December 4, 2000
680 North Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, Illinois 60611
I write to refute the misrepresentations of Michael Bellesiles in your January 2001 Playboy magazine (Arming America-The Playboy Forum) that probate records are a reliable measure of firearms ownership in Colonial America. Mr. Bellesiles should be aware that something as highly prized as a personal firearm was most always and without legal notice passed to the heir whom the deceased had indicated should receive it either verbally or in writing. This was how I acquired my grandfather's shotgun. Immediately following his funeral many decades ago, his surviving family returned to his home and my Uncle took down his shotgun from over the proverbial front door and handed it to me saying I could make good use of it now. I own and use it to this day with good effect on upland game. Those few instances where firearms were passed through probate proceedings were undoubtedly from those few early estates where the deceased had no male heir or close relative able to assume ownership of the firearm upon its owner's death.
Mr. Bellesiles also makes some effort to show that early colonial governments attempted to inventory firearms in private homes for militia purposes and that no one then objected. He fails to point out that then our government was giving its citizens the same firearms currently used by its standing military forces, and that when given, the firearm was state property that was rightly inventoried. Today, the opposite is true, and firearms owners have much to fear from their own government.
If your readers are truly interested in seeing that "The Patriot" was a movie closer to historical accuracy than Mr. Bellesiles's article is, they should obtain and view a copy of the Public Broadcasting Corporation three-cassette video "Liberty! The American Revolution" at http://www.shop.pbs.org. [Do a search on "Liberty!"] This video accurately depicts the widespread ownership of firearms in Colonial America, few of which were then government issued. As early as the 1750's, colonial gunsmiths in Pennsylvania were producing highly accurate flintlock rifles (not muskets!) that would become known as "Kentucky Rifles" on the American frontier of that period. These were the firearms that could indeed hit an orange at 200 yards, as many an English officer was to soon discover to their early demise during the American Revolution.