musket in the attic and wanted to turn it into the authorities for destruction, as all guns, new or old, are EVIL!!!!!!!!

29 posted on 11/22/2012 8:47:30 AM PST by Lockbar (Quality factory loaded ammunition ---- The New Gold)
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To: yefragetuwrabrumuy

**** Effectively, they have only existed since the middle of the 19th Century, but were a major breakthrough.***

I have a book THE AGE OF FIREARMS by Heald which shows rifles were used as far back as the 1500s. They were super accurate back then but not good for the military as they were too slow to load.

Rifles were rejected by George Washington as they were too slow to load and could not be fitted with a bayonet. Only certain riflemen used them, but not the main body of troops.


30 posted on 11/22/2012 8:48:56 AM PST by Ruy Dias de Bivar (The parasites now outnumber the producers.)
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To: marktwain

America founded by religious nuts with guns -— Bless ‘em.


31 posted on 11/22/2012 9:10:58 AM PST by Mike Darancette (I don't understand why the Boomers are so passive.)
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To: OKSooner
***As someone has already pointed out on this thread, rifling hadn't been invented yet, and any competent gun writer oughta know that. ***

The book THE AGE OF FIREARMS by HELD disproves this. I am right now looking at a photo in the book of ...

“Fig 101.Wheellock RIFLE of the Tshinke type developed in the north German provinces between circa 1585and 1610.”

On page 64 is another wheelock RIFLE made between 1610 and 1632.

At that time Guns were considered to have a devil ride the bullet as you could hear the devil scream when the bullet went past you, and the woulds were exceedingly deadly.

Rifling was in use as far back as the 1520. Accuracy was so good that the Necromancer Moretius (Herman Moritz) said the spinning of the ball caused the devil to be thrown off.

Everyone who talks guns should have a copy of THE AGE OF FIREARMS by Robert Held. It is chock full of interesting tidbits of gun lore.

32 posted on 11/22/2012 9:11:34 AM PST by Ruy Dias de Bivar (The parasites now outnumber the producers.)
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To: Ruy Dias de Bivar

Well cool. You learn something every day.


33 posted on 11/22/2012 1:15:47 PM PST by OKSooner
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To: Ruy Dias de Bivar

Well cool. You learn something every day.


34 posted on 11/22/2012 1:16:04 PM PST by OKSooner
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To: marktwain

Bookmark.


35 posted on 11/22/2012 5:46:35 PM PST by OldPossum
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To: handy old one

ping


36 posted on 11/22/2012 6:12:06 PM PST by Hegemony Cricket (The emperor < still > has no pedigree.)
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