Fall From Grace: Arming America and the Bellesiles Scandal (Part 2)





Mr. Lindgren is Stanford Clinton Sr. Research Professor at Northwestern University School of Law.

 

II. THE BOOK

 

A. What Is a Gun Culture?

 

Arming America claims that we did not have a gun culture before the

Civil War, but that we have had one since then. There is an obvious

conceptual problem with this thesis: What would it mean to have—or not

have—a gun culture? It is hard to judge the truth of this claim without

deciding on what a gun culture is. Bellesiles gives us some hints of what he

means, but he never clearly states his criteria. This is an unfortunate way to

frame the inquiry. Cultural analysis is not an all-or-nothing proposition.

America had one form of gun culture in the late eighteenth century, it had

another form of gun culture in the late nineteenth century, and it has another

form today.

 

Although Bellesiles never defines what he means by having a gun

culture, he puts great store in owning guns, familiarity with guns, and the

prevalence of guns in popular culture—such as in magazines, television,

and movies. If having a gun culture requires gun-lover magazines and

violent film and television crime stories (or the contemporary equivalent),

then we have a gun culture today, but did not two centuries ago. If, instead,

having a gun culture means growing up in households with guns, learning

how to shoot them, widespread participation in military training where guns

are used, and using guns as a tool (such as for vermin control), then we

definitely had more of a gun culture in the eighteenth century than we do

today.

 

An analogy to horse-riding might be helpful. If one examines

familiarity with horses and the use of horses, there was obviously much

more of a horse culture in the eighteenth century than there is today. But if

one measures a horse culture by the expressed sheer love of horses, the

romance of the cowboy on horseback, magazines about riding, and the

variety of games and competitions involving horses (racing, rodeos, polo,

off-track betting, newspaper odds, and so on), there is probably more of a

horse culture today—even though very few people ride. I would say that we

had more of a horse culture in early America, but it was different in kind:

Then, horses were more important as tools and as transportation, rather than

as objects of recreation, love, and fetishism.

 

It would be more accurate to say that we have a different form of gun

culture today than we did in the eighteenth century. It is not even obvious

how useful the concept of a gun culture is. It is more important to

understand the claims that give meaning to Bellesiles’s concept of a gun

culture—how many guns there were, what condition they were in, where

they were stored, who owned them, how much they cost, how accurate they

were, how they were used, and what they meant to their owners.

 

In perhaps the strongest part of the book, Bellesiles describes the

marketing savvy of Samuel Colt,43 who helped create the romance of the

gun with the advertising campaign for his revolver pistol in the two decades

before the Civil War. In the mid-nineteenth century, guns became mass produced,

much easier to load between shots, and more lethal. Bellesiles

also shows how the outlaws and legends of the American West—the James

Gang, Buffalo Bill, and many others—first learned their craft in the Civil

War and its precursor in Kansas. If Bellesiles had confined his argument to

describing a switch from simpler guns manufactured one at a time to more

sophisticated mass-produced guns, and from a gun culture in which guns

were a tool to one in which guns were an object of romance, then he

probably would have encountered little dispute.

 

What made the book such a sensation was his description of guns in the

seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries. He claimed that

guns were exceptional rather than common, in poor condition even in

private hands, not stored in the home but rather in central armories, too

expensive to be owned outright by most men, and restricted by law to the

Protestant upper and middle classes. None of this is true.

 

 

B. How Common Was Gun Ownership?

 

The most contested portions of Arming America involve the book’s

most surprising claim, that guns were infrequently owned before the mid-

1800s. As I show below, the claim that colonial America did not have a gun

culture is questionable on the evidence of gun ownership alone. Compared

to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, it appears that guns are not as

commonly owned today. Whereas individual gun ownership in every

published (and unpublished) study of early probate records that I have

located (except Bellesiles’s) ranges from 40% to 79%; only 32.5% of

households today own a gun.44 This appears to be a much smaller

percentage than in early America—in part because the mean household size

in the late eighteenth century was six people,45 while today it is just under

two people.46 The prevailing estimate of 40% to 79% ownership differs

markedly from Bellesiles’s claim that only about 15% owned guns.47 In the

remainder of this Section, I explain why.

