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The Digital Vault

German Matchlock


Although the technology of the matchlock predates the American Revolution period by more than a century, this type of firearm helps to understand the development of firearms during the 18th century.   The matchlock was the first ignition system employed in the history of firearms.  Believed to have originated in Germany around 1450, the matchlock was the first gun brought to the American colonies by the earliest settlers of the colonies.  Remains of the matchlock have been recovered from the 1607 English settlement at Jamestown. 

The matchlock employs a long piece of rope, called hemp, which would be left burning during use.  Pulling the trigger lowered the iron serpentine which held the slow-burning hemp. The burning “match” would touch the black powder in the pan, and ignite the matchlock. A major disadvantage of the matchlock was that the constant burning rope would reveal the user's position, especially at nighttime.  The matchlock would slowly be replaced by the next type of firearm - the wheellock.