Academic journal article Southeastern Archaeology

A Seventeenth-Century Trade Gun and Associated Collection from Pine Island, Alabama

Academic journal article Southeastern Archaeology

A Seventeenth-Century Trade Gun and Associated Collection from Pine Island, Alabama

Article excerpt

In 1915, John H. Gunter donated a collection of artifacts said to be from a grave near a mound on Pine Island on the Tennessee River in northern Alabama to the Yale Peabody Museum (Figure 1). The Peabody Museum accession record lists the following items: bottom of a clay vessel, parts of a flint lock gun, two lead bullets, 65 brass tinklers, two brass hawk bells, four metal clasps, two metal spring fragments, three wool sash fragments, hundreds of blue and white glass beads, and a human tooth. The present study attempts to fully document the collection in order to assist the Peabody Museum with consultations to determine the most appropriate claimant(s) under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). The authors were assisted by numerous other specialists in their efforts including Penelope Drooker, who investigated the woolen sash fragments (Drooker 2017), and John Connaway, who provided insight into the cast brass bells. In this paper we address the other items recovered from the burial. Moore (1915) investigated a mound on the upstream end of the island, where his excavations yielded historic material. Gunter's collection may have been found there, or it may have come from the seventeenth-century Law's Site (1MS100) near the downstream end of the island, examined later as part of the Guntersville Reservoir project (Webb and Wilder 1951).

Gunter's donation of his Pine Island burial collection to Yale University in 1915, immediately after C. B. Moore's 1914-1915 excavations on Gunter's Pine Island property, suggests a connection. We do not know whether Gunter led Moore to a site he had been digging earlier, or if Gunter was inspired by Moore's success to dig there in his wake. But the close timing does suggest that Gunter's burial is from the same site excavated by Moore, later recorded as 1MS121, at the northern, upstream, end of Pine Island.

Human remains

Only one tooth was present in the collection. The tooth was identified by Gary P. Aronsen of the Department of Anthropology, Yale University, as a lower left premolar from an adult of unknown sex.


The remains of what appears to be a nearly complete flint lock gun are present in the collection. Although we view the collection as representing one firearm, the presence of an additional breech section from a separate barrel somewhat confuses the issue. There is some evidence that the second breech section was modified as a scraping tool, but this evidence is not conclusive given the present state of the artifact. Overall, the gun is virtually identical to a collection of hardware illustrated by Hanson (2011:112) and identified by him as English from the 1680-1690 period. Hanson's example is from central Alabama and is in a private collection. Hanson (personal communication 2016) states that the specific archaeological site where the gun was found is unknown. The presence of two virtually identical early guns, both from Alabama, suggests they represent a new type which we tentatively are calling the Alabama Gun. The primary difference between the two guns is the presence of a brass escutcheon on the gun Hanson reported but lacking in the Pine Island example. The Pine Island gun includes an elaborate brass side plate, sinuous tanged brass butt plate, trigger guard, four ramrod thimbles, the flintlock mechanism with gunflint still in the hammer jaws, four barrel sections (two breeches, one of which has a brass sight), part of the wooden stock, and fragments of a wooden ramrod. Clearly missing from the collection is the trigger and perhaps an escutcheon plate. It should be noted that the gun parts were not cleaned as per the museum's policy. The brass furniture was closely inspected for evidence of engraving, but no engraving was visible under the corrosion.

Brass butt plate

Perhaps the most temporally diagnostic part of the gun is the brass butt plate with a large sinuous tang (Figure 2). Lenk (2007 [original 1939]), in his study The Flintlock, references pattern books and presents evidence that the elongated tang appeared in the late 1660s and disappeared by around 1700. …

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