 

 

1. The Gun Censuses

 

Bellesiles bases his claims of low gun ownership primarily on probate

records and counts of guns at militia musters.48 He also discusses censuses

of all guns in private and public hands, but on closer examination, none of

these turns out to be a general census of all guns.

 

The trend is set in Bellesiles’s first count of guns in an American

community—the 1630 count of all the guns in the Massachusetts Bay

Colony of about 1000 people. Bellesiles’s account is quite specific: “In

1630 the Massachusetts Bay Company reported in their possession: ‘80

bastard musketts, . . . [10] Fowlinge peeces, . . . 10 Full musketts . . . .’

There were thus exactly one hundred firearms for use among seven towns

with a population of about one thousand.” 49 If you go to the pages of the

Records of Massachusetts Bay cited by Bellesiles, however, you find that

this list of guns was something quite different. It was not a list of guns

owned by freemen or the company “in their possession” in America, or

even a list of guns owned by the company in England. Rather, as stated on

page 2 of volume 1 of the original handwritten records, it is a list of

“Armes ffor 100 men” that the company wanted to ship over to America.50

On the previous page, page 1, there is a list of “Apparell ffor 100 men.” 51

The pages record their early plans for the trip, even before they got their

charter. They planned to have clothes and arms for each and every man.

 

This list of 100 guns for 100 men is no more an inventory of all the

guns for 1000 people actually in the Massachusetts Bay Colony than the list

of apparel for 100 men is a list of all the colony’s clothes. It is just not true

that the other 900 residents were unarmed nudists. On the contrary, the list

indicates that every man should be both clothed and armed.

 

Quite suspiciously, the date is wrong—Bellesiles cites the date of the

list as 1630, rather than 1628-1629 as in the original cited text.52 Had

Bellesiles listed the date correctly as 1629 (or 1628 in the old calendar),

careful scholars would have suspected that it was not a list of guns in the

Massachusetts Bay Colony, because the government and most of the people

of the colony did not come to America until 1630. If he had made only one

of two errors, either error would have been plain to a sophisticated reader.

By making two errors (both the substance and the date) rather than one,

they would both escape notice—unless someone checked the source (as did

Clayton Cramer originally).

 

Other sources confirm that gun ownership in Massachusetts Bay was

high. According to surviving probate records from Essex County,

Massachusetts, from 1636 to 1650, 71% of male estates owned guns, as did

25% of female estates.53 Somehow plans in England to arm each and every

man—100 guns for 100 men—are turned by Bellesiles into a nonexistent

census of guns actually “in their possession” in the colony, showing only

10% of the colonists as being armed—thus fitting his general claim that few

Americans were armed.

 

There are other “gun censuses” from which Bellesiles reports data.

Robert Churchill, who has analyzed them closely, describes problems with

one of them:

 

The Provincial Congress of Massachusetts conducted another

census in 1775. According to Bellesiles, the returns showed “that

there were 21,549 guns in the province of some 250,000 people.”

Here again, the records describe something different. The

Provincial Congress asked town officials and militia commanders

to “take an exact state of their numbers and equipments” of the

“ several companies of their regiments.” This was, in other words, a

census of the arms in the hands of the militia. The exact size of the

associated militia is not reported, but it is unlikely that it greatly

exceeded 30,000 men. Thus, 70 percent of the Massachusetts men

who joined the armed political movement to nullify the Coercive

Acts possessed arms.54

 

Contrary to Bellesiles’s claims, this was not a general gun census, but rather

a count of guns in the hands of the militia, which might also have excluded

many guns not suitable for militia service.

 

Churchill also describes similar problems with Bellesiles’s

characterization of federal gun censuses, such as the census of 1803.55

Although none of Bellesiles’s gun censuses turns out to be a gun census of

all military-style arms owned by each citizen, Robert Churchill has located

a few actual gun censuses of men in the 1770s in several Rhode Island and

New Hampshire towns. These few extant New England gun censuses

suggest that gun ownership was slightly higher than the percentages

generally observed in New England probate records.56

 

 

2. The Militia Counts

 

Bellesiles tells many stories of militia gunlessness. But these stories are

often unsupported by the sources that Bellesiles cites as evidence.57 Robert

Churchill offers the following example in his review of Arming America in

Reviews in American History: Bellesiles describes the problems that

Connecticut faced in its efforts to raise troops for an invasion of Canada in

1746. Bellesiles wrote that “Connecticut finally raised its six hundred

troops, 57 percent of whom did not have guns.” 58 Churchill discovered that

Bellesiles had switched the numbers around: “In the records he cites, . . .

