Early history of arms in America

Via email from “kb”, David Kopel has some interesting history to share in The American Indian foundation of American gun culture:

To encourage settlement, the Carolina colony (today, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia) induced immigration by offering immigrants freehold land ownership, along with strong guarantees of religious liberty. To receive the land grant, an immigrant had to bring six months worth of provisions to take care of his family while his farm was being cleared and cultivated. Also required: ‘‘provided always, that every man be armed with a good musket full bore, 10 pounds powder and 20 pounds of bullet.’’ (See “A Brief Description of the Province of Carolina” (London 1666), a pamphlet by proprietors encouraging immigration, reprinted in “9 English Historical Documents: American Colonial Documents to 1776,” David C. Douglas gen. ed., Merrill Jensen ed., 1955).

The Massachusetts Bay Colony ordered parents to arrange for arms training for all their children aged 10 or above, both boys and girls. Conscientious objectors were exempt.

So one effect of the Anglo-Indian encounter was to foster a culture of widespread household gun ownership and widespread arms carrying. This was very different from conditions back in England, where the government was certainly not ordering people to always carry guns to the weekly (and mandatory) Church of England services.

Arms carrying was often mandatory for travel outside of towns and for attendance at large public events, particularly church services. Then, as now, unarmed church services were favorite targets for attack, because there would be lots of people gathered in a small space.

The colonists’ new arms culture was profoundly influenced by Indian arms culture, which the colonists imitated in many respects. Perhaps this weekend you may practice precise riflery on a 200-yard range. Or you may take a defensive handgun class that trains you to make quick individual decisions under pressure. Whether or not you like American arms culture, you shouldn’t think of it as something that was brought across the Atlantic Ocean by European immigrants. It’s true that those immigrants brought the firearms. Yet those firearms were quickly integrated into an arms culture that had already existed in America for centuries and that would eventually become the arms culture of American of all races. That was the arms culture founded by the first Americans, the American Indians.


4 thoughts on “Early history of arms in America

  1. Interesting points. I believe that a requirement for the average male to be armed did exist in Europe, in earlier centuries. At least I remember reading about this in medieval history, where training with the long bow was a general rule. It sounds like that went out of fashion in later centuries. I wonder if the totalitarian policies of the likes of Henry 8 had something to do with this. Perhaps the practice of other countries at the time might give a clue. I don’t remember the Dutch one; around this time (mid 1600s) Holland was a newly independent country, having earned it the hard way in the Eighty Year War against the Spanish empire. I think that some of that war was fought by mercenaries, but citizen soldiers were also involved. And personal firearms were readily available, as William the Silent (the “Dutch Washington”) found out the hard way.

  2. “Arms carrying was often mandatory for travel outside of towns and for attendance at large public events, particularly church services. Then, as now, unarmed church services were favorite targets for attack, because there would be lots of people gathered in a small space.”

    Would that we knew now what they knew then. Fewer would have died in Texas. I’m not in favor of forcing people to bear arms but certainly we should put a stop those discouraging it. Now to amend that a little bit; I see nothing wrong with a private organization, such as a church, requiring the bearing of arms as a requisite to membership.

    • Agreed 100%. Though the notion of “permit to not carry” in Neil Smith’s “Roswell, Texas” was certainly entertaining.
      I wonder how much flak Kopel is catching for his non-PC references to very non-peaceful “Native Americans”, before the colonists arrived. I’m comfortable he got those facts right, but saying so — especially in the Washington Fishwrap — is likely to generate some heat and exploding heads.

  3. Actually, keeping and bearing arms as a right was something that was enshrined in the *ENGLISH* Bill of Rights, though with some limitations. Prior to that, it had over the previous 600 years went from being an obligation to be armed for military and law enforcement reasons, to a right recognized in English common law. The Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States merely fixed that right in black and white law instead of an interpretation of common law.

    Plus, of course, the conditions of the American frontier during the 17th through 19th Centuries of course contributed to that: The Native Americans were by and large just as war-like and violent as the Europeans who emigrated into their lands, and of course they had the inherent natural right to keep and bear arms, unencumbered by any formal legal structure that allows for exceptions to that right.

    Naturally, this is how we ended up with such a strong gun culture in the United States. The fact that we fixed the right when we broke away from the UK, and the timing of that break, means that we haven’t been encumbered by their more recent anti-gun baggage. And for that, I am truly thankful.

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