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Musket that fired the first shot at the Battle of Bunker Hill is up for auction

By MICHAEL BONNER | MassLive.com, Springfield, Mass. | Published: October 17, 2019

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (Tribune News Service) — As the legend goes, Colonel William Prescott ordered his militia “Don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes!” as British forces embarked on Bunker Hill nearly 250 years ago.

One man, didn’t follow those orders. Private John Simpson fired, sparking the Battle at Bunker Hill, a fight the colonists lost, but historians mark as a pivotal event that provided the revolutionaries with confidence they could challenge the world’s most powerful military.

That musket, which began the bloodshed on June 17, 1775 — one day after the “shot heard ‘round the world” in Lexington — is now up for auction.

Simpson’s musket, bayonet and commission have been passed down through family lineage for 244 years. It’s now set to leave the family through Morphy Auctions. The opening bid is set at $50,000. Bidding is open now with the auction set to end Tuesday morning.

Private Simpson received a court martial for firing the first shot at Bunker Hill. The punishment wasn’t severe and he went on to serve with honor during the American Revolution. He eventually became a major.

Today, a historical marker remembers Simpson in his home of Deerfield, New Hampshire reading, “MAJOR JOHN SIMPSON: Born in Deerfield and buried in Old Center Cemetery on road west, he gained fame by the unauthorized first shot at Bunker Hill while serving as a private in Captain Dearborn’s Company of Colonel Stark’s Regiment. Although reprimanded for this disobedience, he afterward served his country with honor."

Known as the man who fired the first shot at Bunker Hill, Simpson also was related to Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th president of the United States, and Merriweather Lewis, of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

The musket itself is a Dutch Type III musket.

The musket features a tapered round smoothbore barrel inscribed “No. 696” on top, near the breech. There is a bayonet lug on the bottom. It is complete with its original matching numbered bayonet inscribed “G — No. 696” on the socket. It has a faceted double-edged blade of 12-1/8\u2033 and measures 16-5/8\u2033 overall.

The musket comes with several copies of a 50 page book of extensive professional research compiled and written by Jonathan Holstein for the current owner, which includes documentation of the history of the musket and Simpson.

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