Abraham Schwartzman: his skill as a metalworker makes him valuable to the Royal Navy, and impressment forces him to deal with new adversities and to cultivate new skills and new sensitivities . . . .
“I am as well as can be expected,” Schwarzman said to Edwin Lawrence. “The food is not good, and there is little of it, but the rum is not bad, and there is enough of it, the more since the Armourer has means of supplementing our supply. I wish that my work brought me on deck into the sunlight more than it does, but for the work itself, I cannot complain.” He had twice set the spring of the firing-lock and clicked it, squinting at the angle at which the flint was struck. “In Boston I had little work with arms. A presentation sword for a militia company’s captain, filigree work on a pair of dueling pistols for a man from Newton, and a rifle for a man going out to the Western Reserve, who said that he feared Indians but seemed more concerned with the scrollwork on the stock-plate than with the sights on the barrel.
“See, here,” Schwarzman said, laying the firing-lock flat on the countertop in front of Lawrence. “It is essentially the same as the flintlock on a musket, though larger and more temperamental. The release must be sturdy enough to prevent a premature or accidental discharge of the gun, even as the ship pitches and rolls while the gun is swiveled into position, aimed, and then held fast as the quoins are hammered in place. Yet the release must part instantly when the gun-captain wishes to fire, and the spring must drive the steel rapidly and straightly against the flint, and the spark must be transmitted strongly along the priming wire. The springs are where we see most of the problems: rusting from the salt air, or being stowed in the closed position so that they lose their force, or being stowed full open so that they coil and recoil off-center when used; being used too often, so that they wear, or too seldomly, that they cannot be observed and adjusted.
“But this one does not work, and I do not know why. I will give you another to bring to your gun-captain, and work on this one at my leisure.” He paused, realizing that while as a craftsman below-decks he could, to a large degree, pace his own efforts, Lawrence would be put back to one task or another immediately upon return to the weather-deck.
“Let me tell you a story about sophisticated mechanisms such as these, Edwin,” said Schwarzman.
A firing lock is among the items in the collection of the museum maintained by a private, non-governmental, not-for-profit foundation alongside the moored frigate U.S.S. Constitution in the Charlestown Navy Yard portion of the Boston National Historical Park. http://www.ussconstitutionmuseum.org/
Another firing-lock is in the collection of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, U.K. http://collections.nm/hich/af0/dbch/af31505/loch/f0%20m.ac.uk/collections