four of ten companies reported the state of their arms, and a fifth gave a

partial return. Of the 454 men covered by the returns, 371 (81.7 percent)

were armed.” 59 Of the five units reporting their arms, two were 100%

armed and the worst armed of the other three was 57% armed. It is hard to

know exactly what Bellesiles did, but he may just have seized on the

number of the worst armed unit and reported that number for all units, but

only after flipping it to 57% unarmed. By misleadingly counting the worst armed

unit as the entire company and flipping the results from armed to

unarmed, Bellesiles is able to make a very well-armed Connecticut militia

(82% armed) appear to be a mostly unarmed militia (43% armed).

 

Elsewhere, Churchill offers other instances. For example, Bellesiles

discusses a 1744 return of militia arms from Worcester County,

Massachusetts. He claims that four companies were “Intirely Deficient” 60

in their firearms, when all they lacked was ammunition.61

 

Consider another story of militia gunlessness told by Bellesiles:

 

When news of Lexington reached New Haven, Benedict Arnold

inspected his troops and found them largely unarmed. He

threatened to break into the town arsenal in order to arm his men,

but the town’s selectmen relented and opened the doors to his

militia, with Arnold supervising the distribution of Brown Besses.62

 

The source that Bellesiles cites tells a different tale: “In New Haven, the

enthusiasts were not thwarted, although Benedict Arnold had to threaten to

break open the powderhouse before town leaders supplied his volunteers

with ammunition.” 63 The striking story of Benedict Arnold’s men lacking

guns (as opposed to ammunition) and of Arnold himself distributing Brown

Besses appears to have been invented.64 Bellesiles then uses this story to

show that even the best-armed colonies such as Connecticut “faced a

shortage of firearms from the very first day of the conflict.” 65

 

Both of the last two examples show a persistent problem with

Bellesiles’s accounts—he repeatedly reports evidence of a lack of

ammunition as a lack of guns. Bellesiles thus creates the impression that the

sources he describes support his stories of gunlessness.

 

There are also serious methodological problems with Bellesiles’s main

militia arms data over time.66 Bellesiles presents his Massachusetts gun

militia data as if they were counts of all privately owned guns in

Massachusetts, which they were not.67

 

First, Bellesiles confuses absence from the annual muster with

gunlessness. If half of the adult men showed up at muster and they were

90% armed, Bellesiles would infer that only 45% of the adult male

population of the colony as a whole was armed. This would make sense

only if every man who did not appear at muster did not own a gun. One

would expect two sorts of people to fail to show up—older or sicker men,

who would be likely to have had substantial experience with guns earlier in

their lives, and wealthier men, who were both more likely to risk the fine

for skipping muster and more likely to own guns.

 

Further, Bellesiles confuses arms produced at militia musters with arms

owned. There were many guns that would have been suitable for shooting

birds (“ fowling pieces” ) or vermin, or for hunting larger animals, that

would not meet the standards of the day for battle muskets, which were

very heavy with extremely long barrels. It is somewhat akin to confusing an

M-16 with a shotgun. In addition, the average family size in the North was

six people in 1790.68 Households with more than one adult male might have

had only one gun or only one military-style gun, and, as a result, one or

more men in that household would show up unarmed in Bellesiles’s data.

 

Last, Bellesiles anachronistically compares gun ownership to the

general population, a fairly obvious interpretive “life cycle” error. With

average family sizes of six,69 most women and children would have lived in

a household with guns. By comparing gun ownership to the general

population, boys who would grow up to own guns as frequently as their

fathers are counted as not owning guns. Instead of comparing his

percentages to the number of households, he dilutes his percentages with

children, counting white male children who would grow up to own a gun as

nonowners.70 To take such an individualistic approach in the presence of

such large family sizes is the kind of anachronistic move that one would not

expect a historian to make. That would be like comparing home ownership

today to the general population and counting children who live in homes

owned by their parents as not being homeowners—or even worse,

computing fertility rates by including men and little children in the base.

