Nearly 400 years ago, 20-year-old John Alden embarked on the journey of a lifetime. Alden was a cooper who made barrels and casks, and he was a crew member on the historic voyage of the Pilgrim ship Mayflower.
Photo credit: Michael Ives
As they were traveling to the unknown, the European explorers packed all the firearms they could muster, knowing they would be needed both for protection and for hunting. Alden kept this modified .66-caliber Italian wheellock carbine close by his side.
After arriving in America in 1620, Alden opted against returning to England and instead became one of the original settlers of the Plymouth Colony. He married Priscilla Mullins in 1622, and they had 10 children. In 1653, Alden built a home in Duxbury, Mass., that remained occupied by members of his family until 1896. The colonial home was one of only a few to escape the ravages of fire, which was a common fate of colonial homes. Today, the home is designated as a National Historic Landmark and is open to the public as a museum.
It was in 1924, when the house was undergoing a restoration, that Alden’s musket was recovered. Under the barrel and behind the lock plate are markings associated with the Beretta family armorers—meaning that one of the oldest guns in America was likely made by the oldest gun maker in the world.
This single shot musket, which helped early colonists survive and prosper, is the only known surviving firearm that crossed the Atlantic.
This wheellock carbine was donated to the NRA National Firearms Museum by William Alden, one of John Alden’s descendants. Find more treasures like this at the NRA National Firearms Museum in Fairfax, Va.