ANSWERS: 2
  • The original settlers had at least 3 canons, which they unloaded from the ship almost immediately, but nobody seems to know exactly how big they were. In the early years the number of cannons was sometimes more and sometimes less as they were loaded and unloaded from ships arriving and departing. Cannon(s) were used at least once early on to frighten off Indians who may or may not have been contemplating attack. Most of the personal firearms would have been muzzle loading matchlock muskets, possibly some wheelocks, and later, some years after 1610, flintlocks. There probably weren't many, if any, handguns until much later. The records reveal negotiations with the Indians for trading for guns and trying to reclaim stolen guns. Muskets look like what we usually call rifles but the inside of the barrel is smooth. The muskets of the time had about the same range if not the accuracy of the rifles, which isn't saying much considering the rifles back then, which were much harder to make and load anyway. Jamestown was a private colony and the settlers were hired employees, the Company was to provide some firearms and at the time that would have meant matchlocks. Since there were complaints about the equipment provided by the company those matchlocks were probably older ones bought as cheaply as possible. Some of the officers of the company might have owned better weapons. The wheel-lock was also available at the time, but they were expensive so if there were any they would have been personally owned. The flintlock was invented in 1610 and they would have started arriving later. The muskets, especially until after mid-century, were heavy and clumsy. The barrels were much thicker than later, when better steels and techniques produced a stronger barrel. The barrel was just bigger to because the early muskets fired a larger ball than later, sometimes as large as an inch in diameter. To support the weight of the barrel and also as extra protection from it exploding, the stocks were massive blocks of wood extending from the muzzle to the butt. It was impossible to hold and aim such a heavy weapon free hand so the barrel of the gun was supported in a U shaped bracket on the end of a stick or pole. There were probably not any hand guns or 'pistols' since the guns were so heavy. You can imagine trying to handle musket, support, powder horn, ammunition pouch, the ball (bullet), priming powder, and ram rod while trying to reload, especially while under attack. And trying to do all that while also trying to control a flaming match (a sort of fuse) and keep it away from the powder. The end of the support usually had a metal spike not only to keep it planted in the ground but in an emergency it could be used as a spear, sometimes the ends of the U were spiked too. In fact in some more military situations there were two men for each matchlock. One was the actual musketeer, the other carried the ammo and tried to control the match while reloading. Failing an assistant musketeers would try to team up so one could help while the other reloaded. But that meant that there was a period when neither could fire. It turned out that if they were organized into trios, you could have one firing, one reloading, and one assisting and just rotate the positions. The men in a trio relied on each other and often became quite close friends. (As Dumas well knew. But that was in France and Jamestown is in Virginia and Dumas is in Texas.) The match lock was loaded similarly to any muzzle loader, which you might be familiar with from civil war movies and such. The powder charge was set off by a match or a length of slow burning fuse. A new match could be 12 feet or longer and was looped around the stock, over the shoulder, around the neck, around the support or anywhere it could be placed. The glowing end of the match was held in a swiveling bracket called a serpentine from its shape. There was no 'trigger' as we would know it, the other end of the serpentine was just lengthened and bent back to act as a lever, after blowing on the end of the match to make sure it was hot enough, the lever was pulled, bringing the match to the priming powder and after a short wait the gun went off. In addition to all that rigmarole of loading a musketeer had to "mind his match" make sure it didn't go out or burn back into the serpentine where it was useless even if it didn't go out. Nowadays we have "Ready, Aim, Fire!" back then there were as many as 30 steps between ready and fire. The wheel lock was one of the earliest attempts to get rid of that match. That was a mechanism that had a main spring like a watch. The spring was wound up with a key or small crank, when the trigger was pulled, and now we finally get a real trigger, the spring unwound spinning a steel wheel with some notches on its rim against a piece of pyrite or "flint" creating sparks which hopefully set off the primer and then the charge. It was safer and more reliable but actually added some weight to the gun. In addition there was a new step , "Ready, WIND, Aim, Fire" Whirrrrr, fizzz, Boom. ( For safety's sake one should never wind B4 load. And Mind the Key, lose that or overwind and bust the spring and it was time for a 'tactical withdrawal.") The flintlock was invented in 1610, and became immediately popular, it was so successful it was used well into the 19th century. (The snaphaunce was a slightly earlier form of the flintlock developed in Germany. The Company had hired some woodcutters from Prussia and could have obtained some snaphaunces, but that is just speculation on my part.) Instead of moving the steel against the flint, a simple spring strikes the flint against steel at the priming pan. Instead of winding a spring the spring is tensioned and locked by pulling back on the flint holder or cocking the weapon. The flintlock was