image from Morphy Auctions
What would you give to own this piece of history? How about $492,000? That’s how much an anonymous buyer paid at a recent auction for the rifle that was in the hands of Private John Simpson on June 17th, 1775 when he ignored an order to hold fire until he and his fellow militiamen saw the white of the eyes of British troops marching up Breed’s Hill. The .79 caliber gun had been passed down from Simpson to his son, and remained in the family for nearly 250 years before going up for sale.
“The Simpson gun symbolized one of the most important battles leading to American independence and came with impeccable family provenance and supportive documentation,” said Morphy Auctions’ founder and president Dan Morphy. “Bidders knew there was no question about this famous gun’s background and authenticity.”
According to the pre-auction listing of the Simpson gun, the musket was expected to fetch between $100,000 and $300,000, so interest (and bidding) was clearly high in the historically significant firearm. In addition to the gun itself, the buyer of the musket is receiving another fascinating piece of history.
The musket is accompanied by Second Lieutenant John Simpson’s original commission dated March 13th, 1778 from the state of New Hampshire. The appointment is in “Captain Simon Marston’s Company in the Battalion of troops raised within said state for the Defence of the States of New England & New York Commanded by Lieut. Col. Stephen Peabody, Esq.”
As for the musket itself, it’s a Dutch Type III model, likely made between 1750 and 1770. Several thousand of the arms were shipped to Massachusetts with the help of Benjamin Franklin, who was the colony’s agent in London at the time. John Simpson, however, was from Deerfield, New Hampshire, and may have acquired his musket from another source. While we don’t know for sure, it seems likely that the 26-year old Simpson brought it with him when he and other militiamen from New Hampshire began marching south towards Boston hours after word of the battles at Lexington and Concord reached their home 65 miles from the fighting. Simpson was there in the early days when tens of thousands of ordinary Americans surrounded the British regulars in Boston, more than a year before independence was declared. He was there on June 17th, 1775 when Col. John Stark shouted to the soldiers of the 1st New Hampshire regiment to hold their fire until they saw the whites of the Regulars’ eyes, and he apparently didn’t listen, as he was court-martialed the day after the battle (but apparently went unpunished).
Simpson served throughout the entirety of the War of Independence, rising from private to major before returning home to work the land on his farm in Deerfield. He eventually passed away 49 years after independence was declared, forgotten by many but still a favorite footnote in American history.
While you can’t own the Simpson gun for yourself, you will have the opportunity to see it soon, at least if your travels take you out west According to reports, the musket will be on display at the National Museum of Military Vehicles in Dubois, Wyoming beginning in May of 2020. Kudos to the buyer for letting Americans get a look at the gun that fired the first shot in the second day of fighting for our American independence.