Navy Vet Donates Antique Muskets, One over Two Centuries Old, to New York History Center

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flintlock musket Continental Army
Clay Craighead, in the uniform of an enlisted soldier with the 1st New Jersey Continental Regiment, Continental Army, demonstrates firing a Brown Bess flintlock musket at the Visitor Center Museum at Washington Crossing State Park, N.J., Nov. 6, 2020. (Mark C. Olsen/N.J. Department of Military and Veterans Affairs)

Fred Hickein, an Oneonta native and veteran of World War II and the Korean War, presented a pair of antique muskets -- one more than 200 years old -- to the Greater Oneonta Historical Society on Wednesday, April 21.

One of the firearms, which belonged to Hickein's great-great-grandfather, Solomon Yager, was originally a flintlock musket -- a muzzle-loading long gun capable of firing between 80 and 100 yards -- that was later converted to a percussion cap, found to be more reliable in wet weather.

Yager, who arrived in the Oneonta area in 1797 from Rensselaerswyck, a Dutch colonial estate on the eastern border of what is now the city of Albany, is also an ancestor of Willard Yager, for whom Hartwick College's Yager Museum of Art & Culture is named.

The second musket, which features a long wooden barrel with an 8-inch metal attachment for affixing a bayonet, was used as a training rifle by Edward Brewer, who enlisted in the infantry of the Grand Army of the Republic alongside his brother, Alexander, in 1860.

The family lived on what is now Woodside Avenue, which was known as Brewer Lane until 1914, according to Hickein.

The Brewer brothers reenlisted in 1864, this time joining the cavalry, Hickein said. After the war, Edward returned home with a Spencer carbine, a sword, a military belt and a pistol.

The weapons were passed down through two generations, Hickein said, until they came into the possession of his grandmother, Mabel Griffith. Before her passing, she divided the heirlooms between Hickein's father and his uncle, who each later passed them to their sons. Hickein said a cousin, who lives in Schenevus, still possesses the belt and the sword.

Hickein said he was bequeathing the firearms to GOHS to prevent them from "getting into the wrong hands."

After the Civil War, Hickein said, many local members of the Grand Army of the Republic stored their weapons at a Main Street storefront, where they were damaged in a 1949 fire.

As the Grand Army membership died off, the singed swords, rifles and other paraphernalia were handed off to the American Legion, where they were stored on the third floor, Hickein said. Many years later, they were found to be stolen.

"I didn't want these things to disappear," Hickein said. "I thought they would be in safe hands with the Historical Society. They seem to keep track of their stuff."

Hickein served in the U.S. Navy from 1945 to 1946, and again from 1950 to 1952. "All my Navy service was on land," he said, based in Hawaii.

He was commander of Oneonta's American Legion Post in 1956 and is now its oldest member. "Fred makes it to almost all our Legion meetings," fellow Legionnaire Wayne Gregory said.

Hickein and his wife, Eleanor, are nearing their 67th wedding anniversary, they said. They have four children, living in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Georgia and Oneonta.

Former GOHS Executive Director Robert Brzozowski said the Yager gun was probably manufactured in England before 1800. "It may be one of the oldest items we have," he said.

Current Executive Director Marcela Micucci said one or both of the weapons will be made part of a permanent exhibit at the History Center. "They will be seen by many," he said.

This article is written by Sarah Eames from The Daily Star, Oneonta, N.Y. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.

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