Tue, Apr 26, 2016 10:00AM EDT - Thu, Apr 28, 2016 10:00AM EDT
American-made dueling pistol, 17 in. long, 10.5 in. octagonal barrel of .43 caliber with a good bore. Bottom of barrel stamped J.G. SYMS 44 CHATHAM ST. NY. The pistol has a walnut half-stock with checkered grip, light floral scroll engraving on the lock, patent breech, and trigger guard. It also has double lines of gold inlaid at the breech, front and rear sights and a single set trigger.
John G. Syms was the brother of William Syms, partner of Blunt and Syms, which produced percussion pistols between the 1840s-1850s in New York City. The pistol is accompanied by a 3-page letter written by Col. J.H. Willets to his daughter, in which he references the dueling pistol that he had presented to his grandson and its previous owner, John Wilkes Booth.
On the night of April 15, 1865 John Wilkes Booth pulled the hammer of a .44-caliber Derringer pistol and fired a bullet through the head of the unsuspecting President. Through a cloud of smoke he leaped onto the stage and yelled Sic semper tyrannis! The action secured the gun and its marksman a place in infamy. Although this is not the same firearm, this dueling pistol was held and shot several times by the same gunman who killed the President.
Colonel J.H. Willets was President of Courts Martial during the Civil War in Washington, D.C. In his leisure time he participated in shooting as sport at a local gallery. He was considered one of the best shots in the city and, as a gift, the proprietor of a shooting gallery in Washington, A New Orleans Creole named Pierre, presented him with this dueling pistol. Prior to Willets' possession, the pistol was one of a pair used in New Orleans for duels (Willets gifted the other pistol to another family member). In the letter to his daughter, dated Dec. 4, 1916, Willets recounts that Pierre explained that he loaned the pistols in affairs of Honor…each pistol killed more than one man. Willets competed with many men in Pierre's gallery, and one of his contenders was John Wilkes Booth. He was a fine shot, explains Willets, [he] used this pistol many times. After using the pistol in competition, Booth shot Lincoln that following April with his derringer. Willets gifted his dueling pistol and wrote about its past so that in years to come, the Boys seeing this old Relic of War Times, may know something of its History.
Along with the handwritten testimony is a collection of newspaper clippings confirming the pistol's provenance, including an issue of "We Women," published in Bridgetown, NJ, in October 1946, in which the story of Booth, Col. Willets, and the pistol is referenced, as well as a binder of additional paperwork detailing the life of its owner, Col. Willets.