MISSION STATEMENT

The purpose and goal of the Shrewsbury Historical Society shall be to keep alive and increase interest in the history of the Town of Shrewsbury; to collect and preserve items of special value, traditions, and curiosities; to encourage general public interest in the Society's work and to maintain such personal properties and real estate that may come under the control of the Society.

ADDRESS

Shrewsbury Historical Society

P.O. Box 641

Shrewsbury, MA 01545

508-842-5239

shrewsburyhistory@townisp.com

© 2019 Shrewsbury Historical Society

Gunsmithing

Ross Wyman, a blacksmith, was a member of Shrewsbury’s Committees of Correspondence, Safety and Inspection, and the town’s only gunsmith.  During the American Revolution, the Committees of Correspondence, Safety and Inspection were three different local committees of patriots that operated as a shadow government – they took control of the thirteen colonies away from royal officials, who became increasingly helpless.  

Ross was one of Shrewsbury’s minutemen and a Captain of the local artillery company.  He was attached to Colonel Jonathan Ward’s regiment, which marched to Cambridge on the alarm of April 19, 1775.  It was in Cambridge that General Artemas Ward, also of Shrewsbury, established his headquarters.

On June 15, 1775, the Provincial Congress estimated that 1,065 muskets were needed to equip these troops. In order to obtain the required stands of arms, the Commonwealth Committees of Correspondence and Safety established arms quotas for each county. These quotas were further broken down for each town.  Shrewsbury’s quota was 22 muskets. Ross Wyman had completed his tour of duty at Cambridge, and since he was the only gunsmith in Shrewsbury, it devolved upon him to supply the bulk of the muskets.

Long Land Musket, Brown Bess

As a neighbor of Ross Wyman, General Ward also requested a musket and bayonet.  He said, “Make it strong enough so that I can pitch a man over my head with it – equal to the best of the King’s arms.  I’ll pay you well for your trouble - three pounds.”  The rifle that Ross Wyman produced for him was a Long Land Musket, commonly known as a Brown Bess. 

John Mason (b. 1775) moved to Shrewsbury in 1797 and started a business making smoothbore guns and rifles.  He had been an apprentice of Thomas Holbrook (b. 1747), an accomplished gunsmith living in Sherborn, Massachusetts. 

 

He was doing a thriving business and had several apprentices and journeyman gun makers in his employ, including a young Silas Allen, Jr.  In fact, Silas Allen’s style of workmanship closely resembles that of John Mason.

Silas Allen, Jr. was born in Medfield, Massachusetts on February 12, 1785.  In 1791, his family sold their farm moved to Shrewsbury.  After apprenticing with John Mason, Silas started his own business in 1806.  During his early twenties, he joined a local military company known as the South Company.  In 1810 he was chosen captain and remained in command until the company was disbanded in 1815. The South Company was one of two militia companies in the town of Shrewsbury, the other being the North Company.

New England Flintlock 1825

Silas Allen is best known for his New England flintlock target and hunting rifles, which he made in both full and half stock models.  He also manufactured rifles for independent, volunteer rifle companies, which were part of the state militia.  The earliest militia musket of his manufacturer is a Model 1795. The earliest documented purchase of Silas Allen’s militia muskets is recorded by the Prescott Guards, an independent, volunteer militia company from Pepperell, Massachusetts.

His earliest arms bear the imprint “S. Allen” on the upper surface of the barrel near the bridge. In contrast, his later arms are marked “S. Allen” in script.

In addition, he made high-quality fowling pieces and pistols for the custom trade. These arms were all artistically designed and their craftsmanship reflects the exceptional skill of their maker.  Many of them were elaborately embellished with engraved silver inlays, as well as exquisite designs of silver wire inlays in the stock.  

Silas Allen was one of the most skillful gunsmiths in the Commonwealth. His New England rifles are noted, not only for their artistic design, but also for their accuracy and the superb quality of the workmanship.  He taught his expertise to many New England apprentices, who themselves established their own businesses. Thus, he exerted a marked influence upon the quality and artistic design of New England rifles for many years.  Among those who served apprenticeships in his shop was his brother-in-law‘s nephew, Joab Hapgood.

Silas Allen continued to follow his trade until 1845 when, at the age of 60, he retired from gun making and engaged in farming. While he was widely known as a gunsmith prior to his retirement, his occupation is listed as “Farmer” in Shrewsbury’s death records of 1868.

Joab Hapgood was born on September 4, 1804 in Shrewsbury Massachusetts. By the time he was 16, he had developed an interest in mechanics and was eager to learn the trade of gunsmithing.  His father apprenticed him to Silas Allen, Jr. who was the leading gunsmith in Shrewsbury at the time.   Joab’s apprenticeship was for a period of five years.  In 1826 he went into business for himself.  During the years that followed his business prospered to such an extent that he was obliged to increase his workforce until it numbered five or six journeyman gun makers as well as several apprentices.

Percussion Pistol 1840

Joab Hapgood had a creative mind, which is attested by the fact that he invented a machine which facilitated the cutting of grooves in rifle barrels. This improved method of manufacture was subsequently adopted by many of the gunsmiths of the period.

Initially, Joab made New England flintlock rifles and smoothbores, both full stock and half stock models, as well as fowling pieces and pistols. About 1842, he began the manufacture of percussion type guns, such as sporting rifles, target rifles, bench rifles, single and double barrel shotguns for both upland game and shorebirds, as well as sporting and target pistols.

With improved railroad transportation, he decided to enter the urban, mercantile field. In 1847 he moved his retail business from Shrewsbury to Boston. He became an importer, manufacturer and dealer of guns, pistols, revolvers and sporting goods while continuing his gun manufacturing and repairing business in Shrewsbury.  In 1864, at 60 years of age, he sold his business in Boston and returned to Shrewsbury.

 

All content written by Willard C. Cousins

Excerpts from The Gun Report, Issues: June 1974, March 1976, and July 1976