 

 

3. The Probate Records

 

The dispute over the probate records, which has been the primary topic

in the public debate for the last year, is essentially settled. Four scholars—

Robert Churchill in Reviews in American History,71 Randolph Roth in

William and Mary Quarterly,72 and Justin Heather and I in the William and

Mary Law Review73—confirm serious errors in Arming America and

confirm each other’s counts. Certainly, in most fields, that would settle the

matter (until new data surfaced). The only other scholars who questioned

our probate data were unable to explain their conclusions and have backed

away from them.

 

Probate inventories are appraised lists of assets at death. They were

used to disclose property available for creditors, to achieve any necessary

title-clearing, and to ensure a proper distribution of assets among the

members of the large families that prevailed in early America.74 In an article

forthcoming as of this writing,75 Justin Heather and I compare the relative

frequency of gun ownership in these inventories to the presence of other

commonly owned items. As for the methodology of drawing inferences

from probate records, we suggest that the ownership of any item of interest

should be compared to the ownership of other commonly owned items,

since probate inventories are inherently incomplete.76

 

Gun ownership was particularly high compared to ownership of other

common items. For example, in 813 itemized male inventories from Alice

Hanson Jones’s 1774 national database, 54% of estates listed guns,

compared to only 30% of estates listing any cash, 14% listing swords or

edge weapons, 25% listing Bibles, 62% listing any book, and 79% listing

any clothes.77

 

Guns are thus more common than Bibles in several databases that

Heather and I examined. Further, guns are generally found in roughly as

many probate estates as books of any kind, a finding suggesting that guns,

like books, were very commonly owned by early American families. Based

on the 1774 probate records, the frequency of gun ownership (54% of male

estates, 50% of both male and female estates combined) was roughly

midway between the ownership of any coins or other money (about 30% of

male estates) and the ownership of clothes (about 79% of male estates).78 If

gun ownership really was about two-thirds of the level of clothes ownership

(and about five-thirds of the level of cash ownership), then gun ownership

was roughly as common as was generally thought to be the case before

Arming America was published. Contrary to Arming America’s claims

about probate inventories in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century America,

there were high numbers of guns, guns were much more common than

swords or other edge weapons, women in 1774 owned guns at a rate (18%)

higher than Bellesiles claimed men did in 1765-1790 (14.7%), and 83-91%

of gun-owning estates listed at least one gun that was not old or broken.79

 

For the probate data from Providence, Rhode Island (1678-1726),80

Bellesiles misclassified over 60% of the inventories he examined.81 He

repeatedly counted women as men, counted guns in about a hundred wills

that never existed, and claimed that the inventories evaluated more than half

of the guns as old or broken when fewer than 10% were so listed.82 Heather

and I found that nationally, for the 1765-1790 period, the average

percentage of estates listing guns that Bellesiles reported (14.7%) is not

mathematically possible given the regional averages he reported and known

minimum sample sizes.83

 

Bellesiles argued that guns were rarely listed in probate inventories—

according to him, only 14.2% of 1200 frontier inventories in the 1765-1790

period included guns, and 53% of the guns were explicitly listed as broken

or otherwise defective.84 To support this claim, Bellesiles has put a report

on his website that recounts frontier estates from Vermont, where four of

his six frontier counties are located. Bellesiles finds only forty-five estates

listing guns, missing seventy estates with guns altogether.85 Among his

forty-five estates, he also misses several pistols. Further, he misreports the

description of several guns, making them appear to be in worse condition

than they are listed.86 He misses all of the twenty-six gun estates in Windsor

County, even though Windsor County is in his sample.87 He misses every

gun estate in Rutland County from 1786 through 1790.88 He claims to count

records in the Gloucester County courthouse in Chelsea, Vermont, when

there is no Gloucester County or Gloucester County courthouse.89 The

courthouse in Chelsea, Vermont, is the Orange County courthouse, but

Bellesiles misses all five gun estates in its records during the period,

assuming these are supposed to be in his sample.90 Bellesiles gets one of the

locations of the Windsor County records wrong—there are none in the town

of Windsor.91 Last, fewer than 15% of the guns, not 53% as he lists for

frontier counties in 1765-1790, are listed as broken or defective.92

 

Bellesiles’s responses to criticisms of his probate data have been

inadequate. In the paperback edition of the book, he has quietly dropped all

of the originally challenged claims from Providence, Rhode Island, without

acknowledging his previously published errors.93

 

Justin Heather and I have analyzed part of Bellesiles’s nineteenth century

probate data and are finding the same disturbing pattern that exists

in Bellesiles’s data for the previous two centuries. In particular, in his Table

1,94 Bellesiles reports gun counts for forty counties, including San Francisco

County. In correspondence95 and in a report on his website from February

through early September, 2001, Bellesiles claimed to have examined the

San Francisco probate records at the San Francisco Superior Court.

