S. Berliner, III's sbiii.com Chambers Multi-Barrel Repeating Swivel Gun Page keywords = naval navy marine maritime nautical ship boat Constitution Essex Chambers multi-barrel repeating swivel gun tall sail frigate hull Massachusetts

Updated:   02 Mar 2017; 12:35  ET
[Page created:nbsp; 14 Feb 2017

    original AT&T Worldnet Website begun 30 May 1996.]
URL:  http://sbiii.com/chambgun.html

S. Berliner, III
Consultant in Ultrasonic Processing
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note - The vast bulk of my massive Web presence (over 485 pages) had been hosted by AT&T's WorldNet service since 30 May 1996; they dropped WorldNet effective 31 Mar 2010 and I have been scrambling to transfer everything.  Everything's saved but all the links have to be changed, mostly by hand.  See my sbiii.com Transfer Page for any updates on this tedious process.

S. Berliner, III's


Chambers Multi-Barrel
Repeating Swivel Gun Page


(and Ordnance and History of Technology)

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    Chambers Multi-Barrel Repeating Swivel Gun of 1814.   new (09 Feb 2017) and rev (28/14 Feb 2017)
    Lilly Library Manuscript of 1815.   added (28 Feb 2017)

Chambers Multi-Barrel Repeating Swivel Gun of 1814 -   new (09 Feb 2017) and rev (28/10 Feb 2017)


(after Wilkens)

[In what follows, I am using terms I have coined (as far as I know) to identify the three extant Chambers guns:

Hewitt Gun - the one from the USS Constitution, recently on display at the Museum of the U. S. Navy in Washington, D. C., held by the Abram Hewitt collection at Ringwood Manor (the former Abram Hewitt House) in Ringwood, New Jersey.

Liège Gun - a longer-barreled version in the collection of le Musée d'Armes in le Grand Curtius, a municipal museum in Liège, Belgium.

Rijks Gun - a stubby, short-barreled version held by the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

 I have also extensively used several sources for images and information, including:

    Hewitt Gun

Ringwood Manor (Abram Hewitt House), Ringwood State Park, NJ Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Parks and Forestry, Ringwood, New Jersey.

USS Constitution Museum, Charlestown Navy Yard, Charlestown, Massachusetts.

The Old Northwest Notebook, D. P. Wilkens.

National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC, part of the National Archives).

National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC, part of the National Archives).

The Promise of American Repeating Weapons, 1791-1821, Andrew J. B. Fagal, posted 20 Oct 2016 by Age of Revolutions, Constitution - All Sails Up and Flying, Olof A. Eriksen, Outskirts Press, Inc., Denver, Colorado.

The Lilly Library at Indiana University Libraries, Bloomington, Indiana

The U. S. Navy's Early Machine Guns, magazine article, Naval History.

National Museum of the United States Navy (a temporary exhibit, from The Sextant.

    Liège Gun

Le Grand Curtius, a municipal museum in Liège, Belgium, which includes le Musée d'Armes (now le Département des Armes).

    Rijks Gun

Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, the Netherlands

and, of course, Wikipedia.]

{Further levels of reference may readily be found in the sources noted.
] Excerpts that conflict are so noted (perhaps sarcastically).]

- - - * - - -

At the U.S.S. Constitution ("Old Ironsides") Museum (which I urge you to vsit if you can), I looked twice at a painting of the ship's fighting top (one of the three - fore or mizzen most likely):

(USS Constitution Museum image)
[Click on thumbnail for larger image]

Whoa!  What's that monstrosity blasting away from the near corner [to the right (your left) of a standard swivel gun)?  Too early for a Gatling gun:

(Wikipedia image)
HMS Shah Gatling Gun 29 May 1877

[[Historical aside - just for background on this interesting illustration (from Dawlish Chronicles), on 29 May 1877, HMS Shah, an 1873 unarmored but heavily-armed, iron-hulled, wooden-sheathed frigate took on the renegade 1866 Lsird-built Peruvian ironclad turret ship (an enhanced monitor) Huáscar off the small town of Ylo, Peru.  The engagement, perhaps the heaviest of its era, was an indecisive but significant duel.  For our purposes, however, what is of interest is that when the ships closed, the Shah's "Gatling gun began firing from the foretop, causing the men on her {Huáscar's} upper-deck to desert their guns".]

