One of the most intriguing objects in the Longmeadow Historical Society collection is an ancient pistol. Measuring almost two feet long, with a flintlock mechanism, it is a formidable weapon.
The story attached to the gun was that it was passed down through the generations from John Williams (1664-1729). John Williams, father to Longmeadow's first pastor Stephen Williams, was the minister in the town of Deerfield, some 40 miles north of Longmeadow. Some of you may be familiar with the story of the famous raid on Deerfield on February 29, 1704, when some French and their native allies attacked the outpost town of Deerfield in the middle of a wintry night. (For more about this event, see Captors and Captives: The 1704 French and Indian Raid on Deerfield by Kevin Sweeney and Evan Haefeli).
Reverend John Williams
During that fight, the Deerfield citizens fought back fiercely. John Williams purportedly attempted to fire his pistol at the attackers in defense of his household, but the gun misfired. The legend goes on that had he been successful at killing or wounding any of the attackers, that retaliation would have been severe. Because his attempt had failed, he was captured and force-marched to Canada, along with 111 other townsfolk. Later released or "redeemed," John Williams eventually returned to Deerfield with most of the surviving members of his family. (See John Demos' book The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America).
John Demos book, cover art by Walter Ford
The theory is that the gun, now a treasured family heirloom, was passed down through Williams descendants, finally ending up in the possession of Sarah Storrs, the last Storrs/Williams family member to live in the Storrs House. Tucked away in a soft padded sock for safekeeping, the gun slipped out of memory--of most.
John Williams' probate inventory "A Gun one of the Queen's Arms"
Curious about the legend--was the gun really that old? Could it really have belonged to John Williams? Would the enemy really have returned this valuable firearm to a captive upon his release? We turned to the experts for answers. We are lucky to have the Springfield Armory National Historic Site in our backyards. Park Ranger Alex MacKenzie was consulted, and he visited the Storrs House Museum to examine the gun. Observing all appropriate safety and curatorial protocols, and wearing cotton gloves, he removed the flintlock to examine and photograph the interior. He concluded that the gun could truly be a 17th century weapon, but he wanted to get an even more expert opinion. He sent detailed photographs and the description to colleagues in England. Their conclusions? The gun was likely made in England circa 1640, and was re-stocked with American wood sometime later in the 17th century, but before the 1704 raid.
Wow! While we can't validate the story of the miss-firing incident during the 1704 raid, we do feel fairly confident that the gun could truly have belonged to John Williams. With the manufacture date of 1640, it certainly had an owner before John Williams! Come and see this wonderful object, along with other 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st century objects at the Storrs House Museum.
Contributed by Betsy McKee, Longmeadow Historical Society Board Member
September 23, 2021