The Mayflower Gun

A home renovation of a home in Duxbury, Mass., in 1924 uncovered this Italian-made wheel-lock carbine in a secret compartment next to the front door. It was traced to John Alden, who experts say had brought it over on the Mayflower and had it in his possession during what has become known as our first Thanksgiving in 1621.

A home renovation of in Duxbury, Massachusetts, in 1924 uncovered this Italian-made wheel-lock carbine. It was in a secret compartment next to the front door—likely stored there to be used to fight off an attack by local tribes. The home was built in about 1654 by members of the Alden family, a family whose roots date back to John Alden, one of the Pilgrim leaders of Plymouth Colony, who came over on the Mayflower in 1620.

“Aldens occupied the house from 1653 through 1896,” says Phil Schreier, senior curator for the National Firearms Museum. “This home survived nearly 350 years without being ravaged by fire—a common fate of early American residences.”

Schreier says there is no doubt this gun was at the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth Colony in 1621. It was also undoubtedly used by Alden to hunt (it’s possible that he used it to kill a wild turkey) and to defend the young colony.

Alden, who signed onto the Mayflower as a 20-year-old cooper, joined Captain Miles Standish’s militia to defend the settlers from attacks. He was also a signatory of the original Mayflower compact. His rifle was a single-shot originally chambered in .50 caliber, says Schreier, but extensive use removed almost all traces of its rifling. Today, after years of use, repairs, and modifications, the gun would require a .66-caliber ball.

A close-up of the .66-caliber carbine's wheel-lock.

The National Rifle Association's National Firearms Museum has this gun on display. According to curators, markings on its barrel and lockplate indicate this gun is connected to the original Beretta family of armorers. The surviving detail of its wheel-lock device—the rotating mechanism, which provides spark and ignition—is finely crafted.

Museum staffers affectionately refer to it as the “Mayflower gun.”

See Phil Schreier discussing details of the gun below: