The Story of "The Mayflower Gun" -- A Wheellock

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Old No7
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The Story of "The Mayflower Gun" -- A Wheellock

#1 Post by Old No7 » Sun Jan 06, 2019 8:45 am

Here's some neat information about a fascinating old New England/American firearm -- which first started in Italy, then made its way over to England, and the rest as they say -- is history.

This .50-caliber wheellock musket is thought to be the only surviving firearm among those that crossed the Atlantic with the Pilgrims. It has been traced back to John Alden, traditionally the first Pilgrim to step ashore at Plymouth. Preservationists discovered it in 1924.

Enjoy! :wink:

Old No7

The Mayflower Gun

Images of "The Mayflower Gun" at the NRA Museum (click for link)

( Click on image to enlarge )
Mayflower Wheellock.jpeg

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. He 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. 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.
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fordwannabe
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Re: The Story of "The Mayflower Gun" -- A Wheellock

#2 Post by fordwannabe » Sun Jan 06, 2019 9:23 am

I have seen this gun at the NRA museum. Oh I wish she could talk. If any of you get a chance it should be a DESTINATION. I got to see the actual Gatling gun JW Used in Rooster Cogburn too.
a Pennsylvanian who has been accused of clinging to my religion and my guns......Good assessment skills.

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Re: The Story of "The Mayflower Gun" -- A Wheellock

#3 Post by Pete44ru » Sun Jan 06, 2019 11:20 am

.

Cool - Thanks for posting about it. :)

.
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MORTAL PERIL INVADES THY THOUGHT,
TAKE UP THIS TRVSTY PIECE,
TRVST IN THY GOD, AND FEAR THEE NAUGHT.

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Bill in Oregon
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Re: The Story of "The Mayflower Gun" -- A Wheellock

#4 Post by Bill in Oregon » Sun Jan 06, 2019 11:21 am

Having a bunch of Mayflower connections, I wanted to recreate this gun, and even bought a wheellock from a gifted Polish gunsmith. Mike Brooks was going to do the build for me, but the whole project got too expensive and I gave it up.
What really griped my um, cheeks, was that the NRA curators would not give me the exact measurements of the gun, preferring to keep those data proprietary.

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Re: The Story of "The Mayflower Gun" -- A Wheellock

#5 Post by marlinman93 » Sun Jan 06, 2019 11:43 am

Neat gun, and amazing it has survived all these years!

Wheellocks are complicated guns, and I can see how building a modern replica could become very expensive if you had to pay a good gunsmith his time to assemble one. The Rifle Shoppe sells casting kits reasonably, but they're way above my skill level to fit and finish!

http://therifleshoppe.com/catalog_pages ... /(786).htm
Pre WWI Marlins and Singleshot rifles!
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Re: The Story of "The Mayflower Gun" -- A Wheellock

#6 Post by AJMD429 » Sun Jan 06, 2019 12:03 pm

Thanks for sharing that....I learned some things...!
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Re: The Story of "The Mayflower Gun" -- A Wheellock

#7 Post by Ysabel Kid » Sun Jan 06, 2019 6:45 pm

At some point, after the kids are off the payroll, I need to get myself a wheel lock for the collection. Just one, a modern working reproduction would be fine. I want to shoot it! :D
Image

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Re: The Story of "The Mayflower Gun" -- A Wheellock

#8 Post by Old No7 » Sun Jan 06, 2019 7:53 pm

Ysabel Kid wrote:
Sun Jan 06, 2019 6:45 pm
At some point, after the kids are off the payroll, I need to get myself a wheel lock for the collection. Just one, a modern working reproduction would be fine. I want to shoot it! :D
Why WAIT Jay ? ? ?

$59 on Amazon for a "wheel lock"....

You'll need to spell it right to get what you really want! :wink:

Old No7

Wheel Lock.jpg
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Re: The Story of "The Mayflower Gun" -- A Wheellock

#9 Post by Nath » Tue Jan 08, 2019 3:03 am

:lol: :lol: :lol:

So let's get this straight.
The first gun to settle and make North America it's home was an Italian made piece!
That could rub some up the wrong way.