more reliable, much simpler and lighter than the wheel lock. Progress had also been made in steel and barrel making and the muskets became much lighter, easier to handle and cheaper. Now hand guns would have been more common as well as lighter smaller caliber muskets. A few actual rifles may have been used in Jamestown and certainly fowling pieces or 'shot guns.' A fowling piece fires several smaller pieces of shot instead of one big ball and the barrel can be thinner and lighter and more importantly cheaper. Later some colonies required settlers to own at least a fowling piece. The fowling piece had even worse accuracy than a musket, but since it also had a shorter range and spread the shot, accuracy wasn't as important. By loading with larger shot the fowling piece was effective as a "manning piece." Or perhaps unmanning piece. You may have seen blunderbusses with there bell shaped muzzles, especially in pictures of Pilgrim Thanksgiving. The turkey and corn have been provided by the friendly Indians, but the Pilgrims keep the blunderbuss close at hand. Actually the blunder buss wasn't all that common, especially on land. Some people think the blunderbuss was loaded with lose shot or even nails and scrap and the purpose of the bell was to spread it all out like a super shot gun but that wasn't it at all. First the bell wasn't really as big as usually depicted. The purpose of the bell was to act as a funnel when loading, especially on the pitching deck of a ship, on horse back, or on a coach or carriage, and it was usually loaded with a ball or sometimes a few smaller balls. Nobody would take the chance of damaging an expensive barrel (or himself) with scrap iron unless he was desperate. The belled muzzle lasted quite a while especially on hand guns. If there were any blunderbusses on the ships that brought the colonists they would certainly have been carried after landing but they probably weren't issued as standard. That's all I know about Guns and Jamestown, and did I hear someone say "Tha's ENUFFF!" [The following has absolutely nuffin to do with guns at Jamestown. There are a few of things I learned while roaming the websites about Jamestown and/or guns. They're OffTopic, but that never stopped me B4.] Most of us are familiar with the story of John Smith and Pochahontas, and how the noble Capt. Smith had to return to England cause he tried to get the colonists to treat the Indians fairly. You could blame the Disneyization of history for that story, but not before blaming the Smithization and other zations of history. Actually on the voyage over Smith was convicted of mutiny and scheduled to be hanged. Upon landing, the sealed envelope of secret orders was opened, and it turns out, unbeknownst to anybody, Smith is named by the London Company as one of the "councelors." About a year later Smith leads an expedition against the Indians, it goes badly for the English, every one but Smith and his faithful Indian Guide are killed. Smith grabs the poor man and straps him in front of himself as a living shield, well 'living' until he actually acts as a shield. Now we get into some Smithization, according to Capt. John, he bribes the leader of the Indians with his pocket compass. Indians being notorious for getting lost in the woods, Opchanacanough is so impressed he decides to spare Smith and instead take him to his brother-in-law, Chief Powhatan. Powhatan (whose real name was Wahunsunacock) is not impressed by the spinning magnet at all and decides to bash John's head in. But, according to Smith, the chief's beautiful young daughter has, in that brief time, fallen madly in love with him and throws her svelte young self over his head begging for his life. And her father agrees and sets him free. Historians have debated about that for years. Some doubt that it happened, Smiths writings about his life are fantastic, in the true sense of the word, and the daughter, actually named Matoaka, was 12 or possibly 13 at the time. But it might have happened, Matty had a nickname, Pocahontas, which means "little wanton one." Now, agin according to Smith, out of gratitude he tries to get the colonists and the Indians to reach an understanding, "Can't we all just get along?" But instead the colonist treat the Indians treacherously and begin a series of attacks and a war. When Smith tries to intercede he is unceremoniously shipped back to England. Maybe if there had been a few more "wanton ones" things would have been different. The real cause of Smith's return is almost on topic. Remember all that about reloading matchlocks and worrying about the lit match? It seems that the Capt. was out one day and injured himself in an accident involving his powder pouch. We don't know what part of Smith's self got injured, but since the pouch was often carried hanging down below the waist from a belt, the injury may have caused Pochohantas to lose all interest in him. Pocahontas's life would be tied to the English, but she is not tied to Smith's, except in his report in his books. In fact she visits the colony often and plays with the children there, acts as a negotiator in various disputes and trading sessions, and is instrumental in saving the colony from extinction by supplying it with food. Then the colonist kidnap her, hold her hostage, (starting another war) Baptize her, marry her off to one John Rolffe (tho she has been married to Kocoum for 2 years, but the marriage ends the war) and then ship her off to England as a marketing ploy to convince people that the savages could be "tamed." The plan was a great success, not only Jamestown but other colonies begin to prosper. Rebecca Rolfe, nee Matoaka, died shortly after in England. It is interesting to note that Capt. Smiths books were not published until after her death.
  • Muskets

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