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The Turkish Connection
The Saga of the Peabody-Martini Rifle
by William O. Achtermeier.
(Originally published in Man At Arms Magazine, Volume 1, Number 2, pp. 12-21, 5557, March/April 1979)
(copyright Man at Arms, 1979, used with kind Permission of Man At Arms)
Man at Arms Magazine, published by Mowbray Publishing, is "The NRA Journal for the American Arms Collector", and may be the finest scholarly journal devoted to arms collecting published in the English language.
Information regarding subscriptions, articles and back issues, including the issue containing a more complete and graphically superior version of the following article, (including additional photos of Peabody-Martini and Winchester rifles and additional illustrations) may be found at the Man At Arms website at: http://www.manatarmsbooks.com/
IN LATE 1871, WHILE THE PROVIDENCE TOOL COMPANY was busily divesting itself of its armaments line, no one in the firm could possibly have predicted that it was on the verge of undertaking a contract with the Ottoman Turks which would dwarf all its previous arms dealings and make it the largest, most completely equipped armory in the country.
Until very recently, weapons manufactured by the Providence Tool Company have received little attention from American collectors. What interest there has been, for the most part has come from the single-shot rifle enthusiast. One reason for the apparent general apathy may be that relatively few of the company's breechloaders were sold in the United States. Consequently, collectors are often surprised to learn that the Providence, Rhode Island, firm was a major manufacturer who gave some stiff competition to Remington and Winchester.
From its beginnings in 1834 as a manufacturer of nuts and bolts, the company expanded into a diversified line of hardware and ship chandlery items, assuming its corporate name in 1846 and merging with a major competitor a decade later. Though its list of products was long and varied, the company operated with indifferent success from plants at 95 Wickenden Street and 148 West River Street. The Civil War brought about a radical change.
Following the outbreak of hostilities, Providence Tool expanded its lines to include light cavalry sabers and Model 1861 caliber .58 rifled muskets. Under the direction of treasurer John Brighton Anthony (18291904) -- nephew of the firm's president and major stockholder, Colonel Richard Borden of Fall River, Massachusetts -- Providence Tool secured six government contracts resulting in gross sales to the Ordnance Department of $1,433,755.10 for 10,434 sabers and 70,000 Springfield rifles. In the process, the company invested about $350,000 in additional machinery and refurbished the Wickenden Street mill as its armory.
The end of the war found Anthony pondering the same problems which faced other arms contractors: What to do with the gunmaking machinery? The neighboring Burnside Rifle Company had made a complete break by selling its specialized machinery and going into the locomotive business. Providence Tool, however, decided to retain an armaments program, and on October 26, 1864, the company signed a preliminary agreement with Henry O. Peabody for patent rights to his cartridge breechloader. On March 15, 1865, a limited manufacturing right was obtained from the owners of the patent for the Ball breechloading repeater. Whichever way the winds at the Ordnance Department blew, for single-shot or repeater, Providence Tool would be prepared.
After the success of the Peabody rifle at the government breechloading trials held at Springfield in the spring of 1865, the tool company abandoned the Ball repeater and signed a final patent rights agreement with inventor Peabody on April 15.
John Anthony's high expectations for the Peabody breechloader never reached fruition. Between 186 and 1871, the manufacturing life of the Peabody system, Providence Tool sold Peabody arms to a host of foreign countries: Canada, Switzerland, Roumania, Mexico. Cuba, Spain, and France. Peabody arms were also issued to National Guard units in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and South Carolina. However, the long awaited, massive federal arms contracts never materialized. Although the company had also done profitable subcontract work on the Roberts conversion system, its six-year postwar armaments program had arrived at only a "break-even" situation, a factor which prompted company directors to suspend it in 1871.
The Peabody system had not found wide acceptance, but it did spark some interest in modifications to its design. At Frauenfeld, Switzerland, Frederich von Martini was experimenting with alterations to the Swiss Peabody rifles. His first change did away with the necessity of manually cocking the hammer. His second, and most important innovation, did away entirely with the cumbersome external Peabody lock, substituting an internal lock system which was cocked when the breech was opened, in the process increasing the"lock time" and rate of fire. The Martini system kept the basic Peabody breech block design.
The Swiss gunsmith was not slow in attempting to market his design, entering it in the British breechloading trials of 1867. Out of these tests emerged the Martini-Henry rifle, a combination of the rifle submitted by Scottish gunsmith Alexander Henry (who had also borrowed from the Peabody design) and the Martini rifle. To the British it was an ideal union, employing the superbly accurate Henry barrel and the streamlined Martini lock system. In 1869 the weapon was already being issued to British troops. On April 14, Providence Tool's London representative took legal action against Martini's infringement on the Peabody patent, but the suit was unsuccessful.
It was at this time that the Ottoman Turkish government, la sublime Porte, was in the process of restructuring its army and updating armaments.