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Re: The Story of "The Mayflower Gun" -- A Wheellock

#10 Post by guido4198 » Tue Jan 08, 2019 5:47 am

Thanks for sharing that. I was unaware that any firearm with a documented provenance to the Mayflower existed.
I'm disappointed to read Bill in Oregon's comment that the NRA curators felt the need to keep anything about this weapon "proprietary"...WTF..?????
Is there more to that story..??

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Re: The Story of "The Mayflower Gun" -- A Wheellock

#11 Post by Old No7 » Tue Jan 08, 2019 6:21 am

guido4198 wrote:
Tue Jan 08, 2019 5:47 am
I'm disappointed to read Bill in Oregon's comment that the NRA curators felt the need to keep anything about this weapon "proprietary"...WTF..?????
My guess is that in their attempt to share "too much info" -- to prevent folks from creating many "fakes" of 1600's-era wheellocks -- they shared "nothing" at all.

But I'd also say that with the excellent images of it that are posted online at the NRA website, with some enlarged photos, a ruler and calipers, and a calculator, I'd bet one could pretty well determine all the critical measurements needed to duplicate it, even without handling it.

Making the wheellock mechanism though -- we'll need our friend Pitchy for that! :wink:

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Bill in Oregon
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Re: The Story of "The Mayflower Gun" -- A Wheellock

#12 Post by Bill in Oregon » Tue Jan 08, 2019 9:39 am

Guido, I kind of got into it with the NRA staff over this, and they ended up saying they did not want precise measurement information getting out in case they decide in the future to license reproductions.
There is no evidence the Alden gun was actually aboard the Mayflower on that first voyage; the only provable connection is that a person who was a passenger on the Mayflower at some point owned this gun in Plimoth Colony.
Daryl, sorry to rain on your thread. The Alden wheellock is still a wonderful piece of our early history.

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Re: The Story of "The Mayflower Gun" -- A Wheellock

#13 Post by hfcable » Tue Jan 08, 2019 2:24 pm

marlinman93 wrote:
Sun Jan 06, 2019 11:43 am
Neat gun, and amazing it has survived all these years!

Wheellocks are complicated guns, and I can see how building a modern replica could become very expensive if you had to pay a good gunsmith his time to assemble one. The Rifle Shoppe sells casting kits reasonably, but they're way above my skill level to fit and finish!

http://therifleshoppe.com/catalog_pages ... /(786).htm
I have a bench made copy of that original, made by leonard day, with castings etc from the original. he was making a copy for one of board members of the museum, and with his permission, I got mr day to make one for me as well. I had him make both a smooth bore barrel and a rifled barrel [ they are easily interchanged with little more than a single screw to switch them out ]

at that time the gun was the property of a museum in massachusetts and maybe still is, I don't know

I have shot it and hope to take a wild turkey with it one day soon [ down in Montana] the action has a super fast ignition ... mine is a .62 [ 20 gauge ] bore, [ and I thought the original was as well. ]
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Re: The Story of "The Mayflower Gun" -- A Wheellock

#14 Post by EdinCT » Tue Jan 08, 2019 9:22 pm

I have seen the gun when I was young at Plymouth and at the NRA museum. I can prove I am of the 10th generation from Mr. Alden maybe I could lay claim to it???
Didn't Think so but it would be nice!

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Re: The Story of "The Mayflower Gun" -- A Wheellock

#15 Post by Ysabel Kid » Tue Jan 08, 2019 9:52 pm

Old No7 wrote:
Sun Jan 06, 2019 7:53 pm
Ysabel Kid wrote:
Sun Jan 06, 2019 6:45 pm
At some point, after the kids are off the payroll, I need to get myself a wheel lock for the collection. Just one, a modern working reproduction would be fine. I want to shoot it! :D
Why WAIT Jay ? ? ?

$59 on Amazon for a "wheel lock"....

You'll need to spell it right to get what you really want! :wink:

Old No7


Wheel Lock.jpg
:lol: :lol: :lol:
Image

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Re: The Story of "The Mayflower Gun" -- A Wheellock

#16 Post by guido4198 » Thu Jan 10, 2019 7:08 am

Thank you for the clarification Bill.

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