Powder horns, carved dated and initialled, as well as old wooden canteens with Revolutionary provenance turn up sometimes, but to find a long gun with a fragment of written history was real excitement for me on a buying trip back in the nineties. To discover a genuine relic from the Revolutionary War, much less from the Battle of Bunker Hill, while shopping at an antiques flea market was a rare pleasure.
A big part of shopping at the big outdoor antique flea market known as Brimfield is the anticipation of unearthing a rare treasure amidst the piles of collectibles, antiques and novelties that cover acres for most of a week three times a year in the small Massachusetts town of Brimfield. Several thousand dealers and tens of thousands of shoppers gather there to exchange goods for cash. Shoppers come from Europe, Japan and all over the USA to find things to fill in their collections or resell or just for the excitement of the hunt.
Sometimes I went on a buying trip alone if Edyth had other business to attend to at home. Our antique business needed new merchandise to keep our customers happy and coming back often, so off I went with our big van empty and hoping to return to Texas with lots of good, early items for our shop. I had shopped our favorite flea markets and co-ops in the Adamstown, Pennsylvania area on the way up to New England and was staying near Brimfield for the week. Some days there the markets open way before daylight and a flashlight is a big help to be the first to spot a choice item in a poorly lit booth or the back of a van. On Wednesdays, there is just one big market and it opens at eleven am. The dealers are in place but not allowed to sell or put out merchandise until the crowd comes in. This adds to the excitement as the dealers have not been able to shop amongst themselves before the market opens, increasing the odds of something wonderful still being available when you get to their booths. Before the opening the crowds gather on both sides of the road and just before eleven they merge and block the state highway for a few minutes until the turnstiles open and the owners collect their five bucks a head to enter. Short people can get lost or trampled in the rush. If you are the least bit claustrophobic I would recommend waiting ten minutes then entering. Of course there are always a few people with shopping carts in the mix to add to the chaos. Soon the crowds have spread out over the many acres of booths and business begins.
(NOTE: CLICK ON ALL PHOTOS TO ENLARGE)
On one such morning I was in the crowd and was not having much luck buying before spotting an old relic of a long rifle or musket. The barrel was rusty brown and the rough tiger maple stock was bone dry and bleached out. The lock was missing, but it did have a nice brass trigger guard and butt plate and an interesting patch box carved out of the stock. The price was thirty bucks so I couldn’t resist. I knew exactly where it would go in our old cape, right over the back door.
As I was carrying it around the flea market, still shopping, it began to seem less attractive and a fellow shopper asked if I would sell it. Luckily, we had a policy of not selling anything before we got home. We wanted to bring as many interesting items from our expedition back to Texas as we possibly could, so I declined.
After I had been home for a while and had time to clean the old gun up a bit, I lightly sanded and waxed the barrel and used lots of Johnson’s Paste wax on the stock to bring out some color in the maple. When I removed the wooden patch box cover I noticed some faint ink writing on its back side. Very interesting…..I got my reading glasses on and the best I could make out it read:” made by Ebner Wentworth, illegible word, guns from Bunker Hill picked up by Capt ?Gideon? Elders”. See photo.
The writing was obviously old and faded and I am convinced from the period of the Revolutionary war. The next trip to Brimfield I talked to the dealer that sold me the gun and asked where it had come from and he told me he found it in a barn in Maine.
Part of being in the antique business that I enjoyed was researching the items that we came across. In this case it triggered a desire to know more about the Battle of Bunker Hill. I went to Charlestown Massachusetts to see where the battle was fought and to my surprise there was no longer a hill there at all, nor a Breed’s Hill where most of the fighting took place. They had both been leveled to supply dirt to expand the city! Now there is a nice monument to the battle and I dutifully climbed the stairs to the top to get a view of Boston. I learned that the American militia inflicted many casualties to the formidable British Redcoats before retreating after running out of ammunition. This was the first major battle of the war and gave the revolutionaries hope that they could stand up to the King’s soldiers. Weapons were in short supply and I suppose that remnants from the big battle were salvaged and repaired to augment the existing supply. I can envision Capt. Elders finding broken weapons and asking Ebner Wentworth to see what he could do with them. Someone took the time to write the inscription for posterity to see. Lucky me.
Comments or information about the gun or possible origin of its parts, or anything about the names in the patch box will be much appreciated! Jack O'Neill
Thanks to this blog and the internet I think Sarah E. Johnson, Geneologist at Gorgyncombe Courant has pinpointed the people mentioned on the patch box. She has found records of an Ebenezer Wentworth, a farmer, blacksmith, shoemaker and manufacturer of Potash in Buxton Maine. Also found records of a Gideon Elden who served in the Revolutionary War and was a Captain in the state militia as well as a representative to the State Legislature, also from Buxton Maine