Repeated inquiries to the San Francisco Superior Court have all yielded a

version of the same answer: They do not have the probate records that

Bellesiles claimed to have counted there because they were destroyed in the

1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire.

 

Representatives of the History Center at the San Francisco Public

Library, the Bancroft Library of the University of California, the Sutro

Library, the Family History Center Libraries, and the California

Genealogical Society agree that they know of no surviving runs of San

Francisco probate inventories for the years Bellesiles claimed to have

counted—1849-1850 and 1858-1859—because (as most note) they were

destroyed in 1906.96 Kathy Beals, an author who has written a book on pre-

1906 San Francisco probate records,97 reports that a list of the names of

those who left wills from the 1850s exists, but that there are no known runs

of inventories or property lists.98 A few scraps of other probate records exist

from 1880 through 1905, but nothing of substance before 1880.99 Rick

Sherman, the Research Director of the California Genealogical Society in

Oakland, California, confirmed the unanimous belief that such records do

not exist.100 Bellesiles has repeatedly stated that he used only complete runs

of inventories, not a few inventories discovered here or there, as did Alice

Hanson Jones in her study of New York probate records.101

 

In January 2002, Bellesiles publicly claimed on Emory’s Academic

Exchange to have located some of the long-lost San Francisco inventories

from the 1850s in the Contra Costa County History Center in Martinez,

California.102 Bellesiles claimed that the staff did not even know that they

had any probate inventories, even though, as the staff points out, they are

part of the core of the collection.103 He also supplied copies of these

supposed San Francisco inventories to journalists. I have reviewed these

documents and the original files from which they were copied; there is

nothing in them to suggest that they are San Francisco County estates.

Several documents that Bellesiles copied clearly reveal themselves to be

Contra Costa County estates. The staff of the History Center has reviewed

Bellesiles’s claims carefully and concluded that every estate he found was a

Contra Costa County estate. I have confirmed their conclusion. In the

original files, there are well over a hundred documents establishing that

these are Contra Costa estates. There are many petitions to and orders of the

Contra Costa County Probate Court. There is not one petition to or order of

the San Francisco Probate Court. Further, the staff casts serious doubt on

Bellesiles’s claim to have done substantial work in their archives before

recently.104 Emory University’s history department was so embarrassed by

Bellesiles’s claims that it sent a letter apologizing to the Contra Costa

County History Center for Bellesiles’s comments.105

 

Neither part of Arming America’s study of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century

probate data is replicable, nor is Bellesiles’s study of probate data

from the 1840s and 1850s. In terms of paragraphs, the probate study is only

a small part of the book—about twelve paragraphs in the text discuss the

probate evidence, plus textual footnotes and the entire page of data in Table

1.106 Yet it is the most dramatic and potentially persuasive evidence he

offers. The probate data are the only data purporting to show systematic

changes in gun ownership over long periods of time (1765-1859), a crucial

part of Arming America’s central claim that gun ownership was very low in

the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and grew gradually in the few

decades before the Civil War. Further, the probate data are by far the most

important evidence purporting to show that guns in private hands were

mostly in poor working condition.

 

Moreover, it would not be proper simply to omit a discussion of probate

data now that it is clear that they undercut the conclusion of Arming

America—that would be the suppression of contrary evidence. One may

speculate what the book might have been without the probate data, but it is

not possible to ignore the fact that this important body of evidence exists.

The patterns in the actual probate data from colonial America are

potentially devastating to Arming America’s central arguments. The fact

that gun ownership was much higher in the seventeenth and eighteenth

centuries than Bellesiles claims it was on the eve of the Civil War renders

the main story in Arming America incoherent. If guns were already more

common in the eighteenth century than Bellesiles says they were on the eve

of the Civil War, then his narrative of how we got from low gun ownership

to high gun ownership collapses into the opposite story of a shift from high

gun ownership to somewhat lower gun ownership.

