The Hatteras Snaphance Find (Phelps, 1998)
Archaeological Site, Buxton, NC
Baylus C. Brooks with analysis by Charles Heath & Brian Godwin
31DR1: Used by Permission of Phelps Archaeology Laboratory, East
past summer, I have worked with a really fine group of people who
actually are friends with one another and do some fine research...
together, as a group. They include REAL professionals, an Archaeology
PhD candidate, an expert on Indian migration and DNA studies, an author
of a book on the Croatoan Indians, a Maritime History MA candidate
(myself), many specialists in many different fields, including a Mayor
from Bidford, England! Serious questions are being answered,
During my own research, I have
sought other experts to help me understand the significance of certain
finds, namely a gunlock that may date to the late 16th century (which
would be highly significant!) and the Kendall ring (an artifact that may
relate to one member of the Roanoke voyages, can be viewed here: http://digital.lib.ecu.edu/special/ead/view.aspx?id=1061&q=croatan
items were found by the late Dr. David S. Phelps, Professor Emeritus at
East Carolina University.
ECU report on this archaeological site is available at http:///www.delabrooke.com/ECUreportGray.pdf.
I have made the resources available to all for the sake of unbiased
This gunlock was examined previously by Dr. James D. Lavin of William
& Mary University in Virginia. Unfortunately, I’ve not been
able to locate the professor, who is retired and we know nothing about
what he found. He may have had previous experience with research
groups that turned him off to the Lost Colony project. That would
be unfortunate. However, Dr. Lawrence Babits, director of the
Maritime History program at ECU told me to contact Bly Straube of
Jamestown Rediscovery who happens to be a published expert on snaphaunce
mechanisms, which this piece is believed to be. My first email to
her included this photo that you see above without mention of where it
came from (I did not want to bias any opinions that she might give).
Her immediate response was that it looked like “1580s snaphaunce”
and she sounded mightily excited about it.
then, I have taken extra photos of the interior of the gunlock for her
to get a better idea of the date and put her in touch with our own
resident archaeology expert, Louisa Pittman. I have no information
on what has happened since then. I’m sure that Louisa has to get
back to ECU before she can view Phelps data and determine context on the
piece to later share with Straube.
I’d hunted for photos on the web for any snaphaunce (there’s quite a
few actually) that might look like our friendly gunlock here and came
across one that looks VERY similar (on Brian Godwin’s website).
The real point I focused upon between these is a square firing pan on
the side… the ONLY one I had been able to find like ours.
Top: English snaphance gun dated
1584 - National Museum, Copenhagen
Botton: Phelps Archaeology
Laboratory, East Carolina University
English snaphaunce is located in a Copenhagen museum now and has been
dated to 1584. Brian’s website is at http://briangodwin.co.uk/snaphance.html. Brian
Godwin is a renowned English snaphaunce expert who has been in touch
with Dr. Charles Ewen at ECU (and lately, myself) about this very piece,
now housed in ECU’s Special Collections Department in Joyner Library.
It is part of the “Croatan Archaeological Site” collection (31DR1)
that also includes the Kendall family signet ring made famous of late.
opinion: The square pan cover is significantly different than all known
snaphaunce except this one in the Copenhagen museum. It is
indicated in pink on the photo, but other similarities have been marked
as well and are distinct from other snaphaunce or flintlock mechanisms
that are presently known (with the exception of the red arrows that
point to a feature indicative of snaphaunce as opposed to flintlocks).
The only significant difference in my opinion is the straight line of
the bottom of the mounting plate. Ours is slightly curved.
Mind you, I’m only guessing because I am not the experts in this,
Godwin and Straube are.
Godwin has recently been in touch about this gunlock and he has given
his revealing opinion in an email to me.
Charles Heath, of the team working with Dr. David S. Phelps who
originally excavated the lock had originally dated the lock to 1605-1620
(mostly due to surrounding archaeological context of c1650 and later).
Godwin disagreed, but suggested that the dating of snaphaunces
were off slightly in the older literature and that may explain the
variation. His recent
experience became valuable. Rather
than rewrite it, I will just include sections of it which offer his
convincing arguments (with his permission, of course):
As you mention in
your email, the Outer Banks lock shares many of the features that can be
seen in the 5 known English snaphance locks dating to the 16th
century. These consist of an excavated pistol c1580 [Queenhithe] and a
musket dated 1590 – Royal Armouries, Leeds; A single gun dated 1584
– National Museum, Copenhagen; a single musket dated 1588 – Victoria
& Albert Museum, London; a pair of pistols dated 1593 – Konopiste
Castle, Czech Republic. The following are characterises of these early
snaphance locks. The lock plates are always trapezoidal in shape,
necessitated by the small rod or bar on the lock interior that is
connected to the tumbler. This opens the pancover as the cock falls
forward. The internal components and arrangement used on the lock
interior changed little in form over the period 1580 to 1630.
components of the English snaphance lock showed the greatest changes
during the period 1580 to 1600. The most notable of these is the cock
holding the flint. On those locks dating to the 1580s, the cock is
almost straight in its form with a small tail or projection at its base.
By 1590 the cock becomes more S-shaped in its form and the tail more
prominent. Also its profile is flat. Similarly the arm of the steel is
flat in profile. By the 1590s both these flat profile components take on
different shapes, the most common being partly rounded and partly flat.
Snaphance, dated 1600-1610:
You can see the S-shaped cock and the thicker buffer, a definite
improvement over the earlier versions.
The Queenhithe model (1580) has a crack in its thinner buffer and
probably indicates the problem with this earlier model.
[Photo from Brian
The buffer or stop
which arrests the fall of the cock is in the form of a small oblong
shape and sometimes has a decorative finial. This form of buffer was
used until about 1600, when a more substantial form with an elaborate
finial was used.
The flashpan of
English snaphance locks from this early period are usually box-like in
form with a square shaped flash shield at the outer end. The forward
section of the pan is slotted so that the sliding pan cover moves
through the slot as it opens or closes. This feature had changed by
about 1600 when the slotted portion of the pan was no longer used. Also
the shape of the flash shield became round in form and this shape was
then used almost exclusively until the lock went out of use in the
1640s. [Email from Brian
Godwin to Baylus C. Brooks, 9/26/2010]