Nicanor Kendall Underhammer Musket

Nicanor Kendall isn’t a particularly well known name in the world of gun making, but the Kendall musket that I’m featuring today ties into some much broader themes of American gun manufacturing, and it includes a few curious twists.

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Nicanor Kendall, Accidental Inventor

Nicanor was born on December 20, 1807 to Reuban Kendall and Hannah (Francis) Kendall. His father was a blacksmith by trade, but young Nicanor found this work too crude and instead took to working with local gunsmith Asa Story.

As young men are wont to do, Nicanor started frequenting the mill of Asahel Hubbard, whose daughter was coincidentally also spending more time at the mill. In a bid to impress the young woman, Nicanor drew his pistol to dispatch a squirrel. The hammer caught on his robe, the pistol fired, and Nicanor nearly shot his suitress in the head. Thankfully, the only serious injury was to Nicanor’s pride, and he went on to marry Laura Hubbard a few years later in 1835.

The experience gave Nicanor the impetus to develop a safer lock work, and he quickly came up with the under hammer design seen here.

As luck would have it, Nicanor’s father-in-law was now working as the warden for the Vermont State Prison, which was very much in the business of contracting out prisoners’ labor. Nicanor’s rifle interested Asahel, and they went into business together to manufacture the guns using labor from the prison.

If you’re scraping your head and questioning the wisdom of having prisoners make guns, you may also want to check out this exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of History, which celebrates “Carbine” Williams and his invention of the M1 Carbine rifle while he was a guest of the state prison. Apparently Nicanor Kendall’s experience wasn’t the only time that prisoners were working on guns.

Kendall's Underhammer Musket

The barrel of the Nicanor Kendall under hammer musket wass actually made by Remington (barrel making would be beyond Nicanor’s capabilities for a few more years), but everything else was made locally in Windsor.

This gun feels spindly in hand, and it looks like it’s missing the fore grip (it’s not), but I have no doubt that it would have been the bane of every four legged critter within eyeshot. Its rifled barrel was high tech stuff back in the day, and the under hammer design would have indeed minimized the chance of snagging on clothing. The condition of the gun isn’t all that great, but the years of abuse don’t completely obfuscate its beauty. The brass patch box still shows the elegantly carved visage of a man and his dog.

The labor arrangement with the prison that resulted in this musket and many others extended well into the 1840’s when the winds of change once again blew for Nicanor. In 1846, Windsor native Richard Lawrence and Boston capitalist Samuel Robbins had begun construction of a new manufactory in Windsor, which would make (among other things) guns. Nicanor became an investor in this business.

The Robbins & Lawrence Armory & Machine Shop became an important fixture in Windsor, and its reputation quickly spread for both the high quality arms being made there, and for the machine tools that bore the Robbins & Lawrence name. It was also in this very armory that Daniel Wesson and Horace Smith first met—cementing a friendship that would result in one of America’s most prolific arms manufacturers.

Nicanor was elected to serve as a Windsor Selectman in the early 1850’s. He died at the young age of 52 in 1862, and his remains are at rest in Windsor’s Old South Church Cemetery.

The Robbins & Lawrence Armory building now houses the American Precision Museum, which does a fantastic job of preserving and interpreting Windsor’s rich industrial past. I highly recommend a visit.

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