July 09, 2021
I married Rachel in 2008, and she continues to make me a better person. First a teacher and then a school librarian, I was immediately attracted to her love for American history and devotion to study. Through our courtship, we made it a pastime to visit national landmarks, and among my favorite trips were visits to the presidents’ homes. Though I’ve been more determined than her to complete a quest to see them all, I secretly hope to write a book of these places if I can manage to photograph and document each one. For now, I enjoy collecting family portraits of us embracing in front of their houses as if they were our own.
Many of these trips involved tours. Being a firearms enthusiast, I can’t help but to notice when a firearm is on display. I used to embarrass my wife with obsessive picture taking, but I never let the feeling of concealed judgement from other guests sway my determination. I’ll never forget the sneers of visitors walking past at Fords Theatre as I lingered to photograph the Deringer used by John Wilkes Booth to assassinate Abraham Lincoln.
If you ever visit the District of Columbia, allow me to recommend a tour of George Washington’s Mount Vernon. There, you’ll find a pair of flintlocks attributed to his collection and gifted in 1917. When Washington was elected to command the Continental Army in April 1775, he was partial to holster-style pistols. His correspondence includes dozens of references to purchasing pistols and receiving several as gifts from friends. After his death, his executors recorded four pairs of pistols and seven guns in his study. Mount Vernon possesses a brace of flintlock pistols that were kept in good condition until the mid-1800s. At some date, according to family history, a curious servant allegedly fired one with a destructive result.
The pair of flintlocks are smoothbore, measure 14¾ inches in length, and feature scroll engravings and an acorn embellishment at the forward finial of the triggerguard. Besides the walnut and iron, the pistols were ornamented with silver-wire inlay, paktong, and octagonal brass barrels having Tower of London proofmarks. They were likely made by London gunmaker William Woolley around 1780.
Other known firearms of America’s first president include the Washington-Lafayette pistols. These were presented to Washington by the Marquis de Lafayette in 1778 during the Revolutionary War. They are believed to have been carried by Gen. Washington at Valley Forge, Monmouth and Yorktown. These pistols were later given to Gen. Andrew Jackson who called them “sacred and holy relics.” Jackson returned them to Lafayette on May 25, 1825, at Jackson’s plantation, Hermitage, near Nashville, Tennessee, during a national tour. These pistols were sold at auction in 2002 for nearly $2 million and donated to the Fort Ligonier Museum in Pennsylvania two years later. Made by Jacob Walster, these pistols were recognized for their historical importance by the NRA Gun Collectors Committee with National Treasure Award No. 4. (Abraham Lincoln’s Henry rifle received the first award.)
If you’re in the D.C.-Northern Virginia area, a visit to the NRA Museum in Fairfax is a must. I worked for the NRA from 2002 to 2006 and learned much from those exhibits. There you’ll find John F. Kennedy’s engraved Colt Single Action Army, and several pieces of Theodore Roosevelt’s collection that includes his Winchester 1895. The FN M1900 pistol that Roosevelt kept in his nightstand while in residence at the White House can be found at the new NRA National Sporting Museum at Bass Pro in Springfield, Missouri. That’ll be a stop on my next family road trip.
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