Senate Doorkeeper Tony Gallo pulled back the white cloth Friday, revealing an 1819 model of John Hall’s flintlock, one of only three that survived over the past two centuries.
A Senate resolution, passed unanimously, aims to make that rifle the official firearm of West Virginia.
On display directly in front of Senate President Jeffrey Kessler’s podium, the rifle was borrowed for the occasion by Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley, from the National Park Service in Harpers Ferry.
“I had to sign my life away just to bring it down here but assured them that they would get a return,” Unger quipped.
No one is sure, but Unger said it is believed the Hall Flintlock is one of the guns found on West Virginia’s official seal, directly at the foot of the two Mountaineers.
Hall produced the weapon at the National Armory in Harpers Ferry for the U.S. Army.
One year later, Unger explained, Hall landed a contract to deliver 100 of them to the Army, since the government was keenly interested in his revolutionary concept for interchangeable parts.
A second government contract in 1819 found Hall with an order to produce 1,000 rifles, his being the first breech-loader ever adopted by our nation’s military, Unger said.
Unlike other firearms of the day, the majority leader noted, one needn’t pour powder through the muzzle and down the barrel and ram the bullet inside to prepare it for firing.
“Hall’s rifle had a block in the breech and near the operator’s body that could be lifted out and allow the operator to insert the powder and the ball,” Unger said.
“Therefore, it was easier and faster to load. It saw action in several frontier wars and was still in use during the Civil War.”
Unger found it appropriate to adopt the Hall Model, which is fired at least once a year at Harpers Ferry, as the state firearm, since West Virginia this year observes its 150th birthday.