GaspeeVirtual Archives
Was the weapon that Joseph Bucklin fired a long musket or a pistol?
The  result of an e-mail roundtable discussion, March 2001 with:
Dr. John Concannon, webmaster, Gaspee Virtual Archives
Leonard Bucklin, Esq., webmaster, Joseph Bucklin Society and
Earl Salisbury, SAR, descendant and historical portrayer of Gaspee raider, Nathan Salisbury


Speaking of historical facts and accounts, do we have any verification that Joseph Bucklin fired a rifle musket and not a pistol musket?  I've read that rifles were not very popular on and around ships because they were difficult to move about.

We all are aware of the difficulty of using a rifle musket on a small crowded boat, but even more important is the danger. Flash guards were not yet invented at the time of the Gaspe. When a ball accelerates to 2000 fps. a three foot flame goes to the right of the shooter hitting anyone nearby. The pistol could be held out over the gunnel thus avoiding inflicting injury on the rest of the crew. This type of injury was common among foot soldiers and called a "tattoo" typically showing along the beard line of the unfortunate standing next to the shooter.  Consequently almost anyone working around boats or docks would not be using a rifle. Because of the popularity and protection of musket pistols I think it is very unlikely that Mr. Bucklin used anything but a pistol.

As to whether Bucklin's shot was from a rifle or pistol musket...I will defer the opinion to Leonard Bucklin. Ephraim Bowen's account is the most often quoted .... states that "I took my father's gun and my powderhorn and bullets and went to Mr. Sabin's and found the southeast room full of people where I loaded my gun" ..... During the actual raid Bowen quotes Joe Bucklin as saying, "Eph, reach me your gun, and I can kill that fellow."  Pistols would have had limited range and lousy accuracy, but on the other hand, would have been easier to use in the boat.  Other accounts state that the crew met at Sabin's Tavern to plot the destruction of the Gaspee and had carried with them their hunting muskets, but that doesn't preclude pistols per se.

From our archives @ StaplesGaspee.htm#Briggs :

"Immediately after, he, this deponent, saw the captain of the schooner come upon deck, in his breeches, and fired a pistolfire a musket, which wounded the captain; after which there was no more firing; but they instantly boarded the schooner; that the captain of the schooner, when he was wounded, he thinks, stood by the fore shrouds, upon the left hand side into one of the boats, and wounded one of the men in the thigh; that he saw a man who was in the boat with Potter, and who was called Brown,

Sorry, Earl, but testimony is stronger than conjecture.  Ain't that right, Lenny?

The only direct testimony of Joseph firing is Bowen, who said:
I took my seat on the main thwart, near the larboard row-lock, with my gun by my right side, facing forwards. As soon as Dudingston began to hail, Joseph Bucklin, who was standing on the main thwart by my right side, said to me, "Ephe, reach me your gun and I can kill that fellow.'' I reached it to him accordingly, when, during Capt. Whipple's replying, Bucklin fired and Dudingston fell, and Bucklin exclaimed, " I have killed the rascal."
Although he mentions only a "gun", the word "gun" suggests a musket or rifle.   "I took my seat ... with my gun by my right side" also suggests something large that had to be placed in the boat as part of the seating process.

Bowen only uses the word "gun" in his description of what he wrote  -- "About 9 o'clock, I took my father's gun and my powder horn and bullets and went to Mr. Sabin's, and found the southeast room full of people, where I loaded my gun,"

Note that Bowen was facing forward and was on the left side of the thwart. Bucklin was standing up and Bowen was sitting down.  Bucklin was on the right  side of Bowen on the same thwart of the boat.  There would not be a problem with flashing into the face of someone, unless someone was also standing on the right side of Bucklin.

Briggs, of course, also described a long gun, a musket, in describing the person who shot the English captain, and distinguishes it from what the English captain was using, a pistol.

I think the traditional idea of a musket firing by Bucklin fits better than the use of a pistol by Bucklin.

The National Maritime Museum (UK) treats muskets as muskets, and pistols as pistols.  Both were flintlocks, but from the way the NMM treats the subject, it is clear that a musket is a long firearm (though not usually rifled, so you can't really call a musket a rifle)

For muskets see:

The nice thing about Aaron Brigg's testimony is the use of the words pistol and musket. I wonder if rifle muskets were always "muskets" and pistol muskets were always "pistols'?

In the previous account you sent me I was surprised to see an account of Dudingston shooting and making a hit.

Originally Posted to Gaspee Virtual Archives 3/2001    Last Revised 06/2009    GaspeeMusket.htm