Depending on Arms: A study of Gun Ownership, Use, and Culture in Early New England
While gun use and ownership in early America has long been a topic of popular interest, much of the literature on these topics does not conform to academic standards for research. Additionally, most of the existing work on the topic fails to explore the cultural meaning of guns in this period. This dissertation seeks to remedy this by examining the place of guns in the lives of New Englanders during the colonial and revolutionary periods.
Guns were used for a variety of purposes and present in most households. Probate records reveal that more inventoried men than not owned a firearm and that they were accessible to all but the poorest segment of the population. Issues of scarcity did not appear to prevent most men from owning a firearm, save in the period just prior to the Revolution. Shortages of powder and lead did affect gun owners, and perhaps limited the use of the weapons they owned. Men used firearms for militia service, for protecting their communities, families, home, crops, and livestock. They also used them for hunting, for diversion, and when commemorating important events. While a few men invested in novelty arms, most men spent their money on serviceable weapons. They invested in practical improvements, converting to firelock ignitions for convenience and safety despite higher costs, and the absence of legal obligations to do so.
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, New Englanders associated their guns with certain cultural ideals. Guns were viewed as an important component of fulfilling one's duty as a citizen, as a father, as a Christian, and peripherally, as a man. Gun ownership and use carried rhetorical weight due to the ties created between the use of guns and those responsibilities. The rhetoric of the American Revolution reinforced these associations and expanded them by adding to them the view that guns had an intimate connection with liberty. Storing guns openly in the home, carrying them about town, using them in militia musters, and incorporating gun imagery into poems, songs, illustrations, and newspaper accounts helped to both create and emphasize the various values associated with guns.
0582: Modern history
0722: Military history