 

Also potentially devastating to the arguments in Arming America are

the conditions of guns in probate records. In every database Heather and I

have looked at (including the databases Bellesiles cites in Arming America),

at least 83% of estates with guns have guns that are not listed as old or in

poor working condition.107 A more coherent story would have been that

America went from fairly ineffective guns to fairly effective mass-produced

guns, but that is not Bellesiles’s main story; more to the point, such a story

would have been largely uncontroversial.

 

The importance of the probate data is suggested in the reviews and

press accounts: the New York Times (“Mr. Bellesiles’s principal

evidence” ),108 the Washington Post (Bellesiles’s “freshest and most

interesting source” ),109 the New York Review of Books (“ The evidence is

overwhelming. First of all are probate records.” ),110 the New Republic

(“ [T]he core of his argument depends on statistics: government censuses of

militia members and a sample of probate records . . . .” ),111 and Reason

(Bellesiles’s “main proof for the absence of firearms” ).112

 

Bellesiles himself emphasized probate records when he summarized his

argument in a November 3, 1997, interview with the Emory Report:

“ ‘Contrary to the popular image, few people in the United States owned

guns prior to the 1850s,’ Bellesiles said. ‘Probate and militia records make

clear that only between a tenth and a quarter of adult white males owned

firearms.’” 113

 

In articles on Arming America both in law reviews and especially in the

popular press, Bellesiles’s evidence from probate records was the single

most commonly mentioned source of quantitative evidence supporting his

thesis. Scholars have quickly made use of Bellesiles’s undercounts of guns

in probate records to support their views of the Second Amendment.114

 

Thus, while the probate data are discussed on only about thirteen pages

in the book,115 they are recognized by some reviewers as the single most

important class of evidence among the many classes of evidence that

Bellesiles discusses. Admittedly, others put more weight on this evidence

than does Bellesiles. Not surprisingly, Bellesiles and his supporters are now

claiming that the probate data are relatively unimportant.116 Yet without the

probate data, his book runs the risk of falling into the genre that Bellesiles

has called “dueling quotations.” 117 One cannot just wish the probate data

away; it points strongly against the main narrative of Arming America.

 

 

Click here for the next page.

43. BELLESILES, supra note 3, at 377-83.

44. This results from my analysis of the March 2001 release of the National Opinion

Research Center’s General Social Survey, 2000 [hereinafter 2000 NORC GSS]. The data are also

available at Nat’l Opinion Research Ctr., General Social Survey, at http://www.icpsr.umich.edu/

GSS/ (last visited Apr. 8, 2002). According to the survey, 32.5% of households owned any gun,

19.7% owned a rifle, 18.6% owned a shotgun, and 19.7% owned a pistol or revolver. 2000 NORC

GSS, supra. Only 1.2% of respondents refused to respond to the question. Id.

45. Inter-Univ. Consortium for Political & Soc. Research (ICPSR), Census Data for the Year

1790, http://fisher.lib.virginia.edu/cgi-local/censusbin/census/cen.pl?year=790 (last visited Aug.

10, 2001).

46. 2000 NORC GSS, supra note 44.

47. BELLESILES, supra note 3, at 445 tbl.1.

48. Bellesiles emphasized probate records when he summarized his argument in a November

3, 1997, interview with the Emory Report: “‘Contrary to the popular image, few people in the

United States owned guns prior to the 1850s,’ Bellesiles said. ‘Probate and militia records make

clear that only between a tenth and a quarter of adult white males owned firearms.’” Michael

Terrazas, Bellesiles Lays Blame for U.S. Gun Culture at the Feet of Samuel Colt, EMORY REP.,

Nov. 3, 1997, http://www.emory.edu/EMORY_REPORT/erarchive/1997/November/ernovember.

3/11_3_97Bellesiles.html.

49. BELLESILES, supra note 3, at 63.

50. 1 RECORDS OF THE GOVERNOR AND COMPANY OF THE MASSACHUSETTS BAY IN NEW

ENGLAND 26 (Nathaniel B. Shurtleff ed., AMS Press 1968) (1853).

51. 1 id. at 23-24.

52. 1 id. at 25-26.

