On Wednesday, Randolph County Presiding Commissioner John Truesdell couldn’t hold himself back from showing off his latest acquisition.
After several years of searching, he had purchased a Hall 1819 model breech-loading rifle, a gun that has a storied place in U.S. military and manufacturing history and a special connection to Randolph County.
The man who patented the gun and then sold it to the U.S. Army with the innovative plan to make it with interchangeable parts, John Hancock Hall, is buried in the Hall Cemetery in Darksville. One of his sons, William A. Hall of Darksville, was a judge and Civil War congressman and another, Willard P. Hall, was lieutenant governor and the governor of Missouri for much of the Civil War.
Truesdell had been searching for roughly four years to find a Hall rifle so Randolph County could have it as an artifact. He eventually heard about one for sale from River City Pawn and Ancestry Guns in Columbia, spending plenty but on Wednesday unwilling to actually reveal the price.
Though the rifle will not be on display in the near future, he brought it to the courthouse to show the other commissioners and members of the Randolph County Historical Society.
“I couldn’t help myself,” Truesdell said. “I had to bring it in and show everybody.”
The historical society and the county are working on a display that will be in the basement of the courthouse in Huntsville. Once the room is complete, Truesdell said he will officially present the rifle to the historical society.
However, there is no official timeline for the opening of the collection, Truesdell said.
“Our courthouse has burned down twice in its history,” he said. “We have very few artifacts. In our old courthouses we did not have the room to really showcase anything, but our new building has an area that has been designated for this.”
The rifle is one of the original designs, with a 32.75-inch barrel. Daniel McCune, an owner at Ancestry Guns, estimated the weapon was manufactured in the 1830s and would have likely been used by infantrymen or mounted infantry units.
“That was a design that saw fairly limited production in the grand scheme of things,” McCune said. “The U.S. government mostly used muzzleloaders, basically from the inception of the first national armories until the Civil War. The Civil War was when breech-loaders really came into their own.”
Though Hall was not the first to design and create a breech-loading rifle, he was the first to manufacture them on a large scale in the United States, which he did in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia from 1816 to 1840.
The rifle was revolutionary for its time, Truesdell said. The technology allowed users to fire six to eight shots per minute, while most muzzleloaders at the time could only get off two to three shots per minute, Truesdell said.
It would be nearly 30 years after the production of Hall’s rifle before other weapons would begin to stack up against it, McCune said.
“It allowed a much higher rate of fire by infantry,” McCune said. “And it really paved the way for the technological advances in weaponry that occurred around the time of the Civil War.”
The rifle, which has the original armory stamp, was given a certificate of authenticity by Ancestry Guns. The authentication process often takes a lot of time and requires years of experience, McCune said.
“It takes written resources to be able to look at others that have been historically confirmed as originals,” McCune said. “Then there’s taking a look at the actual wood, metal and markings. ...Those things look the way they do because of time. It’s very difficult to duplicate that process in a short amount of time.”
Despite Hall’s impact on American history, particularly in arms manufacturing, he is not very well known nationally or even within Randolph County, said Joe Barnes, historical society board member.
“Hall is a very significant person,” Barnes said. “Even nationally, Hall has been very poorly served. His impact on the U.S with engineering, machining and even the way we program electronic devices goes back to Hall.”
Hall, originally from Maine, moved to Darksville to live with son William Hall in 1840 after retiring.
He was the first person in U.S. history to receive a patent for a gun.
Beyond Hall’s contribution to weapon making, he is recognized as an innovator for his use of powered machinery and interchangeable parts while manufacturing the guns, Barnes said.
The addition of the Hall rifle will hopefully spark more throughout the county interest in local history, Joyce Cooper-Campbell, president of the historical society, said.
“I think it’s great that we have something like that,” Cooper-Campbell said. “Our young people have no idea. They think, ‘Well, nothing ever happened here in Randolph County’.”