In a 2-1 decision, a panel of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Illinois’ draconian gun control laws. I am quite pleased with the result, but rather than discuss the law (which is an abomination-good riddance!) or the decision as a whole, I’m going to focus on one part of Judge Posner’s decision that made me smile due because it resonated with family history.
Specifically, this part:
And one doesn’t have to be a historian to realize that a right to keep and bear arms for personal self-defense in the eighteenth century could not rationally have been limited to the home. Suppose one lived in what was then the wild west—the Ohio Valley for example (for until the Louisiana Purchase the Mississippi River was the western boundary of the United States), where there were hostile Indians. One would need from time to time to leave one’s home to obtain supplies from the nearest trading post, and en route one would be as much (probably more) at risk if unarmed as one would be in one’s home unarmed.
Here’s the family connection-directly from the Ohio Valley. My great-great-whatever grandfather, Abel Sherman, was a Revolutionary War veteran and an early settler in the Ohio Territory, outside of Marietta (“Campus Martius” when he arrived). He and his family had a farm in Olive Green, near Marietta, and hard on the Ohio River. During the Indian War of 1794, he and other local families retreated to a small fort. Abel became concerned about the fate of his cattle, so he set out alone to find them. He went out armed with his Revolutionary War musket.
While on his search, he came across some wild tomatoes. He was picking them and putting them in the front of his long hunting shirt when he was attacked from behind by a lone Indian prowling the woods. The Indian-Silverheels-felled Abel with a tomahawk blow to the head. He then scalped Abel, and hid his old musket in a hollow log. Silverheels proceeded to Detroit, where he sold Abel’s scalp for a double price, Abel being double-crowned, so Silverheels cut the scalp in half and sold it as two separate scalps.
How are all these details known? Well . . . Abel’s family went looking for him, and found him dead, the tomatoes still in the front of his shirt, and his gun in the hollow log. And some years later, an Indian came into a logging camp, and asked the loggers for a drink. While in his cups, sitting by the fire, he regaled the loggers with the tale of his killing a white man picking tomatoes in the woods during the late war. The story was complete with details about the man’s unique scalp, and th emplacement of the odd musket in the log.
Unbeknownst to Mr. Silverheels, one of the members of the rapt audience was Abel Sherman’s son (the brother of my Great-Great-whatever-minus one Eli).
The next day, Silverheels was found dead by the side of the trail, shot through the heart.
I’ll leave it up to you to connect the dots.
So Judge Posner was spot on. You were probably more in danger outside your home in the late-18th century Ohio Valley than inside it. So taking a gun with you while trekking to the trading post-or looking for your cows-was advisable.
But as Abel’s fate shows, a weapon might have been a necessary condition for self-defense: it wasn’t a sufficient one.
Abel’s story is told in detail in the History of Washington County, Ohio. His first gravestone contained a rough carving of a scalped head. His more permanent marker was inscribed thus:
Here lyes the body of Abel Sherman who fell by the hand of the Savage
on the 15th of August 1794, and in the 50th year of his age.
His musket is in the little town museum in Waterford, Ohio, and the original tombstone is now in the Campus Martius Museum in Marietta: