The rifle that fired the first shot at the Battle of Bunker Hill — at the outbreak of the American Revolution — sold at the Morphy’s Auction House in Denver, PA for $492,000. Auctioneers expected the rifle to sell for around $300,000.
“We [had] the privilege of auctioning a firearm that symbolizes one of the most important battles leading to American independence,” said Morphy’s president Dan Morphy.
“The Simpson gun symbolized one of the most important battles leading to American independence and came with impeccable family provenance and supportive documentation,” added Morphy. “Bidders knew there was no question about this famous gun’s background and authenticity.”
The buyer of the Bunker Hill musket asked to remain anonymous, but has arranged for the gun to be put on display to the public at the National Museum of Military Vehicles in Dubois, WY as early as May 2020.
While the majority of the first shots of major conflicts are lost to history, the Bunker Hill musket has excellent provenance as John Simpson’s gun, who mistakenly and infamously fired at British forces just before the battle was supposed to take place.
The soldiers of the 1st New Hampshire Regiment had orders not to shoot “until you see the white of their eyes,” but Private Simpson disobeyed on June 17, 1775, firing before the British soldiers closed in on their position. Later, Simpson was court-martialed.
His punishment was minor and Simpson did eventually rise to the rank of Major before retiring to be with his family in New Hampshire.
The Battle of Bunker Hill, along with Breed’s Hill and the Siege of Boston is considered to be one of the most important early events of the American Revolution. While the battle ultimately ended in defeat for the Americans, having run out of ammunition, it would steeply temper British tactics and it proved that the American militia was surprisingly capable even against England’s regular army.
Around 1,200 colonial militiamen rallied to defend Boston during its siege, and English forces suffered two casualties for every American casualty in the Battle of Bunker Hill. American forces also injured and killed a large number of British officers in the opening battle.
Since then the musket has been passed down through Simpson’s family for six generations, and more than two centuries, and was offered for sale, for the first time, at the October 22-23 auction, along with all of Simpson’s original military commission.