ABSTRACT

The travels of a Moravian-made rifle reveal that Pennsylvania armed its troops in 1776 by disarming peaceable citizens. Modern judicial rulings often look to eighteenth century-precedents to insist that it is permissible only to “disarm the dangerous” and that America has “no tradition” of disarming “peaceable citizens.” But when Pennsylvania’s efforts at making new arms in 1775 and 1776 failed, it passed laws to authorize taking arms from anybody who was not using them, including a very substantial number of non-associators, often described as “well-affected,” whom nobody considered dangerous. Innumerable receipts kept on scraps of paper, dispersed in local, county, and state archives, enable us to trace not only the afterlife of a singular Moravian rifle but also the disarmament process itself in which military officers entered a home, lawfully but surely without a warm welcome, and took a musket or rifle that the homeowners considered their property.

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