Barbara and I became involved with muzzle loading at Friendship, IN many years ago. Over time we became involved in primitive camping and historical re-enacting. We live in an inner-city area of Indianapolis, IN where we garden, worship, and share good times with friends and neighbors. This post is the core of a presentation I am to give this Saturday at the NMLRA Library during the Spring National Shooting Competition.
Benjamin Franklin's Prayer
Oh powerful Goodness! bountiful Father! merciful Guide! Increase in me that wisdom which discovers my truest interest. Strengthen my resolutions to perform what that wisdom dictates. Accept my kind offices to thy other children as the only return in my power for thy continued favors to me.
The quotes in italics are from Chapter XI of The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, a book I highly recommend. I wish I had read it earlier in life. I have been studying Franklin seriously for a little over three years now, and the more I study him the more I understand that he was truly a great man.
The quotations are about the time following the defeat of General Braddock. Ben has helped to get funding, and approval, for forming a militia to protect the North-western frontier. With a military commission, and with powers to raise the militia, and appoint the officers he takes command and proceeds with his militia to Gnadenhut, where native forces have burned the village and massacred the Moravian inhabitants. It is considered a good location for Franklin's men to build a fort.
In order to march thither, I assembled the companies at Bethlehem, the chief establishment of those people. I was surprised to find it in so good a posture of defense; the destruction of Gnadenhut had made them apprehend danger. The principal buildings were defended by a stockade; they had purchased a quantity of arms and ammunition from New York, and had even plac'd quantities of small paving stones between the windows of their high stone houses, for their women to throw down upon the heads of any Indians that should attempt to force into them. The armed brethren, too, kept watch, and reliev'd as methodically as in any garrison town. In conversation with the bishop, Spangenberg, I mention'd this my surprise; for, knowing they had obtained an act of Parliament exempting them from military duties in the colonies, I had suppos'd they were conscientiously scrupulous of bearing arms. He answer'd me that it was not one of their established principles, but that, at the time of their obtaining that act, it was thought to be a principle with many of their people. On this occasion, however, they, to their surprise, found it adopted by but a few. It seems they were either deceiv'd in themselves, or deceiv'd the Parliament; but common sense, aided by present danger, will sometimes be too strong for whimsical opinions.
Just before we left Bethlehem, eleven farmers, who had been driven from their plantations by the Indians, came to me requesting a supply of firearms, that they might go back and fetch off their cattle. I gave them each a gun with suitable ammunition. We had not march'd many miles before it began to rain, and it continued raining all day; there were no habitations on the road to shelter us, till we arriv'd near night at the house of a German, where, and in his barn, we were all huddled together, as wet as water could make us. It was well we were not attack'd in our march, for our arms were of the most ordinary sort, and our men could not keep their gun locks dry. The Indians are dextrous in contrivances for that purpose, which we had not. They met that day the eleven poor farmers above mentioned, and killed ten of them. The one who escap'd inform'd that his and his companions' guns would not go off, the priming being wet with the rain...
We had for our chaplain a zealous Presbyterian minister, Mr. Beatty, who complained to me that the men did not generally attend his prayers and exhortations. When they enlisted, they were promised, besides pay and provisions, a gill of rum a day, which was punctually serv'd out to them, half in the morning, and the other half in the evening; and I observ'd they were as punctual in attending to receive it; upon which I said to Mr. Beatty, "It is, perhaps, below the dignity of your profession to act as steward of the rum, but if you were to deal it out and only just after prayers, you would have them all about you." He liked the tho't, undertook the office, and, with the help of a few hands to measure out the liquor, executed it to satisfaction, and never were prayers more generally and more punctually attended; so that I thought this method preferable to the punishment inflicted by some military laws for non-attendance on divine service.
Franklin, Benjamin (1994-07-01). The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (pp. 127-128). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.
To note my own interest here, I have attended Westminster Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis for about 40 years. I admire the decent and orderly way in which Dr. Franklin and Mr. Beatty linked personal interests of the men to their truest interests. It seems to me that all benefitted from their actions.
If politics is the art of the possible perhaps most political problems result from a failure align people's immediate interests and their truest interests in ways that are acceptable to them? This is not an easy task. It would appear that many, like the Moravians, find upon occasion that their interests are may be different than they had supposed.