53. In the earliest years of those estates, 1636-1650, Justin Heather and I counted sixty-one

probate inventories—all but two of which were sufficiently itemized to be used. Fully 25% of the

eight female inventories had guns. Among the fifty-one itemized male inventories, 71% contained

guns. Lindgren & Heather, supra note 24 (manuscript at 66 n.178) (citing 1 PROBATE RECORDS

OF ESSEX COUNTY, MASSACHUSETTS, 1635-1664, at 3-130 (George Dow ed., 1916)).

54. Churchill, supra note 39, at 333 (citations omitted).

55. Id. at 333-34.

56. Robert H. Churchill, Gun Ownership in Early America as Reflected in Manuscript Militia

Returns (Sept. 2001) (unpublished manuscript, on file with author).

57. The most extensive work on this problem has been done by Robert Churchill. See

Churchill, supra note 39; Churchill, supra note 56.

58. BELLESILES, supra note 3, at 141.

59. Churchill, supra note 39, at 333 (citation omitted).

60. BELLESILES, supra note 3, at 150; infra note 61.

61. Posting of Robert H. Churchill, churchil@uscom.com, to H-OIEAHC@h-net.msu.edu

(Sept. 19, 2001) (copy on file with author). Churchill wrote:

 

Bellesiles cites a 1744 militia return from Worcester County, Massachusetts. He claims

that 8 of 21 companies that “filed a report on their firearms” reported that they were

“ entirely deficient.” In the original document the colonel of the regiment reported the

state of the arms and ammunition of each company. He noted that four of the

companies were “entirely deficient as to arms.” He reported the other four as “entirely

deficient as to ammunition.” Bellesiles has thus altered the language in the original to

advance his thesis of gun scarcity.

 

Id. (citation omitted).

62. BELLESILES, supra note 3, at 181.

63. HAROLD E. SELESKY, WAR AND SOCIETY IN COLONIAL CONNECTICUT 228-29 (1990);

see Churchill, supra note 61 (discussing this source).

64. Churchill, supra note 61.

65. BELLESILES, supra note 3, at 181.

66. See id. at 447 tbl.3.

67. Churchill, supra note 61.

68. See supra note 45 and accompanying text.

69. See supra note 45 and accompanying text.

70. See BELLESILES, supra note 3, at 447 tbl.3.

71. Churchill, supra note 39.

72. Roth, supra note 41.

73. Lindgren & Heather, supra note 24.

74. For more on probate inventories, see 3 JONES, supra note 23, at 1847-60; and McGaw,

supra note 22, at 339-43.

75. Lindgren & Heather, supra note 24.

76. Id. (manuscript at 16-21 & tbl.2, 28-29 tbls.3-4).

77. Id. (manuscript at 28 tbl.3).

78. Id. (manuscript at 25, 28 tbl.3).

79. Compare id. (manuscript at 25 & n.62, 28 tbl.3, 42 tbl.8, 49), with BELLESILES, supra

note 3, at 445 tbl.1.

80. 6, 7 & 16 EARLY RECORDS OF THE TOWN OF PROVIDENCE (Horatio Rogers et al. eds.,

Providence, Snow & Farnham City Printers 1894-1901).

81. Lindgren & Heather, supra note 24 (manuscript at 48-49 & nn.84-94).

82. Id.

83. Id. (manuscript at 51-54 & nn.105-13).

84. BELLESILES, supra note 3, at 13, 266-67, 445 tbl.1. This statement appears to be false. A

preliminary analysis of complete data from four of his six frontier counties and partial data from

the other two counties suggests that fewer than 15% of 1765-1790 frontier estates with guns list

only old, broken, or dysfunctional guns, and fewer than 15% of the guns listed are old or

dysfunctional. See James Lindgren & Justin Heather, Vermont Data File, 1770-90 (Feb. 1, 2002)

(unpublished data, on file with author).

85. Compare Michael A. Bellesiles, Vermont Probate Records, 1770-1790 (Oct. 12, 2001), at

http://www.emory.edu/HISTORY/BELLESILES/, with infra Appendix, Section L (listing

examples).

86. See infra Appendix, Section K.

87. See infra Appendix, Section L.

88. See infra Appendix, Section L (collecting data from book II of the Rutland District

manuscript probate records).

89. Bellesiles, supra note 85.

90. Lindgren & Heather, supra note 84.

91. Bellesiles, supra note 85.

92. Compare BELLESILES, supra note 3, at 266-67, with Lindgren & Heather, supra note 84.

93. Compare MICHAEL BELLESILES, ARMING AMERICA: THE ORIGINS OF A NATIONAL GUN

CULTURE 109-10 (Vintage Books 2001) (2000), with BELLESILES, supra note 3, at 109-10.

94. BELLESILES, supra note 3, at 445 tbl.1.

95. In correspondence with me on November 30, 2000, Michael Bellesiles wrote that he

examined the records for San Francisco at the San Francisco Superior Court, a claim repeated in

an essay on using probate records that was on his website from February 2001 through mid-

September 2001. E-mail from Michael Bellesiles to author (Nov. 30, 2000) (on file with author).

96. Telephone Interviews with various librarians, History Center at the San Francisco Public

Library, Bancroft Library of the University of California, Sutro Library, and Family History

Center Libraries, and with Rick Sherman, Research Director, California Genealogical Society

(July 7, 2001 through Sept. 10, 2001); E-mail from Rick Sherman, Research Director, California

Genealogical Society to author (July 9, 2001) (on file with author).

97. KATHY BEALS, SAN FRANCISCO PROBATE INDEX, 1880-1906: A PARTIAL

RECONSTRUCTION (1996).

98. E-mail from Kathy Beals to author (July 10, 2001) (on file with author); E-mail from

Kathy Beals to author (July 11, 2001) (on file with author).

99. E-mail from Kathy Beals to author, supra note 98.

100. E-mail from Rick Sherman to author, supra note 96.

101. See Odyssey with Gretchen Helfrich (WBEZ radio broadcast, Jan. 16, 2001),

http://www.WBEZ.org/services/ram/od/od-010116.ram; Posting of Michael A. Bellesiles,

mbelles@emory.edu, to H-OIEAHC@h-net.msu.edu (Jan. 9, 2001) (copy on file with author).

102. Michael Bellesiles, Emory Academic Exchange (Jan. 22, 2002), at

http://www.emory.edu/ACAD_EXCHANGE/2002/decjan/whatsnew.html; see Betty Maffei,

Notes on Supposed San Francisco Records in the Contra Costa County Historical Society History

Center, at http://www.cocohistory.com/frm-news.html (last updated Jan. 27, 2002).

103. Maffei, supra note 102.

104. Id.

105. See Ron Grossman, Emory Can Wait No Longer: Historian Is Under Investigation, CHI.

TRIB., Feb. 13, 2002, at C5 (describing the apology from James Melton, chair of Emory’s history

department).

106. BELLESILES, supra note 3, at 13, 74, 79-80, 109-10, 148-49, 262, 266-67, 386, 445 tbl.1.

107. See Lindgren & Heather, supra note 24 (manuscript at 25, 28 tbl.3, 42 tbl.8, 49);

Lindgren & Heather, supra note 84.

108. Ramirez, supra note 29.

109. John Whiteclay Chambers II, Lock and Load, WASH. POST, Oct. 29, 2000, at X2.

110. Morgan, supra note 36, at 30.

111. Jackson Lears, The Shooting Game, NEW REPUBLIC, Jan. 22, 2001, at 30, 32.

112. Malcolm, supra note 38, at 48.

113. Terrazas, supra note 48.

114. See, e.g., Michael C. Dorf, What Does the Second Amendment Mean Today?, 76 CHI.-

KENT L. REV. 291, 312 (2000); Robert E. Shalhope, To Keep and Bear Arms in the Early

Republic, 16 CONST. COMMENT. 269, 274 (1999); Koren Wai Wong-Ervin, The Second

Amendment and the Incorporation Conundrum: Towards a Workable Jurisprudence, 50

HASTINGS L.J. 177, 184-85 (1998).

115. See supra note 106 and accompanying text.

116. See Michael A. Bellesiles, Arms and the Ancestors, WALL ST. J., Apr. 4, 2001, at A25;

Kevin R. Hardwick, Colloquy, CHRON. HIGHER EDUC., Feb. 22, 2002, at http://chronicle.com/

colloquy/2002/guns/183.htm; Posting of Chris Waldrep, cwaldrep@sfsu.edu, to H-LAW@

h-net.msu.edu (Dec. 12, 2001) (copy on file with author); Posting of Jack Rakove to H-LAW@

h-net.msu.edu (Apr. 18, 2001) (copy on file with author).



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