Wednesday, September 22, 2010

1580's Snaphaunce Gunlock Found on Hatteras

Permission of Phelps Archaeology Laboratory, East Carolina University

Article by Baylus Brooks.

This past summer, I have worked with a really fine group of people who actually are friends with one another and do some darned fine research... together, as a group. They include REAL professionals, an Archaeology PhD candidate, an expert on Indian migration and DNA studies, an author of a book on the Croatoan Indians,  a Maritime History MA candidate (myself), many specialists in many different fields, including a mayor from Bidford, England!  Serious questions are being answered, folks.

During my own research, I have sought other experts to help me understand the significance of certain finds, namely a gunlock that may date to the late 16th century (which would be highly significant!) and the Kendall ring (an artifact that may relate to one member of the Roanoke voyages, can be viewed here: ).  These items were found by the late Dr. David S. Phelps, Professor Emeritus at East Carolina University.  An ECU report on this archaeological site is available at http:///  I have made the resources available to all for the sake of unbiased opinions.  

This gunlock was examined previously by Dr. James D. Lavin of William & Mary University in Virginia.  Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to locate the professor, who is retired and we know nothing about what he found.  He may have had previous experience with research groups that turned him off to the Lost Colony project.  That would be unfortunate.  However, Dr. Lawrence Babits, director of the Maritime History program at ECU told me to contact Bly Straube of Jamestown Rediscovery who happens to be a published expert on snaphaunce mechanisms, which this piece is believed to be.  My first email to her included this photo that you see above without mention of where it came from (I did not want to bias any opinions that she might give).  Her immediate response was that it looked like “1580s snaphaunce” and she sounded mightily excited about it. 

Since then, I have taken extra photos of the interior of the gunlock for her to get a better idea of the date and put her in touch with our own resident archaeology expert, Louisa Pittman.  I have no information on what has happened since then.  I’m sure that Louisa has to get back to ECU before she can view Phelps data and determine context on the piece to later share with Straube. 

Meanwhile, I’ve been hunting for photos on the web for any snaphaunce (there’s quite a few actually) that might look like our friendly gunlock here and have come across one that looks VERY similar.  The real point between these is a square firing pan cover on the side… the ONLY one I have been able to find like ours. 

Top: English snaphance gun dated 1584 - National Museum, Copenhagen ( )
Botton: Phelps Archaeology Laboratory, East Carolina University

This English snaphaunce is located in a Copenhagen museum (I’ve contacted them for any information on a maker) right now and has been dated to 1584.  The owner of this website is Brian Godwin and he is a foremost English expert who has been in touch with Dr. Charles Ewen at ECU about this very piece, now housed in ECU’s Special Collections Department in Joyner Library.  It is part of the “Croatan Archaeological Site” collection that also includes the Kendall family signet ring made famous of late.  

My opinion: The square pan cover is significantly different than all known snaphaunce except this one in the Copenhagen museum.  It is indicated in pink on the photo, but other similarities have been marked as well and are distinct from other snaphaunce or flintlock mechanisms that are presently known (with the exception of the red arrows that point to a feature indicative of snaphaunce as opposed to flintlocks).  The only significant difference in my opinion is the straight line of the bottom of the mounting plate.  Ours is slightly curved.  Mind you, I’m only guessing because I am not the experts in this, Godwin and Straube are.  Once the data is fully collected and analyzed, I have no doubt that we will know, too.   But, that does not mean that I have stopped looking for the maker of this piece, whom I believe has the initials “CDS” or “CUS” (located on the side of the pan cover).  I’m checking English makers since the earliest makers in America were in Jamestown and none of them (that I know of) have those initials. 

This is a very significant piece and could have been a part of three different phases in the Roanoke story that included Hatteras Island.  Or, it may have been brought to Hatteras island by natives from elsewhere.  This is one question that needs to be answered. 

Useful publications:

·       English Snaphance Firearms – a loan exhibition, Spring 2006 London Park Lane Arms Fair catalogue.
·        Godwin B.C., “The English Snaphance Lock”, Spring 2006 London Park Lane Arms Fair catalogue, pp.28-63.
·        Straube B.A., “A Re-examination of the English Lock”, American Society of Arms Collectors, Bulletin No.63, 1990.

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