There it is!  The Gatling gun was a known quantity in 1877.  The Chambers gun was certainly NOT back in 1814!

Up close, the gun in question is clearly a pistol-butted, multi-barreled, swivel gun that sure LOOKS like a long-barreled Gatling gun:

(extract from USS Constitution Museum image)

Well, I couldn't find anything on line about any such, only a fabulous model of the Essex fighting top by Raul Guzman, Jr., with that same gun, found frustratingly-enough in the order shown:

EssexTop EssexTop EssexTop
Raul Guzman, Jr. - model of Essex fighting top

Finally!  That last image clinches it!

Unable to get any further, I asked new friend Bernard Trubowitz*, the Museum docent, for help.  Well, he came through magnificently, digging out the Museum's copy of the late William Gilkerson's Boarders Away - Volume II:


William Gilkerson was a professional marine artist, author and historian of great note and his two-volume set on naval weapons (too expensive for my blood) documents the Chambers Multi-Barrel Gun, noting that two examples are still extant.

[* - Bernard is also a volunteer at Boston's fantastic Waterworks Museum, a must-see for those who appreciste massive steam engines and the history of technology.]

Actually, THREE seven barrel Chambers guns exist:

The one from the USS Constituton, recently on display at the Museum of the U. S. Navy in Washington, D. C., is held by the Abram Hewitt collection at Ringwood Manor in Ringwood, New Jersey; it is missing a few small accessories.

A longer-barreled version is held in the collection of le Musée d'Armes in le Grand Curtius, a municipal museum in Liège, Belgium.

The third Chambers, a stubby, short-barreled version, more of a big swivel pistol, is held by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Holland; it has all (or most of) its accessories.

(credits with full images below)
Hewitt Gun ‖ Liège Gun ‖ Rijks Gun

Looking up Chambers guns, what I DID find, other than the Gilkerson book itself, to further confuse matters, was four unrelated gunsmiths named Chambers!

Joe Chambers' Chambers Custom Pistols - 1911-model style - "obsessively accurate".

Jim Chambers Flintlocks Ltd. - kits to build rifles, locks, and pistols.

Fort Chambers Inc. - "Black Powder Gun Shop - Muzzle Loaders are our only business!"   &nsbp; AND

T. W. Chambers, in the UK - "supply Airgun spares for most makes".

How 'bout them lil' apples?

Back to the no-longer-so-mysterious Chambers.  Let's look at some of its technical features.  For starters, she's a flintlock; in fact, she has TWO flintlocks, one at the rear of the barrels and one roughly one-third of the way fo'ard of the swivel trunnions.  Firing the forward lock with a long wire lanyard nestled between two barrels, sets off a chain of shots; firing the rear lock on a fully-loaded piece sets off suicide!  The barrel calib(er)(re) is 69 (0.69"/17.5mm) and there are seven of them, with two stacked vertically about a center barrel and two more on each side, bound together with metal straps.  This shows to advantage in the front view of the Liège gun:

(gun in le Musée d'Armes in le Grand Curtius, Liège, Belgium (after Fagal)

Unlike a Gatling gun, these barrels do NOT rotate.

The forward lock priming hole is connected to holes in the other barrels.  To load the monster, it must be upended; presumably some stand was provided or devised to hold it muzzles-upward.

