N.B. Military Museum given rare firearms that pre-date Confederation

A collection of antique guns — that could have been used to defend New Brunswick from the threat of American invaders — now has a permanent home in a local museum.”For a long time I was thinking, what am I going to do with these? Nobody else cares that they’re from New Brunswick,” said collector Lance Howard.”It’s only we who care that they’re from New Brunswick and have a New Brunswick story,” he said, gesturing toward the room of local historians, military members and the public who gathered Monday at the N.B. Military History Museum in Oromocto.Howard has been collecting vintage firearms for the last 30 years, after his veteran father piqued his interest in history. But the time came to pass them on, so he donated the seven firearms to the museum.Lance Howard had collected the guns for more than 30 years, but wanted to donate them so they could stay in New Brunswick. (Pat Richard/CBC)”I’m very proud of the fact that I can leave some legacy to New Brunswick and the history of the province that I love,” Howard said.The museum’s curator, Melynda Jarratt, said it’s uncommon to find one firearm so closely connected to the province’s history, but to find seven is unheard of.”It’s the rarest of rare. So we were very lucky, we’re over the moon here today. We can’t believe we were so lucky,” she said.Militias protected N.B. against American invadersHoward said his favourite in the collection is a Short Land Brown Bess that dates to the 1790s and was branded by the Saint John Militia.Jarratt said the artifacts date back to when volunteer militia units were assembled to protect against a potential invasion following the American Revolutionary War and then the War of 1812.”So essentially, we’re a colony here. Britain isn’t going to send its army over here to protect us in any great numbers —we need to have our feet on the ground.Lance Howard, centre, talks to members of the military and the public who visited the museum on Monday to see the antique firearms. (Pat Richard/CBC)”And the only place that’s going to come from is volunteers,” she said.In the 1770s, most of what is present-day New Brunswick didn’t exist yet, but instead was part of Sunbury County, Nova Scotia, Jarratt said. Every town or area would have had a militia, and many men were experienced with firearms because they lived in rural areas or on farms.Historian Gary Campbell is a supporter of the museum and was at the event on Monday. He said it’s impossible to know if these weapons ever saw action because their trail of ownership has been lost over the years.”The history linking back to their original owners has been severed, and that’s unfortunate. And that link will never be recreated,” he said, adding that Howard purchased many of the weapons at collector shows, as opposed to families related to the original owners.One of the guns, which dates to the 1790s, is branded by the Saint John Militia, spelled as St. John. (Pat Richard/CBC)Campbell said many firearms like these were eventually sold as surplus and then used as shotguns and were basically destroyed through hard use.”So to find these weapons in very good condition, with very good New Brunswick provenance, is quite remarkable. I was quite impressed,” he said.Gun closely related to another artifact at museumWhat makes the donation even more unique, Jarratt said, is that the museum has a branding iron that says “Sunbury Militia,” on loan from Kings Landing, and it’s a perfect match to the brand on one of the guns in Howard’s collection.”They’ve certainly not seen each other for close to 250 years because the Sunbury Militia was created in 1770,” Jarratt said, adding that collaboration between museums and with collectors like Howard is important to preserve history.Museum curator Melynda Jarratt said finding a collection of this size is nearly impossible. (Pat Richard/CBC)”It’s to everyone’s benefit to work together, there’s no need to be hoarding stuff. It’s all New Brunswick’s cultural history,” she said.Jarratt said it’s hard to put a number on the collection’s value, but was clear that the museum wouldn’t have had a chance to acquire them if the guns had gone to auction.”If they had gone to market, we would never have been able to afford [them].”Howard said that he could have sold them, but believes they’re in the right place with the museum.”It might not be the best financial decision, but you can’t take it all with you, right?”

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