The New World

An Historic Sketch With Treacherous Insinuations

Samuel Griswold (1790-1867)

Samuel Griswold went down to Georgia from Connecticut in 1815, accompanied by his wife Louisa and two children. Samuel’s people had been in the New World since 1639, when his ancestor Edward Griswold arrived from England, and it was known to Samuel, both by living example and family history, that a man’s fortune could be made by initiative and enterprise in this frontier land.

In 1815, Georgia was frontier. When Griswold arrived in Clinton, the edge of territory open to settlers was within 20 miles. Clinton was then little more than a village, but it was growing rapidly. Samuel Griswold began as a merchant’s clerk and Louisa worked as a seamstress, but Samuel soon started a business of his own, making and selling tin ware. By 1820 he had sold enough buckets, baking pans and other items to buy a house, two additional lots in town, and five slaves. He and Louisa had six more children. He experienced a setback in the early 1820s and had to borrow money from back in Connecticut and sell his properties. But soon afterward he decided to start building cotton gins.

Samuel began production in a rented blacksmith shop in Clinton, assisted by his eldest son. His cotton gins were good quality and his operations profited and expanded. When the Central of Georgia Railroad was chartered in 1833 to put a line through from the coastal port of Savannah to Macon, Griswold began buying property on and near its path. The Railroad was completed in 1843. By 1850, Griswold had moved his operations from Clinton to his property on the railroad, 9 miles east of Macon, and built the company town of Griswoldville. Griswoldville had a train station (number 18), sawmill, iron foundry, gristmill, post office, church, general store, homes for Griswold and his children and cottages for workers, which then included nearly 100 slaves. The new cotton gin factory produced about 900 gins a year and shipped them as far away as Texas. By 1860 Samuel Griswold was 70 years old and owned 11,000 acres of Georgia. Initiative and enterprise had made him a rich man.

Arvin Nye Gunnison (1824-1882)

Hugh Gunnison arrived in New England from Sweden around 1630. He was 20 years old. Hugh made his way to Boston and in 1637 was censured by the Puritan magistrates of that town for his involvement in the Anne Hutchinson Heresy. Depending on one’s choice among revisionist histories, Anne Hutchinson was an early feminist, supporter of the separation of church and state, self-serving cult leader, Christian anarchist, or just plain uppity woman with spiritual delusions. She was convicted of heresy and banished from Boston. She was pardoned by the governor of Massachusetts 350 years later. Hugh apparently recovered his standing in the community more quickly. He was granted permission in 1642 to sell beer in the eatery he operated in his house, subsequently known as the King’s Arms. Hugh sold the tavern in 1651 and moved to New Hampshire.

Arvin Nye Gunnison was born in Goshen, New Hampshire in 1824. In 1843 he went to Georgia. He was first employed as a school teacher, but by the 1850s was working for Samuel Griswold in the cotton gin factory. In the late 1850s he moved to New Orleans and went into business building cotton gins there–as Gunnison, Chapman & Company, with an office on Charles and factory on Tchoupitoulas Street. In 1859, Arvin Gunnison married Sarah Helen Putnam, who was also from New Hampshire.

Coincidentally, a French physician named Jean Alexander LeMat also lived in New Orleans at that time. LeMat had an interest in gun design and was developing the prototype of his combination pistol-shotgun: the LeMat Revolver. That may well be what inspired Gunnison to begin exploring gun manufacturing. In any case, Gunnison left New Orleans in April 1862, after it was occupied by Union troops. He took some pistol making experience, a shop foreman and some machinery, and went back to Griswoldville.

Pikes

In February 1862 Governor Joe Brown of Georgia ordered the production of 10,000 pikes. Most of the industrial capacity to produce weaponry was in the northern states and the Confederacy was severely short of arms. Joe Brown’s Pikes were both the fantasy of a man lacking military experience and a desperate attempt to provide at least some kind of weapon until sufficient firearms could be obtained. In Joe Brown’s imagination, pike wielders might “…rush with terrible impetuosity into the lines of the enemy.”

Governor Brown was later criticized for this foolishness and waste of money, but a variety of Georgia citizens answered the Governor’s call. Some 7,000 pikes were produced and purchased by the state of Georgia, at the generous price of $5 each. As far as is known, no pikes were ever actually used in Civil War combat. Nearly 6,000 of them were taken from storage in the Georgia State Arsenal by Union troops and burned in 1864.

One of the more interesting pike designs was invented by a Methodist minister, the Reverend Doctor Graves, originally from Vermont but residing in Georgia during the Civil War. Reverend Graves’ model was to have a spring-loaded blade to assist in the impaling of its target.

Samuel Griswold also joined in the war effort. Recognizing that cotton production, and thus the demand for cotton gins, would decline during hostilities, Griswold converted his factory to pike production. During April and May of 1862, Griswold produced 804 pikes for Georgia, with his customary quality of manufacture.

Revolvers

Arvin Gunnison arrived back in Griswoldville in May of 1862. Griswold and Gunnison turned their attention to the production of a more modern weapon. Samuel signed a contract with the Confederate government to manufacture .36 caliber, percussion cap and ball revolvers for officers and cavalrymen. The pistols would be copies of the highly regarded 1851 Colt Navy Revolver.

Due to the shortage of higher quality materials and specialized machinery, and limited experience in gun making, the Griswold & Gunnison revolver was not as finely made as the Colt. Those considerations might also at least partially explain the difference in prices. The 1851 Colt Navy was sold in the north for $13.75 whereas Griswold and Gunnison were paid $40 for each pistol they manufactured. By August 1862 the Griswold and Gunnison revolver had passed inspection by the Confederate Superintendent of Armories and were being made by 22 machines operated by 22 slaves.

It has been suggested that the slaves took pride in their work and were paid a wage. It was reported in a newspaper article in October 1863 that about 40 slaves from the pistol factory turned out at the Griswoldville railroad station to enthusiastically greet Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who shook their hands. It is common practice during hostilities to demonize one’s enemy and propagandize one’s subject population. Cautious interpretation of such statements therefore seems advisable. Oral histories collected from former southern slaves themselves generally indicate less fondness for captivity.

Despite the disadvantages under which they were manufactured, Griswold and Gunnison revolvers were handsome, reliable, accurate and adequately lethal. Instead of steel (as used in the Colt), Griswold and Gunnison Revolvers had iron barrels and brass frames. Some of the brass came from church bells, donated by the faithful and melted down. Between May 1862 and November 1864 approximately 3,700 pistols were produced. On November 21st, 1864 the factory and much of the town of Griswoldville were burned to the ground by Union cavalry in Sherman’s March to the Sea.

Advertisements

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: