When General George Washington retreated from New York in the fall of 1776, young Joseph G. Chambers abandoned his studies at Princeton and escaped ahead of the invading British to join his father’s New Jersey militia regiment. He subsequently participated in the battles at Trenton, Princeton, Brandywine, and Germantown. Chambers’ Revolutionary War experiences left him with deep impressions concerning weapons of war, and after becoming an inventor, he would conceive some of the early Navy’s most innovative and unusual guns.
In late 1812, Chambers arrived in Washington, offering repeating-shot muskets and pistols to the Department of War. He referred to the inventions, which he had worked on for two decades, as “machine guns.” They operated on the “Roman candle” principle, that is, once the trigger was pulled, the weapon fired a number of rounds in sequence until an entire load had been expended. Lethargic War Secretary John Armstrong wasn’t interested.
Chambers then turned to the Navy, and by mid-April 1813 also had produced an eight-barreled, swivel-mounted weapon that could discharge more than 200 rounds on one trigger-pull.