(from exhibit of Hewitt gun at Naval Musem, Washington, DC)
Load for Willets Gun (at Navy Museum)

Next comes the fun part!  A measure of powder is poured into each barrel, followed buy a very unique bullet having a pin protruding from its front:

(from exhibit of Hewitt gun at Naval Musem, Washington, DC)
Round for Willets Gun (at Navy Museum)

Again one presumes that wadding followed and then a second round is rammed (very-carefully) into each barrel, and so on until all barrels are loaded.  That means 49 rounds!  The ramrod is marked in increments matching the spacing of the successive rounds - mustn't over-ram, y'know!!

Now you should be able to see why one mustn't fire the lock at the rear when she's fully loaded; you wouldn't just get a "flash in the pan", you'd get a catastrophic blast in the face!

By the way, you only get one chance between reloadings; the "repeating" feature is that you get 49 bullets firing in one "shot".

Being a swivel gun, she has a set of trunnions mounted amidships, with a yoke and a fastening plate at the rear, fitted with a curved tiller or handle for aiming.  The tiller is threaded internally at the far end and that holds a wooden ball; on removal, the ball most-cleverly turns out to be the handle of the screwdriver for working on the locks!

So, once she's loaded and ready to fire, pulling the trigger yanks the wire lanyard, snapping the forward lock, igniting the powder charge behind bullet number one in barrel number one and so on around through barrel number seven, whereupon the second charge in barrel number one fires, an so on and so forth, etc.., etc., etc., seemingly ad infinitum (49 times)!

- - - * - - -

Well, I have now turned up far TOO much information about Joseph G(aston). Chambers and his gun so I, regretfully, stopped here until I could distill all the seemingly-endless material I have uncovered from mutiple sources.  Even more is coming in as I write this.  Suffice it to say that the story is amazing, the artifacts incredible, and the sources numerous and exceedingly helpful.

- - - * - - -

Before continuing, let us consider who might Joseph G(aston). Chambers have been.  According to some accounts, he was a farmer from western Pensylvania who came up with the idea for his repeating gun during the American Revolutionary War, hich ran from 1775 through 1783.  He wrote to President George Washington on 05 Aug 1793 (which is after hostilites ceased and before they resumed in 1812) about his gun, referring to an even-earler letter (which has never been found).  According to Fagel, he contacted the War Department about his guns in May 1797 without success, offering "a musket that could fire 20 rounds per minute".  The idea was good; the realization lacked.  He came up with repeating muskets, pistols, and even seven-barreled swivel guns (our subject) which were finally accepted by the U. S. Navy and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania during the War of 1812; some were also acquired for testing in Europe.  However, the technology of the time wasn't quite up to Chambers' ingenuity and reliability was not particularly a striong point.  Further, as muzzle-loaders, neither was practicability.  Nevertheless, the need for innovative solutions to "modern" warfare was great and, when Chambers informed Secretary of War Henry Knox of his guns, Knox arranged for Chambers to be given a musket and for a demonstration to be given at Alexander Hamilton’s "Seat" on the Schuylkill River {I can't find any such place; although Hamilton lived in Philadelpia during the early years of our government, his primary home was in upper Manhattan, New York}

The National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC, part of the National Archives) holds a 1793letter from Joseph Gaston Chambers to George Washington, sent from the "White horse high Street1 Philada Augt 5. 1793":


Some time since I had the honor of applying to the President of the United States on the subject of an improvment in fire arms which seemed capable of being converted to public advantage.  The result of farther experiments being favourable to the opinion first formed and the occasion for Military operations still existing in our country I am induced to trouble him once more on the same.  I wish to be instructed as to the proper method of introducing a business of this kind and whether the president shall think proper to appoint any examination of its merits.  I remain Sir, with the highest Respect your humbe servt

Joseph G. Chambers"

Further, per the NHPRC: Joseph Gaston Chambers (c.1756-1829) lived in West Middleton@, in the town of Hopewell@ in Washington County, Pennsylvania.  He received a patent for his "Gunnery, repeating" on 23 Mar. 1813 (U.S. Patent Office, List of Patents for Inventions and Designs, Issued by the United States, from 1790 to 1847 [Washington, D.C., 1847].

