Our next task in documenting Lesley is to document several related items. Each of us was given an object to study for the rest of the semester; I was assigned a firearm. However, despite my knowledge of historic firearms, this one immediately threw me off. Given the time period we are dealing with, I expected the gun to be a percussion lock or possibly a flintlock. However, I was immediately confounded by the absence of any obvious lock. A closer inspection and description was my next step anyway, but now it was made extra intriguing.
Temporarily setting aside my curiosity about the lock, I began by taking some measurements. The most important measurements for firearms are caliber (the inside diameter of the barrel) and barrel length. However, this gun has sustained a lot of damage, and the end of the barrel had been broken off, so my measurement for barrel length is probably inaccurate and not helpful. However, what I could measure was 45.5". The way the barrel broke also made it difficult to get a measurement for caliber. Normally I would prefer using a caliper to take that measurement, but all I had was a ruler, so I made do. I measured 15/16", which is about .94 caliber. I also measured an overall length of 66". I also noted the materials: iron barrel and barrel bands, wooden stock. I also noted the matchlock styling influences on the stock and the rear sight. I also picked the weapon up and found it to be significantly heavier than most others, and extremely unbalanced. Clearly, it was not meant to be highly mobile or for field use. The Hudson Valley fowlers I had experience with were over 6' long and heavy, true, but they were balanced and much easier to carry, even if not very maneuverable. I tried getting into firing position with it, but it was far too unbalanced to hold steady, the stock was too long, and the recoil would be too much to handle. Obviously whoever used this fired from a rest or support of some kind. Next, I moved on to the firing mechanism.
On early European and American firearms, the lock, stock, and barrel were typically made separately, sometimes by different gunsmiths, and then assembled later (with some exceptions such as boxlock pistols). This means the lock was removable and usually attached on the right side by screws going through the stock to the sideplate on the left side. This obviously wasn't the case with this gun. Before I took a closer look, I first thought this might be a more modern weapon, like a modern shotgun which opens at the breech and has an internal action (approximately the modern term for lock). However, upon taking a closer look, the gun unmistakably had a matchlock of a type I hadn't seen before. Matchlocks were the earliest and simplest of all the locks, holding a lit slowmatch which, when you press the trigger, descends to light the powder that will fire the gun. They were both unreliable and dangerous. The trigger on this gun had no trigger guard and was operated by pulling up on it, as is typical for most matchlocks. However, instead of the lock being attached to the outside, it is integrated into the stock. As best I could tell without taking it apart, the trigger is simply connected to a bar that is connected to the serpentine (the part which holds the match) so when you depress the trigger the serpentine and match go down and ignite the powder. While this was the visual evidence confronting my eyes, it still didn't make any sense why someone would be using a matchlock for market hunting in the 1800s, so I kept doubting myself and my conclusions so far.
I went next to the museum's records on the firearm to see what they had to say. The record states the weapon is a punt gun, donated to the museum by Theodore Newbold in 1984. The record also listed a model of a punt gun in use on a small boat, as well as a photo of the boat and gun in use. This described punt guns as having a 2" bore (2.0 caliber), while the object in front of me wasn't even half that caliber. There was also a short description in some appraisal documents, listing the gun as an early wood and iron duck hunter's gun from the first half of the 19th century with an unusually short overall length of 65". The appraiser's qualifications were listed as a specialty in Chinese and oriental art. Beside this was a printed Wikipedia article on percussion locks. All of this was starting to make less and less sense; why would there be an article about percussion locks in the record for a matchlock? Why would the gun be so unusually short, and with a much smaller caliber than expected? Why would anyone be using a matchlock to hunt ducks in the 1800s? I began to think this matchlock might be an early punt gun, and not the 1800s 2 caliber 7' (or longer) percussion lock punt gun I was seeing described by the record. I also considered the gun might have been passed down from hunter to hunter. It gave me a lot to think about after class.
So much that I couldn't help but to do some research on punt guns. And what I found is beginning to make me doubt it's a punt gun at all....