MATCHLOCK

The Matchlock was a welcome improvement in the mid-fifteenth century and remained in use even into the early 1700s, when it was much cheaper to mass produce than the better classes of firearms with more sophisticated ignition systems. The Matchlock secured a lighted wick in a moveable arm which, when the trigger was depressed, was brought down against the flash pan to ignite the powder. This allowed the musketeer to keep both hands on the gun, improving his aim drastically. The gun had its weaknesses, though. It took time to ignite the end of the wick, which left the musketeer useless in case of a surprise attack. Also, it was difficult to keep the wick burning in damp weather. For the most part, longbowmen were more effective in battle than the musketeers. The one real advantage the musketeers possessed was the intimidation factor which their weapons provided. The first important use of musketeers was in 1530 when Francis I organized units of arquebusiers or matchlock musketeers in the French army.
By 1540 the matchlock design was improved to include a cover plate over the flash pan which automatically retracted as the trigger was pressed.

The matchlock was the primary firearm used in the conquering of the New World. In time, the Native Americans (Indians) discovered the weaknesses of this form of ignition and learned to take advantage of them. Even Henry Hudson was defeated by an Indian surprise attack in 1609 due to unlit matches. The matchlock was introduced by Portuguese traders to Eastern countries around 1498, particularly India and Japan, and was used by them well into the 19th century.

FIREARMS