Arguably the most significant, positively identified Revolutionary 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 two of Morphy’s Extraordinary Firearms Auction on October 22-23, 2019. 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 powerful enemy, Simpson jumped to his feet and fired an unauthorized first shot, hitting a mounted British officer.
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 he 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 the 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 and historians. It was featured in a 1906 article in The Granite State Magazine, with an accompanying photograph of the gun and Simpson’s military commission captioned: “The gun that fired the first shot at Bunker Hill.” It will be offered at auction with several copies of a 50-page book of extensive professional research compiled and written by Jonathan Holstein expressly for the gun’s current owner.
The book scrupulously documents the firearm’s provenance, the Simpson family’s history, the Battle of Bunker Hill, and Simpson’s court martial. It also includes photographs of John Simpson’s home, his gravestone and historical marker. The musket was also featured in a 7-page article in U.S. Martial Arms Collector, and Springfield Research Newsletter(No. 160, September 2019).
With impeccable family provenance and extensive historical documentation, the musket is offered by Morphy’s together with John Simpson’s framed original Second Lieutenant’s commission from the State of New Hampshire dated March 13, 1778.
Morphy’s has handled the sale of several revered icons of American military history. On June 13, the central Pennsylvania auction house sold an 1864 hand-painted flag that was carried into battle by the 127th Regiment, one of 11 African-American Civil War regiments from Pennsylvania, for $196,800. The buyer was the Atlanta History Center.
“We were deeply honored to bring such a precious historical artifact to the marketplace, and now we have the privilege of auctioning a firearm that symbolizes one of the most important battles leading to American independence,” said Morphy Auctions president, Dan Morphy. “It will be exciting to see whether the Simpson musket ends up in a private or institutional collection.”
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. The auction will be held at the company’s gallery in Denver, Pa., starting at 9 a.m. Eastern Time each day. All forms of bidding will be available, including live via the Internet through Morphy Live.