The Sharps rifle was a big innovation in firearms during the 1850s. It was highly sought after by men looking to gain political advantage in territorial Kansas. The unique weapon with its patented breech-loading and self-priming features offered quick loading, speed in firing, and accuracy in distance. Early in 1856, the Sharps rifle picked up a new nickname. In a highly visible article on the Kansas conflict, abolitionist preacher Henry Ward Beecher recommended the effective weapon as a tool to fight slavery.
He (Henry W. Beecher) believed that the Sharps Rifle was a truly moral agency, and that there was more moral power in one of those instruments, so far as the slaveholders of Kansas were concerned, than in a hundred Bibles. You might just as well. . . read the Bible to Buffaloes as to those fellows who follow Atchison and Stringfellow; but they have a supreme respect for the logic that is embodied in Sharp's rifle.
This article appeared in the New York Tribune on February 8, 1856, and rapidly thereafter the Sharps rifle became known as a "Beecher's Bible." This appellation was further encouraged by the marking of the cases in which the rifles were shipped as "Books" and "Bibles," a concealment that appears to have served a double purpose; both hiding the identity of the contents from the proslavery men and keeping the emigrant aid companies from any difficulties with the federal and state authorities who had forbidden the shipping of arms to the region.
Although Beecher's Bible is the most common name for the Sharps rifles and considerable numbers were shipped as books and Bibles, there is some evidence they were also shipped as other items, such as machinery and medicine. The total number of Sharps that reached Kansas between 1854 and 1858 will probably never be known. Fragmentary records indicate somewhere around 900 to 1,000 Sharps were purchased for the border conflict.
Entry: Beecher Bibles
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: December 2004
Date Modified: January 2013
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