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The Digital Vault


The Matchlock musket was the earliest firearm used by colonists in America. Early European colonists described Matchlocks as arquebuses, calivers, and muskets, and these terms were sometimes interchanged with one another as technology evolved. During the 17th century, the caliber standardized at 10 gauge and the term "musket bore" became the standard term of measure. The weight of the Matchlock made it difficult (sometimes impossible) to fire from the shoulder, so a stand was needed to hold the end of the barrel.

Eventually, faults in the weapon forced it's retirment from military and civilan service. First of all, firing and reloading the Matchlock was a slow process. Second, it was clumsy and dangerous to operate. The firearm derives its name from the chord (match) that was used to ignite the black powder. Accidental discharges were a constant danger. In fact, such a situation happened to Captain John Smith in 1609 when a lighted match ignited powder in his pocket and severly burned him. The necessity of a constantly lighted match meant that a fire needed to be close by in case wind or rain extinguished the match. The Wheel Lock was a much safer weapon to use and eliminated all of these risks and drawbacks.