{@ - strange - there's a West Middletown in Washington County, 250 miles west of Middletown and some 20 miles SOUTHWEST of Pittsburgh, there are three Hopewells but none nearby, and there IS a Hopewell Township but it's in Beaver County some 15 miles NORTHWEST of Pittsburgh.}

1. The White Horse tavern was located at 218-220 High Street in Philadelphia.

2. Chambers’s previous letter to GW has not been found.

3. A reply from GW and any subsequent correspondence between the two men have not been found.  Chambers, however, continued to promote his inventions, and in 1801 he asked President Thomas Jefferson to "recollect the Correspondence or interview & affair of the Gun of seven Shots at his seat near Schuylkill in the Spring of 93" (Chambers to Jefferson, 20 May 1801, DLC: Thomas Jefferson Papers).  His inventive and promotional efforts eventually proved successful.  The U. S. Navy’s purchase during the War of 1812 of Chambers’s repeating swivel guns and for other armaments invented by Chambers are documented in a letter from William Jones to James Madison on 01 Sep 1814; Chambers to Jones, 27 Apr 1814 in Miscellaneous Letters Received by the Secretary of the Navy, 1801-1884; Charles Cunliffe Owen to James L. Yeo, 17 Jul 1814, in Michael J. Crawford, ed., The Naval War of 1812: A Documentary History, vol. 3 (Washington, D.C., 2002), 536-37; and in B. R. Lewis, "The First Repeaters," The American Rifleman (Dec. 1949), 38-42.

Here was Chambers' big chance to prove his invention; he was going to fire 20 bullets sequentially out of a single barrel (although some would burst).

Jefferson felt Chambers would do well overseas but recommended he contact the U. S. Patent Office.  Chambers did no such thing but rather contacted France's new minister to the United States, Edmond Genet, who seems to have been no more impressed in May 1793 than Jefferson had been.  Chambers apparently then retired from the lists and went back to the farm.

Although, as noted above, Chambers did in fact obtain a patent for "Gunnery, repeating" on 23 Mar 1813, I have been unable so far to find a copy of the actual patent itself.

The Lilly Library at Indiana University Bloomington holds a letter from British intelligence in its manuscripts of the War of 1812, "Description of a machine invented by Colonel Chambers of Pennsylvania", which is headed "Repeating Gun invented by the Americans 1814".  Fagal shows the heading::

(after Fagal)

Thanks to the Lllly Library, we can see the full text of the two-page* letter:   rev (28 Feb 2017)

ChambersLetterPg1 ChambersLetterPg2
Chambers Multi-Barrel Repeating Swivel Gun
(images courtesy of the Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana -
by specific written permission - all rights reserved;
click on thumbnails for larger images)

Fagal quotes the report as stating that the gun "required a lock affixed to the front of the gun barrel.  That lock, triggered by a cord, would ignite the first powder charge, thus firing the first projectile.  A perforated protrusion in the cylindrical-shaped bullet would carry the charge down the barrel and fire the second bullet, and so on.  The gun’s normal trigger would be reserved for a bullet remaining at the rear of the chamber."

Honestly, I'm not sure I get this; I must assume that the last bullet in the bore does NOT pass the flame front back through to its propellant.  ???

Regardless, I was able to transcribe the full text from the Lilly manuscript; it reads as follows {minor editing bracketed}:

                  Repeating Gun
                  invented by the Americans 1814

Description of a machine invented by Colonel Chambers
of Pensylvania{sic}._
    This instrument is merely a common musquet as repre-
sented above with the addition of a Lock placed near the
muzzle of the piece, or as far on as you wish the piece to be
located, with a touch hole of a communicatng string or other
contrivance to pull the trigger. _ This with the Tubical Bullets
|with pipes| as marked 3. 3, 3. of about an inch & half long
of thickneſs of the bore compose this wonderful destructive
    This repeating gun as it is called is first loaded in the
common way with powder, wadding & round shot, as at No1{?}.
The figure B represents the space for the powder of the new
shot alternately to the end of the Barrel._  The charge
nearest the muzzle is by the application of a lock fired off
first, when the next ball being perforated through & charged
with mealed|bruised|powder   well rammed, instantly communicate{s}
the fire to the next charge & so on succeſsively till{sic} it is stop-

