Arguably the most significant, positively identified Revolutionary War long arm in existence, the Dutch flintlock musket that fired the first shot at the 1775 Battle of Bunker Hill will be offered on Day 2 of Morphy’s Oct. 22-23 Extraordinary Firearms Auction. It is expected to sell for $100,000–$300,000
The .79-caliber Dutch flintlock musket with bayonet was originally the property of Private John Simpson (1748-1825) of Deerfield, New Hampshire. After shooting began at the Battle of Lexington and Concord, Simpson joined a volunteer militia led by Captain Henry Dearborn and marched with that company to Boston. They arrived there on June 17, 1775, and merged with two other New Hampshire outfits. In anticipation of the Redcoats’ arrival by water, Colonel William Prescott ordered his patriot forces to fortify their position on the beach with a makeshift barrier of rocks and wood. During what would become known as the Siege of Boston, British troops advanced toward Breed’s Hill and nearby Bunker Hill in Charlestown that morning, after a steady overnight assault of cannon fire on the colonists.
With Royal Navy warships in Boston Harbor as their backup, General William Howe’s British army proceeded up Breed’s Hill in perfect battle formations. It was at that time that Prescott issued the order, “Don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes!”
Perhaps in his patriotic fervor to fend off a formidable enemy, Simpson jumped to his feet and fired an unauthorized first shot.
After enduring two assaults, the colonial troops ran out of ammunition. They retreated over Bunker Hill to Cambridge, ceding control of the Charlestown Peninsula to the British. However, the enemy paid a heavy price, with 226 dead and 828 wounded. Colonial casualties numbered 115 dead and 305 wounded.
The day after the Battle of Bunker Hill, Simpson was court martialed for disobeying his commander’s orders but was only lightly reprimanded and soon returned to duty. By the time the war ended, Simpson had risen to the rank of major. He never applied for a pension and never received a penny for his military service, stating, “My country is too poor to pay pensions.”
The Simpson family is inextricably woven into the tapestry of American history. John Simpson, himself a great patriot, was the grandfather of Civil War hero and US President Ulysses Simpson Grant and great grandfather of explorer Meriwether Lewis (Lewis and Clark Expedition). The Dutch smoothbore .79-caliber Type III flintlock musket with bayonet that John Simpson used to fire the first shot at the Battle of Bunker Hill has remained in his family by direct descent for the past 244 years.
The gun has been an object of intense interest for many gun scholars. It appeared in a 1906 article in The Granite State Magazine with a photograph captioned: “The gun that fired the first shot at Bunker Hill.” It will be sold together with several copies of a 50-page book of extensive professional research compiled expressly for the gun’s current owner, as well as John Simpson’s original 1778 Second Lieutenant’s commission from the State of New Hampshire.
Morphy’s October 22-23, 2019 Extraordinary, Sporting & Collector Firearms Auction features 1,270 lots of outstanding firearms, including antique and modern rifles, shotguns and handguns, as well as cannons, historical ephemera and ammunition. Online: www.morphyauctions.com.