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Status of firearms in the 18th and 19th century

As in England the hunting in America was restricted but less as in England. In 1701 the meanest Planter or Labourer could enjoy hunting. But the settlers devoted litte or no time to hunting. The most of their time they worked on their land.

Travelling in America among and with many Indians were mostly friendly.

There was so less guns and amunition at that time that a British writher sugested his readers to bring their own arms and amunition with them to America.

Account books of merchants of that time demontrate that the most carried little gun powder and shot. And almost non had guns for sale.

Outside of the few cities, there existed always the danger of seeing the gunpowder rot, as it hat a short shelf life. Very few peoples appeared in their books as regular purchasers of powder. Most of them baught one or two ounces every six months. Therefore it can be asumed that they may have trapped animals.

In 1707 the Cherokee traded a gun against thirty-five deerskins

Historians have found that about 95% ot the polulation of colonial America famred. The remainig 5% were mostly urban srtisans.

To get a fireamr the simpliest way was to enter in the militia. To purche one wase much more difficult and expensive. A flintlock cost between 4 and 5 and that in an age when the average wage for a worker was 18 a year and when 3 a month was consideres as very good income. In additional, the American colonies were cash poor and most merchants insisted on payment in cas for firearms. Almost every singel wirearm had to cross the Atlantic. There were only a handful of gunsmiths in America in its first century and a half of settlement. Most of them were devoted to repairing other forms of metal work. They were more smiths than gunsmiths. In fact most labled as blachsmiths. Firearms were mostly imported.

The few guns made in America were mostly assembled from parts purchased in Europe. It was extremely rare to find a gunmaker who made the whole gun himself. Generally three or four worked together on the item. The skill to make the key parts of a gun or the necessary tools was not developed in America until the Revolution. So finding someone to repair a gun required a major effort. For instance, Thomas Archcraft was the single gunsmith in South Carolina's first quater century of European settlement.

Every study of early American gunmakers reveals a surprisingly low numer of them. There were a few German gunsmiths who imigrated to Penssylvania and continued in the trade over many decades. The only exception was Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. No other area could boast even half as many gunsmiths.

For exemple Virginia. In the records were found three, possibly four gunsmiths in the years from 1607 to 1676 with two additional artisans who performed the task of gunsmiths. From 1676 to 1739 there were seven gunsmiths and again seven, possibly eigt artisans working on guns. From 1740 to 1770 there were again seven gunsmiths but seventeen artisans working on guns (population in 1770 showed 259000 white).These eighteen gunsmith in Virginia's first 150 years had as major task to cleaning guns, seeing by the government as a task requiring the services of a professional.

New York reported two gunsmiths from 1726 to 1776. Others professions as jewelers of watchmakers egaly proposed to repair guns.

Boston reported only four gunsmith from 1704 to 1775. Two of them were importers and a third had not a shop.

Philadelphia's newspapers did not reveal any gunsmith during the colonial period.

Contrary to Europe where each gun was rigorously examined, anyone in America could claim to be a gunsmith and every gun which could find a customer could be sold. Thus, every Amercian gun was different and there was no standardization. But even so there was low interest in becoming gunsmiths in America. Most of the gunsmiths comming to America found it more profitable to enter other lines of activity. To persuade gunmakers to continue their business for exempel in 1633 Virginia ordered tha gunsmiths "be compelled to worke at theire trade and be not suffered to plant tobacco or corne or doe any other worke in the ground". In 1662 exemted smiths from paying taxes if they followed their trade. But no sucess. In 1672 Virginia's legislature fined any smith who failed to "lay aside all other worke" and devote himself to the repair of firearms. This was repeated twenty year later. In 1705 the assembly granted all militia officers the authority to "impress any smith.. or ohter artificer, whatoever, which shall be thought useful for the fixing of arms."

It appears that there was nut sufficient market for the services of gunsmiths in colonial America.Therefore they had to get their income elsewere. Gun ownership was far less widespread that is generally assumed. Exloring inventories and wills which do exist gun ownership range from 7% in Marylond to 48% in Providence, Rhode Island. Apparently gun ownership was not linked to frontier but to prosperity. From 1765 to 1790 only 14% of households inventories included guns and more than half of these were inoperable.

In Providence 186 inventories from 1680 to 1730 minety mentioned any form of gun, pistol of gun barell. Half of them were evaluated as old of of poor quality. Fifty-one of these ninety man owned one gun, twenty-five had two, nine had three, three had four and two owned five guns.

At the end of the 17th century, Maryland reported 20 muskets, 38 carbines, 16 bayonets, 16 swords, 56 fuses, 16 horse pistols and 78 barrels of powder accumulated over the previous 25 years but never used. Some years before the Revolution they had 200 muskets, 86 carbines and six pistols in usable condiditon. Another 400 muskets were very rusty or not worth repairing. Contrary to the popular perception which imagines all settlers as hunters as well as farmers, the vast majorty of them had no use for firearms, which were costly, difficult to lacate and maintain and expensive to use. For whose few Amercins who did won a gun it was an ofject which sat gathering rust.

Of course, this is no proof that there were really so few gunsmiths in the Colonial America but records are rare. Non the less gunsmithing in those days was discouraged by simple economics and the limited availability of raw materials. Allmost all of the firearms were imported from Great Britain, the Netherlands or from France. German settlers braught their guns which them and those guided to the famous Pennsylvania or Kentucky rifles.