Perhaps the most iconic of firearms.
The Germans named it the “Donderbuchse” (thunder gun), the Dutch, the “Donderbus,” the Italians, the “trombone,” the French, the “tromblon.” Finally, the English, after mixing it up with the Donderbus-armed Dutch ships for control of the high seas, gave it the familiar phonetic name of “blunderbuss.”
It’s the stuff of myth and of cartoons with little bands of blunderbuss toting Pilgrims streaming across the pages of popular literature. From the 1550s through the 1800s, the belled muzzle blunderbuss appears in the form of pistols, carbines and larger swivel guns, sometimes even mounted with wicked looking, integral, spring bayonets. So when the National Muzzleloading Rifle Association announced that it would hold its first, historic blunderbuss competition at the Western Nationals in Phoenix, Ariz., I grabbed my old blunderbuss and headed to Phoenix.
The blunderbuss is really a fascinating firearm. In particular, the English adopted the design more than any other country and produced thousands for civilian and military use. In 1654, documents reveal that “100 Brass Blunder Bushes” were carried by the Hispaniola Expedition. In 1670-71, Sir James Turner writes: “The Carabineers carry their Carabines in Bandileers of Leather about their neck, a far easier way than long ago, when they hung them at their Saddles. Some instead of Carbines carry Blunderbusses, which are short Hand-guns of a great bore, wherein they may put several Pistol or Carabine-Balls, or small Slugs of Iron.”
In 1684, “An Account of Allowance of Ordnance to H.M. Shipps” documents that blunderbusses were issued to naval vessels based on the number of cannon on board. “Thus a ship of with 100 cannon was entitled to 10 blunderbusses.”
Even General George Washington was impressed with the blunderbuss. Writing to the Board of War, he stated “It appears to me that Light Blunderbusses on account of the quantity of shot they will carry will be preferable to Carbines, for Dragoons, as the Carbines only carry a single ball especially in case of close action.” The Board disagreed, and the carbine remained.
By Holt Bodinson
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