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Sharps Carbine
Armed Forces History, Division of History of Technology, National Museum of American History

Sharps Carbine

Catalog #: 43496    
Credit: Division of Military History and Diplomacy, National Museum of American History


Christian Sharps (Manufacturer)

Christian Sharps got his start in the gun making business by working at the Harpers Ferry Arsenal. The first Sharps firearm was patented in 1848, and by 1850, the first models of Sharps Sporting Rifles were being made in Mill Creek, Pennsylvania by the firm of A. S. Nippes. In 1851, a new breechloader was being made in Windsor, Vermont by the firm of Robbins & Lawrence. Rifle production continued in Vermont while a new Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company was formed in Hartford, Connecticut. In 1855, manufacturing was moved to Hartford and continued until 1876. Operations were then moved to Bridgeport, Connecticut until 1880. Although the Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company bore his name, Christian Sharps was not the principal owner. In 1854 he began his own C. Sharps & Company to make his own handguns. He formed a partnership with William Hankins in 1862. Sharps & Hankins manufactured four-barrel pepperboxes and single-shot breech loading rifles and carbines. That partnership ended in 1866. Christain C. Sharps & Company ceased operations with Sharps' death in 1874.

Dimensions / Weight

Dimensions: 7" H x 38" W x 3" D

Physical Description

This Sharps carbine, .52 caliber, was confiscated following John Brown’s raid at Harpers Ferry.

General History

As a boy of five, John Brown witnessed a slave his own age being beaten with a fire shovel. He vowed to become a foe of slavery. By the mid 1800s, Brown was fulfilling his vow. The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 allowed the two territories to decide the issue of slavery by a popular ballot. The fight in Kansas was so intense that the state earned the nickname of “Bleeding Kansas.” As Missouri pro-slavery, “Ruffians” flocked to Kansas, the New England abolitionists bankrolled “Free-Soilers” to move to the settlement of Lawrence, Kansas. Henry Ward Beecher raised money to purchase Sharp's rifles for use by antislavery forces in Kansas. Rifles, said Beecher, are “a greater moral agency than the Bible” in the fight against slavery. The guns were packed in crates labeled "Bibles" so they would not arouse suspicion. Soon the Sharps rifles sent to Kansas were referred to as “Beecher’s Bibles.” In 1856, after abolitionists were attacked in Lawrence, John Brown led a raid on scattered cabins along the Pottawatomie Creek, killing five people. Kansas would not become a state until 1861, after the Confederate states seceded. John Brown had another plan to bring about an end to slavery, a slave uprising. Brown contracted with Charles Blair, a forge master in Collinsville, Connecticut, to make 950 pikes for a dollar a piece. Brown would issue the pike to the slaves as they revolted. On 16 October 1859, Brown led his group to Harpers Ferry where he took over the arsenal and waited for the slaves to revolt. The revolt never came. Two days later Robert E. Lee and his troops overran the raiders and captured John Brown. Brown was found guilty of murder, treason, and of inciting slave insurrection. On 2 December 1859, he was hanged.


Country: United States
State: Virginia
War: Civil War
Service: Militia
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