- - - * - - -
ped by the wadding on the ball No1 {?} which is held as a reserve "Thus have I seen a firelock wth 25 loads in her at once and fired off one after the other.  I have also seen seven barrels bound together & mounted as a Swivel, the whole loaded and fired off 175 shot by quick succeſsion, a person having hold of the tail of the swivel & directing the same all round. The above instruments have been since May last used on board the American Men of War & in other fortified places for the destruction of men; at the affair of Oswego they were used first afterwards with Mac Comb against Gen. Prevost at Plattsburgh and at New Orleans._  Their effects can be better comprehended than described & the American Government have been so very secret in this busineſs, that few but Native Trusty Officers, have any knowledge of them"._

      rev (28 Feb 2017)

Just to further confuse matters, our British writer shows two "No1"s and several "No2"s.   added (28 Feb 2017)

* - There is a third page (or side of a sheet) which appears to be blank but is included in the Lilly Library holding; if you wish to see this "blank" page, click here.  These are pages from a large, four-page sheet, folded; the "blank" page reproduced actually has a faint, illegible notation on the right-hand side which should be visible (but which I hadn't found) and actually is the fourth page (the back of the folded sheet).  The third (inner right) page is truly blank and is not reproduced.  Aha!  It took me a while but I finally found the inscription; it is written vertically along the right-hand margin, underlined, in the second quadrant - i.e.: between the upper and middle foldings - and might well be an addressing.   added (28 Feb 2017) and rev (02 Mar 2017)

Thus, the unfolded sheet would appear like this (I extended the tiny smitch of the third page shown for illustrative purposes):   added (02 Mar 2017)

ChambersLetterPg1X3 ChambersLetterPg1X4
Layout of the Chambers Multi-Barrel Repeating Swivel Gun Letter
Obverse (pp. 4 and 1, left) ‖ Reverse (pp. 2 and 3, right)
(created from images courtesy of the Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana -
by specific written permission - all rights reserved)

For your ease of reference, I have extracted the three illustrations, plus the illegible, underlined marking on the fourth page:   added (28 Feb 2017) and rev (02 Mar 2017)




Details from the Chambers Multi-Barrel Repeating Swivel Gun Letter
(cropped from images courtesy of the Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana -
by specific written permission - all rights reserved)

Also, the inscription at the upper right on the first page now, on re-reading it yet again, appears (to me) to read "Transfer A. Cochrane":   added (28 Feb 2017) and rev (02 Mar 2017)

Detail of the Chambers Multi-Barrel Repeating Swivel Gun letter
(cropped from images courtesy of the Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana -
by specific written permission - all rights reserved)

Wilkens explains the Chambers gun operation this way in The Old Northwest Notebook - "A War of 1812 'Gatling Gun'" (excerpted) -

[click on thumbnail for larger image]
(after Navy Museum)

Willets Gun at Navy Museum

One of the most obscure but perhaps most powerful of weapons developed for the wars with England was the multi-barrelled Chambers Gun, patented {"Gunnery, repeating" on 23 Mar 1813} by gunsmith Joseph Chambers in 1814.  Many inventors attempted to build multiple shot firearms, primarily using multiple barrels or multiple charges in one barrel; the first is self-explanatory, but the second requires explanation.  it's usually bad news to have more than one round in the barrel of a muzzleloader,  If double charging is a recipe for making ar gun into a bomb, imagine ramming TWENTY rounds, let alone "only" seven, into a single barrel!  Labor-intensive loading (and expensive mechanisms) made the effort less than worthwhile; a small bore artillery piece charged with grapeshot or canister was far more effective, and easier and faster to load.

