at the museum

At The Museum: The “Beecher Bible” Sharps Model 1852 Carbine

The Sharps rifle was invented by Christian Sharps who obtained a patent for a new design of a breech-loading rifle. Sharps, born in Washington, New Jersey worked as an apprentice to a gunsmith as a youth, and in the 1830s he went to work at Harpers Ferry Arsenal, studying under Captain John H. Hall, the inventor of the earliest breech-loading rifle.  Christian Sharps received fifteen patents in his lifetime for various design improvements on firearms.

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This Sharps Model 1852 carbine was built by the Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company between 1853 and 1855.

While Christian Sharps invented the famed rifle, the Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company which manufactured the legendary Civil war era gun was actually owned by Samuel Robbins and Richard Lawrence. The company was a major manufacturer of rifles for the Union army and continued to make firearms until 1881.

On the eve of the Connecticut/Kansas Colony’s departure from New Haven, CT, in March of 1856, Henry Ward Beecher sent the company’s president, Charles B. Lines, a check for $625 to honor his pledge to provide the company with funds to purchase twenty-five Sharps rifles. Beecher had raised the money from his Brooklyn, NY congregation. Twenty-five Bibles, a gift from one of his parishioners, accompanied the check, along with a letter from Beecher addressed to the colonists. In it he explained that, “There are times when self-defense is a religious duty. If that duty was ever imperative, it is now, and in Kansas.”

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This Model 1852 carbine was built by the Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company in Hartford, CT between 1853 and 1855. This rifle was a .52 caliber weapon.

Beecher had ignited controversy several weeks earlier by saying that, “he believed that the Sharps rifle was a truly moral agency, and that there was more moral power in one of those instruments, so far as the slaveholders of Kansas were concerned, than in a hundred Bibles. You might just as well . . . read the Bible to Buffaloes as those fellows who follow Atchison and Stringfellow; but they have a supreme respect for the logic that is embodied in Sharps rifles.”

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Sharps Patent 1852

Beecher’s letter to the colonists was widely reproduced in both Northern and Southern papers. Headlines proclaimed, “Bibles and Rifles for Kansas” and “Beecher Bible and Rifle Colony.” This was the first instance where the words Beecher, Bible, and rifle came together. It was from this event and the subsequent news coverage of the colony’s progress in Kansas that the term describing a Sharps carbine as a “Beecher Bible” entered the language. It was also the point when the press began calling the Connecticut/Kansas Colony Beecher’s Bible and Rifle Colony or Beecher’s Rifle Colony. It is estimated that between 900 and 1,000 Sharps rifles were shipped to the Kansas Territory.

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Maude J. Mitchell, left, holds an original “Beecher Bible” Sharps carbine, while Josephine Willig Brown holds an original Beecher Bible in the William Mitchell home.

W. H. Isley wrote of the Sharps rifle in 1907, saying, “The very name “Sharps rifle” was to become a term to sober the border ruffian and give him serious pause. This breech-loading rifle was a new invention and extremely effective in comparison, the Missourian was poorly armed, carrying either a squirrel-knife, a heavy buffalo-gun, or a clumsy army musket. This difference in armament probably explains why the free-state bands, though usually outnumbered, were invariably victorious in all open fighting.”

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