The Moravians were people whose religious convictions opposed the use of violence. When confronted with a choice between death and self-defense this particular group chose the latter. This would seem to me to be a reasonable choice. While non-violence as a way of life is desirable, I personally would not choose it in the face of deadly aggression. I think most of us would not.
The Truth of Natural Philosophy is the truth of experience. Do we experience only peace in nature? Do tribes or clans only practice peace? Do nations live completely peacefully without contention? When we look at times and places where there have been no firearms what do we see?
I would arrogant on my part to make the assumption that the reader does not have a clear idea of their own understanding of the positive and negative value of firearms! Setting aside my thoughts concerning modern arms, I want to propose some advantages to learning about black powder, muzzle loading, firearms.
If you are a person who has no interest in self-protection or hunting might you still consider learning about black powder firearms?
Can you consider the challenge of shooting accurately as a wonderful sport? Are you interested in learning the basics of safe handling of a firearm in the safest possible environment? Are you interested in historic technologies, and the experience of those who lived during the French & Indian War, the Revolutionary War, or the American Frontier of the Northwest Territory and Kentucky?
For those interested in learning about firearms but who are uneasy or fearful of buying or trying one I congratulate you. It seems prudent to me to have a healthy fear of firearms if you are not trained in the use of them.
When we look at the situation of the Franklin's farmers that were given firearms which they did not know how to use what do we see? Only one of eleven survived. Their firearms gave them a false sense of confidence that got ten of them killed. That still can happen today. What you don't know can get you hurt.
And the Gnadenhut Moravians who were massacred? Would it have helped them if they had been handed muskets at the last moment? If there is any chance at all that you might need to know about firearms, waiting until you need them is might not be a good idea!
I believe that those of us who use black powder, muzzle loading firearms for hunting or sport have an opportunity to help those who might be interested in learning about them. People may decide they want to know more, or are satisfied to know a little, about historic firearms and technologies,. They might or might not decide to investigate modern firearms. We represent a group whose interest is in firearms that are of interest to those who care about history, technology, safety practices, and the sport of shooting accurately. There are indeed some who choose to hunt with these guns but there are many other reasons to find them of interest.
I suspect that many people are indifferent to or opposed to firearms because they are afraid of them or don't see any point to them as sport. They have not used them, don't understand them, or may live in situations where they believe they can live without them. They have never experienced the similarity of shooting to golf, basketball, or even bowling. Shooting well requires skill.
If I were so persuasive as to be able to convince someone to simply go buy a gun and take it home, I would not do. Neither would encourage someone with no knowledge of football to go into a game of football. I have lived with firearms all my life and I have made mistakes. Because I was well taught and practiced safety those mistakes were not harmful!
Perhaps the safest way to know about firearms is to become a member of the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association!
For about $53 annual family membership you will get a beautiful monthly magazine that will teach the history and technology of single or double shot, muzzle loading firearms. You will be able to find a muzzle loading club that is vigorous in it's dedication to safety. You become part of a sport that is affordable, family oriented, and which teaches physics and art as well as how to safely load, shoot, and maintain a firearm.
The headquarters of the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association is in Friendship, IN. This weekend is the beginning of the Spring Shoot. On Saturday I will be in the Association library from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. It is supposed to be a beautiful weekend, and the drive to Friendship is worth taking for the scenery along the way.
I encourage you to come see me and talk with me about history, and muzzle loading. If you think you might like to try shooting, the NMLRA offers what I consider the best place for a beginner to start!
If you or your children were to ever find yourselves in a situation where you were required to use modern firearms wouldn't it be good so have some understanding of how to safely hold, aim, and fire a pistol or rifle?
Whether as an individual or possibly a soldier or police officer, it seems to me that waiting until you need to know such things might cost you dearly. It did the Moravians, and the farmers that Dr. Franklin supplied with guns. There is a fun way to gain some of the knowledge and experience that you or your children may someday need. The National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association (NMLRA).
For more information about the NMLRA go to http://nmlra.org/.
PS There is a wonderful primitive camp with canvas tents and pre-1840 clothing and accoutrements to visit. There is also a huge flea market and yard sales to visit along the way!