My Uncle Bill has been a self proclaimed “gun nut” for years. He collected them, sold them, traded them, and went to gun shows for many years to deal his guns. He knows more about guns than most people know about themselves. I don’t remember a time that he didn’t deal guns. He knew about guns of all kinds, and could talk to you for hours about any gun you wanted to discuss, but by far his favorite, was the Spencer Rifle. He was always into the family history, and the inventor of the Spencer Rifle was an ancestor of ours, so that held particular interest for my Uncle Bill. What has always alluded my uncle, however, was exactly how we are related to Christopher Miner Spencer. Knowing how long and hard he has searched for that relationship, and that dementia has now stopped that search for him, made me sad. I decided to expand my own records in search of the elusive relationship…doing so for me, but more importantly for my Uncle Bill. I only wish he would be able to remember it once we tell it to him. As I searched, first backward from Christopher to someone I recognized, and then forward in my own tree to Christopher, my thoughts centered on my uncle and how excited he would be. I intend to write him a letter and include my story, and I only wish I could be there to see his face light up. My search finally paid off, and I know that Christopher Miner Spencer is my 5th cousin 5 times removed. I believe that would make him my uncle’s 5th cousin 4 times removed. Now that I have the relationship straight, I feel like I can proceed with the story about this amazing man.
Christopher Spencer was trained as a machinist beginning at the tender age of 14 years, while working as an apprentice in a silk manufacturing company and then went to work at the Samuel Colt factory in Hartford, Connecticut, where he learned arms making. The colt factory made pistols and other side arms, but Christopher was convinced that he could design a breech-loaded repeating rifle that would be easily and rapidly reloaded. Once he had his rifle…the Spencer rifle finished, it was put through rigorous testing, including burying it in the sand and immersing it in salt water overnight. The rifle fired successfully over 250 times, with only one misfire. The gun was shown to army and navy commanders, including General Ulysses S Grant, who called it “the best breech loading arms available”. The next step was to take it to the White House.
On August 17, 1863, Christopher Spencer arrived at the White House with the rifle in hand. Imagine that happening today…you couldn’t do it. Abraham Lincoln, welcomed Christopher into the White House, and after a brief introduction, the two men went over the rifle top to bottom and inside out. The President then invited Christopher back to the White House for a demonstration to take place on The Mall…another amazing thought in this day and age. The demonstration took place the next day, and the rifle headed to the Civil War. In fact, the rifle was to the Civil War what the Atomic Bomb was to World War II. Uncle Bill was always proud that a Spencer ancestor had made such a remarkable and valuable contribution to the victory in the Civil War.