From Melancholy Accidents, by Peter Manseau. The book compiles colonial and early American newspaper reports of accidental gun deaths and was published in March by Melville House. Manseau is a fellow at the Smithsonian Institution.
june 4, 1770, Massachusetts Gazette
Some young men, who had been a-gunning, went to Beaman’s Tavern, where one of their guns accidentally went off and killed the landlord’s daughter on the spot; she was at that time suckling her child, who was providentially preserved.
august 11, 1859, Pittsburgh Daily Post
Mr. John S. Sumner had taken down his gun for the purpose of shooting some birds that were destroying his peas in the garden. As he approached the birds, they flew away. He returned to the house and proceeded to hang up his gun. While doing so, the hammer of the lock caught in a crack in the chamber floor and, as it slipped off, discharged the weapon, the contents entering his wife’s head and killing her instantly.
june 7, 1871, Indiana Weekly Messenger
While abed, the wife of Johnson Hammond aroused him with the information that there were wolves about. Hammond rose, took his gun down from the joists above his head, and excitedly ran out carrying the gun in his left hand, butt toward the door. He ran about half a mile when he saw a wolf, and in raising his gun to take aim found it had been discharged. Returning to the house, he rushed to the bedside and found his wife a corpse, her right breast pierced with a bullet. His infant was caressing her dead body.
march 6, 1867, Indiana Herald
A fellow named Wiley accidentally shot his brother, inflicting a serious wound. He was engaged in the pastime of shooting a negro and missed his mark.
june 29, 1802, Maryland Herald
Mr. Jeremiah Mahony, being exceedingly fond of his gun, said in a joke to his wife, Come out and I will learn you to exercise; upon which she took another gun that had been loaded by her brother in order to shoot some crows, and it went off. The whole load entered his head just under his left eye, went out just behind his right ear, and he fell lifeless at her feet.
september 26, 1893, Harrisburg Daily Independent
Edward Sanders, fifteen years old, was keeping a revolver for a playmate, and his mother did not intend to let him carry it. He showed her how harmless it was, then she took it and pulled the trigger. The ball entered the boy’s chest, passed through the right lung, and lodged in the muscles of the back. He cannot recover.
november 22, 1849, Sun
Several little boys, under nine years of age, got possession of a gun, and, providing themselves with a box of caps, amused themselves with snapping the gun. After exploding nearly forty caps, one of the boys pointed the gun at another, told him he believed he would shoot him, pulled the trigger, and killed the little fellow on the spot.
february 24, 1916, Red Cloud Chief
Accidentally shot in the knee by her eleven-year-old nephew, who was playing with a revolver, Mrs. Lillian M. Thomas continued to iron handkerchiefs. Her task finished, she notified a physician.