Ferguson and his Rifle

David Patten describes how the breech-loading rifle was newly used during the American War of Independence and how its founder Patrick Ferguson himself was slain in North Carolina, 1780.

It was June 1st, 1776, and rain and wind hammered the Woolwich Marsh. Any man and any invention might be overmatched by these circumstances. But the inventor stood gazing at a bull’s eye blurred by distance. He sighted down the short barrel and concentrated. Captain Patrick Ferguson - soldier, inventor, and sharpshooter- was soon to amaze Britain’s military masters with a feat so spectacular that warfare might never again be the same.

Described by contemporaries as ‘slender, of medium height, and rather grave countenance’, Patrick Ferguson had been a soldier since childhood. Born in Scotland in 1744, he was the second son of James Ferguson of Pitfour. His uncle, Major General James Murray, was among the first to encourage the boy’s martial pursuits. In a letter to Patrick’s mother he wrote, ‘You must no longer look upon him as your son. He is the son of Mars and will be unworthy of his father if he does not give proofs of contempt of pain and danger.’

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