Arming the Commonwealth

Arming the Commonwealth

Derringer PistolPeople have relied on weapons to advance both their best and worst impulses—to put food on the table, to protect themselves, to enforce or defy the law, to defend or conquer territory and treasure, or to liberate some while enslaving others. This exhibition features weapons and accoutrements from the Virginia Historical Society’s collection crafted in Virginia or used by its people to achieve those goals.

Cartridge box, William H. Horstmann & Sons, after 1828 (1990.100.367)Although these weapons may seem primitive to us today, all of them reflect the best technology available at the time. Many are products of Virginia’s desire to modernize and industrialize in the century after the American Revolution. Most of these weapons demonstrate skilled craftsmanship in shaping brass, iron, steel, and wood. Some are works of art, while others are remarkable because of the inventiveness applied in pursuit of deadly designs.

This exhibition and gallery are both made possible by the Cecil R. and Edna S. Hopkins Family Foundation.

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Portrait of John Page Hopkins (1825–1857), about 1835
Portrait of John Page Hopkins (1825–1857), about 1835
Portrait of John Page Hopkins (1825–1857), about 1835
1973.18, Bequest of Louise (Anderson) Patten
Hopkins is shown here with his dog, hunting bag, and powder horn. Half-stocked in maple, his sporting rifle has been altered to a percussion lock but retains the original flintlock flash pan. A native of Clarke County, Hopkins studied medicine in Philadelphia. In 1850 he earned a commission in the United States Navy and served as assistant surgeon on the USS Marion. He resigned in 1857 to become United States Consul to Tobasco, Mexico, where he died.
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