Clayton Cramer's book reviewed
Clayton Cramer's new book, Armed America, gets a favorable review in the Washington Times. Clayton is the fellow who brought down Michael Bellesiles' book Arming America, which had claimed that guns were much rarer and less important in pre-Civil War American than had been thought. Clayton started checking out Bellesile's sources and found that time after time they either didn't say what he said they did, or often said absolutely nothing about firearms. He used a webpage to point out the deceptions, with images of the documents Bellesiles had mis-cited.
For months the professional historian community shrugged it off, but finally began to take notice, and found more problems, and big ones -- including a claim to have researched probate records that had in fact been destroyed in the San Francisco earthquake and fires, a century before. Eventually the publisher withdrew the book from publication, Bellesiles resigned his professorship, and a prestigious prize awarded him was revoked.
There is a newly released on-line data base to the public called Virginia and Maryland Probate Inventories, 1740-1810. It is co-sponsored by George Mason University and Gunston Hall. Of course, George Mason’s inventory is not listed, but his wife and sons are as well as George Washington. http://chnm.gmu.edu/probateinventory/ Go Figure!
Many court records were stolen or destroyed during the Civil War, but what they have on-line is searchable. It is important to know the terminology from the 18th century and that these inventories were usually written sequentially where they found the items. For example, a search on musket only yields 15 separate probates. A search for Fowling (short for fowling piece) however returns 28 hits. Interestingly a search on pistol yields 65 separate probate hits. Don’t forget those evil Blunderbusses – 5 of them.
Here is a sampling of some famous people and their firearms. Lord Thomas Fairfax 1782 – a Loyalist. 4 guns, 1 Blunderbuss, 13 old firelocks, 1 brace of broken pistols, 19 pounds of gunpowder. He obviously had an arsenal.
George Washington: 1 pair of steel pistols, 3 pair of pistols. Another man with an arsenal. A lot of people gave firearms to General Washington as presents, but his probate is lacking giving rise to the question what happened to all the guns?
George Mason, Jr. George was a member of The Fairfax Independent Company of Volunteers founded by his father and was an ensign in that company. Later he became a Minuteman. He died young of a rheumatic disease only out living his father by 4 years. Here is his probate listed in sequential order of the person writing them down: 4 pounds of gunpowder, 1 muskett, 1 fowling piece, 1 rifle, 1 old rifle, 1 fowling piece, 2 small guns. Another man with an arsenal. He must have been a wack job ready to go off at any minute on a killing spree.
Posted by: Rudy DiGiacinto at February 14, 2007 02:51 PM
Rudy, What happened to the historical estate inventories then, is the same as what happens now - inventories are incomplete, inaccurate and many are missing from the records altogether. For example, I inherited my father and father-in-laws guns, and none of them made it into an inventory for their estates, even as picky as we are today. There is no way to get a scientifically accurate sample out of these records, as much as we might like to. History is an art, not a science, and as much mathematics as we throw at it, it will never be a science.
Posted by: RKV at February 14, 2007 03:31 PM
If Bellesiles had bothered to think it through carefully, he never would have started writing about probate records. The numbers shown in the records can never demonstrate the absence of firearms, only their presence. An inventory that lists no firearms might be for an estate that had no firearms or for one that had dozens that were unlisted. In contrast, one that listed a dozen might have one dozen or one hundred, but certainly not none.
Posted by: Ken at February 14, 2007 10:48 PM
I am looking for a book that I believe you have written that I have seen in Shotgun News. It a small pamplet book about the Constitution. If I remember correctly it is selling for $1 each and the price is lowered if more is purchased. If this is true please write back so that I may purchase this book.
Thank you for your time,
Posted by: Glenn Hornbuckle at July 10, 2008 07:32 PM