American-made Sliding-Breech Pinfire by N. R. Davis of Assonet, Massachusetts
Nathan Russell Davis, known as N.R. Davis, was a pioneer in the American firearm industry. Born in 1828, he established N.R. Davis & Sons, a company that would leave a lasting mark on the firearm manufacturing landscape. From its humble beginnings in a small shop in Assonet, Massachusetts, to its evolution into a respected firearm manufacturer, the company’s history is a testament to Davis’s vision and resilience. This article delves into the early years of N.R. Davis’s companies, highlighting their innovative contributions such as a unique pinfire shotgun, and the company’s enduring legacy.
Born on August 18, 1828, in Somerset, Massachusetts, Nathan Russell Davis embarked on a mechanical career at the age of nineteen. He began his journey at the Dean Cotton and Machine Co in Taunton, Massachusetts, where he honed his skills as a machinist. Davis then joined George P. Foster & Co in Taunton, specializing in the craftsmanship of rifles.
Seeking further opportunities in the gun business, Davis moved to Colt’s Pistol Co in Hartford, Connecticut, where he gained valuable knowledge and experience in the gun trade. Davis was offered an opportunity to establish a branch of Colt’s business in London, England, but he declined and instead with to work with J.R. Brown of Providence, Rhode Island.
In July 1853, Davis relocated to Assonet, Massachusetts, and partnered with David C. Thresher to form N.R. Davis & Co. They operated out of a shop called the Forge which was powered by a water-driven engine lathe, and with a team of five employees. They manufactured approximately one hundred and fifty muzzle-loading rifles which were sold in small quantities to hardware distributors in New York.
By autumn 1854, the business moved to the old Thresher building near Water Street, where they expanded their operations to include the production of muzzle-loading shotguns. The company steadily grew until the onset of the Civil War in 1861, which led to a temporary closure. However, during that same year, they secured a subcontract with the government to manufacture parts for Springfield rifled muskets.
In 1862, Thomas G. Nichols, M.D., joined the firm as an equal partner when Thresher retired due to declining health. The Civil War period presented favorable conditions for the gun business, resulting in plant expansion, round-the-clock operations, and the employment of one hundred men. Unfortunately, in 1864, a fire, presumed to be the act of an assailant associated with the Southern Confederacy, destroyed the gun shop. Undeterred, Davis and his team demonstrated resilience by rebuilding the business, acquiring new machinery, and resuming the production of musket parts. In the winter of 1873, the company relocated to a building previously occupied by the Assonet Machine Co, facilitating further growth and adaptability.
These developments mark significant milestones in the early years of N.R. Davis & Co, illustrating the company’s determination, adaptability, and commitment to manufacturing firearms of exceptional quality and craftsmanship.
The Sliding Breech Pinfire Shotgun
One notable contribution from N.R. Davis to the firearm industry was a pinfire shotgun, patented by employees D. C. Thresher and B. F. Aiken under Patent No. 66,913 on July 16, 1867. The shotgun featured a unique sliding breech mechanism, which was not common at the time. This design allowed the barrel to slide forward on a bar for loading the cartridge, and a spring-catch mechanism secured the barrel after loading.
The pinfire shotgun was one of the very few pinfire guns made in America, marking it a unique piece in the country’s firearm history. This product showcased the practical innovation of N.R. Davis & Co, contributing to the company’s reputation in the firearm industry.
The pinfire shotgun is a notable example of the company’s approach to firearm design, combining functionality with innovative features. It represents a part of the company’s history of creating unique and practical products for their customers.
The Legacy of N.R. Davis
Davis demonstrated a strong commitment to innovation and quality in his firearms. This was evidenced by the multiple patents his companies held between 1867 and 1886, which covered a range of designs and improvements, including breech-loading firearms, methods of attaching gun barrels, and mechanisms for barrel locks and levers. Each patent represented the company’s continuous efforts to refine their firearms, aiming for better functionality and user experience. This dedication to innovation underscores the company’s significant contribution to the firearm industry.
However, the journey was not without its challenges. The 1870s proved to be a difficult period for the company, leading to a temporary closure for two and a half years. Demonstrating resilience, the company reopened and resumed operations. The unfortunate passing of Dr. Nichols in 1883 led to a pivotal moment in the company’s history. Davis took full ownership of the property and, in a strategic move to continue the business, brought his sons, William Alfred and Nathan Winslow Davis, into the partnership. This marked a new chapter in the company’s history, with the firm operating under the name of N.R. Davis & Sons, carrying forward the legacy of innovation and quality.
Over the next decades, the company underwent several transformations. In 1917, N.R. Davis & Sons merged with Warner Arms Corp to form Davis-Warner Arms Corp. The company continued to manufacture Davis shotguns and the Davis Warner Infallible pistol, primarily at the Warner plant in Norwich, Connecticut, using parts made in the Assonet plant until about 1925.
In 1930, Davis-Warner Arms Corp became part of Crescent Davis Arms Corp. Despite these changes, the company maintained its commitment to quality and innovation, producing firearms under various patents and trade names.
The legacy of N.R. Davis & Sons is a testament to the vision and resilience of its founder, Nathan Russell Davis, and the generations that followed. Their commitment to innovation and quality set the foundation for a company that would leave a lasting mark on the firearm industry.
Terry, Gail E. Berkley, Freetown, and Lakeville. Arcadia Pub, 2007.
A History of the Town of Freetown, Massachusetts: With an Account of the Old Home Festival, July 30th, 1902. Press of J.H. Franklin & Company, 1902.
American Single Shot Percussion Rifle by N.R. Davis. Invaluable, https://www.invaluable.com/auction-lot/american-single-shot-percussion-rifle-by-n-r-davi-1279-c-l33f9lgzu0
N.R. Davis & Son Coach Gun 16 GA. Invaluable, https://www.invaluable.com/auction-lot/nr-davis-son-coach-gun-16-ga-110-c-26c4510b20
Short history of N.R. Davis & Sons shotguns. Mike Scott, https://www.scottcreative.net/Default.asp?ID=33
An excellent article, a little known maker on this side of the Atlantic.
What a fine article. The research is of the first order. I’ll send along some pictures in another email of a Davis gun.