The centerpiece of Joseph Chambers' inventions was the powerful swivel gun, a seven-barreled .75 caliber {.69?} gun that could fire 224 shots {good trick if there were only seven barrels - that would mean 32 bullets per barrel!}.  The shots came out of the seven barrels in sequence, so that the infernal machine could be mounted on a frigate's fighting top and swept along the enemy's decks.

The "secret" of the Chambers gun is that the seven barrels were fixed together like a Gatling gun {but did NOT rotate}.  Each barrel was loaded with multiple charges of powder and round balls {NO - cylindrical!}.  These balls are much closer to the actual size of the bore than musket balls, and are also patched with an animal membrane.  Each has a hole bored through the center containing a small amount of priming.  Wilkens writes that it's no wonder that Chambers sent his sons along with the guns to the US Navy to act as technical advisors-- any misloading would certainly have resulted in disaster!

"The first charge is set off by a flintlock set about halfway down the gun, connected to a trigger by a long wire.   When it fires, the first charge sets off the priming leading through the second ball in the bore, and so on.  It also communicates through a vent to a second barrel, to start off it's sequence of charges, and so on. The genius of this firearm is that it takes advantage of the natural delay between the priming and charge going off in a flintlock weapon.  However, because of the precision {aiming} demanded - - - , this was a single-use weapon in a battle.  The idea was that after several of these guns fired, there wouldn't be anyone left on {enemy's} deck to shoot at."  The guns could be loaded and stored well in advance and unpacked for quick service.  "By the war's end, many frigates carried several Chambers guns in each fighting top.  Although there are no direct historical accounts of them being used in a close action, some sources claim that a large number were produced during the War of 1812.  As a specialized but powerful weapon, it is small wonder few if any of them saw combat service."

All this lay low for twenty years until the U. S. declared war on Great Britain in 1812 and up popped Chambers again.  The War Department spurned him yet again but the Navy, looking for new technology, accepted the idea and, from Sep 1813 and Apr 1814, ordered Philadelphia arms manufacturers to build at least 53 seven-barreled swivels that could fire over 200 bullets each and parts to make 30 more, plus 200 repeating muskets, and 100 repeating pistols.  By the summer of 1814, Chambers guns had been delivered to the Navy and deployed by Commodore Isaac Chauncey on Lake Ontario.  At least one piece fell into British naval intelligence hands.

Fagal also relates that Chambers guns may not have seen actual combat [oh, dear - if so, so much for the Constitution painting and Sr, Guzman's Essex model and the contemporary Lilly Library Mss.].  Fagal goes on to tell how Chambers did finally demonstrate his musket and pistols to the French minister but that the Russians must not know of this if Chambers was to get French contracts.  The British, having seized one or more guns in 1814 [if they never saw combat, how'd the Brits capture them?], quickly reverse engineered them and tested copies, liked them, but hadn't the funds to capitalize on them (horrible pun).   rev (28 Feb 2017)

In 1816, the Dutch navy tried to obtain samples secretly but ended up simply buying some from the Philadelphia manufacturers.  However, one burst during testing and that was that for Dutch interest.  The Spanish also were greatly interested, crediting the guns for American victories on the Great Lakes [again, how'd that happen if they never saw combat?].  They sent a gun to Havana but nothing further came of that and Chambers guns droped out of sight, victims of advancing weapons technology.  By 1849, the first (Jennings) repeating rife was out and was quickly followed by Colt, Spencer, and Henry, and others, and then came the Nordenfeldt and Maxim true machine guns.


MUCH MORE to follow; never fear - like MacArthur, "I shall return!"

See also the main, continuation, and second continuation Naval and Maritime pages.


  What happens to all this when I DIE or (heaven forfend!) lose interest?  See LEGACY.


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