Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Hamilton-Burr Dueling Pistols

At the time they belonged to John Barker Church, Hamilton's brother-in-law. These days they belong to JP Morgan Chase and reside in their Manhattan headquarters, but this month they are on display at the Postal Museum in Washington.

3 comments:

G. Verloren said...

The long barrel lengths struck me as being a desireable feature for improving accuracy in a duel, and set me to wondering if they were also rifled.

According to the first few sources I've found, apparently they are rifled, but in a manner that hides the fact. Apparently, the final few inches of the barrel are unrifled, so as to suggest the entire interior length is as well when peering down inside it, but the remainder is in fact rifled. This was apparently only discovered some decades ago when modern reproductions were commissioned.

Apparently, based on what I've read so far, it was considered unsporting and bad form to use rifled dueling pistols, and hence the reason for hiding the feature.

At first consideration, that seemed rather strange to me - isn't the point of a duel to establish which individual is "superior" to the other? Toward that end, wouldn't you want to minimize random chance as much as possible, and emphasize individual skill?

But upon reflection, I recollect that many duels I've read about seem to have ended with neither side wounded (or at least not seriously) and I recognize that the duel in many cases must have been almost entirely performative - a way of allowing both parties to bluster and publicly demosntrate their "coolness" and "courage" in the face of potential harm, but ultimately offering good odds of no real harm being done, and both sides being allowed to save face.

David said...

It seems odd to me that one is a flintlock, and one is a percussion cap weapon.

John said...

@David; I wondered about that, too. The percussion cap is probably a later modification.

@Verloren; the point of dueling was to prove your courage, not to win.