The Guns of the First Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving background: Apples, pumpkins and fallen leaves on wooden background. Copy space for text. Halloween, Thanksgiving day or seasonal background. Design mock up.

Yea, I know the story of the first thanksgiving is about peace, sharing and giving thanks. That’s all well and good, but we are a gun company, so sue me. The first Thanksgiving occurred during a very fragile time for the settlers of Plymouth. Many of the settlers had succumbed to death and disease. While facing such hardships, how did these settlers defend themselves against wild animals, hostile natives and whatever else they were going to encounter in the New World?

The original settlers brought along cannons from Europe. Historians are not sure exactly how large these cannons were, but there are many historical accounts of settlers unloading cannons from early settling ships. Initially, the settlers used the cannons to frighten off natives who they felt might be planning an attack. Imagine being a Native American, and having never seen gunpowder weapons before, a large cannon going off in your general direction would certainly get your undivided attention.

When we think of Thanksgiving, pilgrims and turkeys, the stereotypical bell-shaped blunderbuss undoubtedly comes to mind. The use of the blunderbuss by the pilgrims is a bit of a misnomer. The blunderbuss wasn’t really that common. Most people think the developers of the blunderbuss gave it that distinctive bell shape to assist in spreading shot around to make it some super shotgun. In reality, the manufacturers gave the blunderbuss the rounded open shape to assist in loading while on a moving ship, or perhaps on horseback. The blunderbuss was a very effective weapon, especially in it’s pistol form, but the barrel was harder to produce, so it tended to be very expensive. If the pilgrims brought the blunderbuss on board the ships to the new world, they were probably an uncommon sight.

Most of the settlers’ personal weapons would have been matchlock muskets. They were much cheaper to produce than wheelocks, and flinklocks would have come after about 1610. Handguns were expensive at the time, so they probably didn’t have many available. The natives quickly became aware of the effectiveness of gunpowder and some settlers began trading their guns and gunpowder for supplies. The muskets that the settlers would have used were smoothbore, and accuracy was shoddy at best. Outside of 50 yards, hitting a man-sized target would have been very difficult. The muskets of the time were large, heavy, and unwieldy. They were muzzleloaders so the shooter had to shove each round down the barrel between each shot. A pilgrim would have to keep track of his powder horn, ammunition, ram rod, and priming powder, all while under attack.

Since having a long slow burning fuse hanging off your rifle musket while holding a big horn of gunpowder is inherently dangerous, the wheelock musket would have been less common, since they were a newer technology, and far more expensive to produce. Fowling pieces were common during this time as well. Fowling pieces were early versions of shotguns. Manufacturers could make them with much thinner barrels so they were cheaper to buy and produce. These fowling pieces would fire several smaller pieces of shot, rather than one large musket ball.

The weapons settlers had during the first Thanksgiving were unwieldy, but effective. It was because of these guns that pilgrims were able to defend their colonies, hunt for food, and trade with the native population. Today we are in a fight to keep our right to arm ourselves. Some lawmakers are actively searching for ways to disarm the general population. We should all look at history and realize that it wasn’t that long ago when guns were more than a right, they were a necessity.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (4)

    1. Because as we all know, these things weren’t done, or even possible, prior to the invention of firearms. Why if they’d had guns, the Romans may have spread beyond Italy, the Mongols could have conquered Eurasia, and christians might have tried to conquer the holy land in some sort of, I don’t know…crusades. Oh, wait, all those DID happen! STOP BLAMING THE TOOLS!!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your discussions, feedback and comments are welcome here as long as they are relevant and insightful. Please be respectful of others. We reserve the right to edit as appropriate, delete profane, harassing, abusive and spam comments or posts, and block repeat offenders. All comments are held for moderation and will appear after approval.