Saturday, 14 May 2011

Smoothbore Fowlers in the New World.

the farmer’s American made fowling-piece, which he
depended on to provide game for his family and to fend off
marauding Indians. The first examples were assembled out of
foreign parts and stocked with whatever wood was available.
By the end of the eighteenth century, facilities for producing
iron and steel as well as the capabilities of American gunsmiths
to craft an entire firearm, had been developed.
However it remained far more cost and time-efficient in making
guns to use recycled parts or purchase new parts from
Europe. Fowlers produced in the eighteenth century constitute
the first guns made in America; the study of how they
were made and used is a significant part of our history.
Farmers in the agricultural eighteenth century often
had to rely on their American built fowlers and the great
number of arms in use is obvious because the majority of
the people were living on farms. Only five percent of the
people in America in 1750 lived in cities, none of which
exceeded sixteen thousand.(1) Immigrants sought land,
creating a pattern of settlement throughout the colonies of
rural farmsteads. The exception to this style of expansion
was found in the south where large plantations were created
to grow sugarcane and rice. In the north the pattern of
individual farmsteads spreading out over the countryside
and advancing in a westerly direction provided a great
demand for fowlers for hunting and defense. The wide
extent of gun ownership in America in the mid-1700s is
reflected in a statement by the Governor of Virginia, Sir
Jeffery Amherst, who wrote in 1759, “Most people in North
America have arms of their own”.(2)

These individually crafted fowlers varied in
construction from plain to elaborate, rarely equaling the
workmanship of their European counterparts, yet today are
greatly prized for their historical interest and sometimes for
their folk art appearance. Fowlers from five different regions
in America are identified in this talk and serve to illustrate an
important style of firearms from our colonial past.
In America during the eighteenth century, the
fabrication of firearms developed dramatically. Early in the century
there were few gunsmiths and the majority of the
weapons were imported from overseas, but by the end of the
1700s the number of craftsmen increased and their
capabilities grew to the extent that complete guns were being
fashioned.(3) Scarce examples from the late 1600s and early
1700s show that arms-making in America at that time
consisted mainly of assembling old or salvaged parts. Only by
the late eighteenth century did materials become available and
the expertise of gunsmiths increase enough to enable them to
fabricate a gun in its entirety. Even late in the century though,
gunsmiths found it quicker and less expensive to purchase gun
parts from Europe instead of making their own. Exceptions
exist, as shown by the guns made by members of the Hills family
in Goshen, Connecticut. They sometimes manufactured all
their own parts, including the lock and the barrel.
The population of Colonial America increased from
250,000 people, mostly along the Atlantic Seaboard, at the start
of the eighteenth century, to 5,000,000 inhabitants by the end
of the century.(4) This rapid explosion of settlers moving
westward created a great demand for weapons, and Europeanstyle
fowlers, with long barrels and flintlocks, were copied to
fill the need. These guns constituted a civilian arm, the
counterpart of today’s shotgun, and although designed for
hunting they were often pressed into military use. By
comparison, the musket made for war consisted of a sturdy
stock and a heavy barrel fitted for a bayonet, built to withstand
the rigors of combat.
The distinction between fowlers and muskets in the
eighteenth century was not always obvious. Those
manufactured from existing parts shared a common
appearance often combining aspects of both fowler and
musket. In times of Indian raids or war the family
fowling-piece served the need for a fighting gun.

Eighteenth Century American Fowlers—The First Guns Made In America

Tom Grinslade


Gorges Smythe said...

A lot of good reading here, especially when you include the links!

Le Loup said...

Hi Gorges. Yes, Jenny from "Call To Wings" had some questions on the subject, so I thought this might be useful to her & others.