Beset by internal pressure from its imperial domains who were clamoring for autonomy, and threatened from without by its long-time enemy and land-hungry neighbor, Tsarist Russia, Turkey found itself far behind in the technological developments which had resulted during the American Civil War.
In the 1850's the Turks had purchased large numbers of rifled muzzleloaders from Belgium and France. In the early 1860's they supplemented these arms with 40,000 Enfields from Britain, and a few years later with large quantities of Snider conversion breechloaders as well as Enfield and Springfield rifles converted to the Snider system. (The Turks had purchased the Springfield rifled muskets from the Germans who had captured them from the French who had bought them from the Americans.) The Snider, however, with its obsolete caliber .577 cartridge, was only an interim arm. What was needed was a good breechloader which would be the equal of the best in western ordnance.
As usual, there was no shortage of salesmen eager to secure what promised to be a large Turkish armaments order. One of the first American manufacturers to receive a contract of any significance was Oliver Winchester, for a large number of lever action carbines and rifles. Most Western ordnance experts, however, had serious doubts about the military capabilities of the Winchester repeater due to its elaborate loading system and the limited effectiveness of its caliber .44 rimfire cartridge.
Providence Tool was not idle, and submitted a proposal for the Turkish order. Although the company had officially withdrawn from the arms business, Anthony apparently still held some sort of limited option to re-enter that highly risky enterprise. His interest had, no doubt, been first aroused when a Turkish ordnance delegation headed by Colonel Rustem Bey visited Providence Tool in 1869 as part of a fact-finding tour. On February 5, 1872, Anthony authorized William de Saint Laurent, the tool company's operative in Constantinople, to propose the sale of 20,000 caliber .50 centerfire Peabody carbines at $14 with a delivery schedule of 200 carbines per diem after 60 days from receipt of the contract; 50,000 carbines at $13.50, with a delivery' schedule of 200 per diem after 50 days and 300 per diem after 90 days; or 100,000 carbines at $13 on a delivery schedule of 200 per diem after 60 days, 300per diem after 90 days and 400 per diem after 120 days.
At the Turkish breechloading trials held in the early summer of 1872, Providence Tool's Peabody was competing with its old rival, the Remington rolling block rifle. The trials were rife with rumour, speculation, and intrigues. On July 8, 1872, the New York arms firm of Schuyler, Hartley, and Graham conveyed to Anthony the contents of a letter they had received from Saint Laurent:
The trial of guns are going on, and will last all this week. 2000 rounds are fired from each gun. The Peabody is the gun favored by the "Darichoura" which body will decide at last resort. Remington is spending money right and left to secure a favorable report for his gun. Never mind any report made that his system will be accepted because the grand council is dead against it. The 42 caliber had been decided upon, for the new guns -- no matter what system adopted.
However, the hopes for a contract for the Peabody or the Remington were soon dashed when the Sultan, Abdulaziz, dismissed the Ordnance Board and announced adoption of the British Martini-Henry rifle. Although at first the decision might have appeared purely capricious to outside observers, there were two major factors which influenced the Sultan's decision.
In May he had received a gift of 50,000 Martini-Henry rifles from Khedive Ismail of Egypt. Obviously, the Sultan was impressed not only by the generosity of his vassal but also by the quality of the arm. The British had also shown a keen interest in Ottoman army reorganization and rearmament, since the Turks provided a strong bulwark against Russian imperialism in the ever-changing geopolitical gameplan. Since the first purchase of Enfields in the early 1860's, British ordnance ideas had great influence at the Turkish War Ministry. They could, and probably did, exercise some influence in the selection of an arm which they knew was reliable -- their own service rifle.
In July the Turks offered a contract for 200,000 Martini-Henry rifles with two essential ingredients: low bid and speed of delivery. To Anthony's credit as businessman, he did not pause for one moment over the rejection of the Peabody, but began earnest negotiation for the Martini-Henry contract with Blaque Bey, the Ottoman minister in Washington, who, in turn, relayed the messages back to the Ministry of War in Constantinople.
Anthony, it should be noted, had kept in close contact with the Ottoman minister, In 1871 he had had lengthy discussions over the proposed Peabody contract while the Turkish minister was vacationing at a health spa in Virginia. In a letter to Providence Tool executive William B. Dart, dated July 25, 1872, Anthony noted that he had had a three or four hour discussion with Blaque Bey in New York and that "he expects great results . . . Our interview today has been more free than before, and l have learned better the Turkish way of doing things." Judging from Blaque Bey's enthusiasm for Providence Tool, one is tempted to conclude that Anthony had applied the costly lessons learned from earlier, abortive, Russian and Danish Peabody contract negotiations where he had refused to pay bribes to secure orders.
Anthony had already notified Blaque Bey that Providence Tool could deliver 100,000 Martini-Henry rifles within six months a2er receipt of a "pattern rifle" at $15 for each rifle without a bayonet, $16.25 for each rifle with an angular socket bayonet, and $17.50 for each rifle with a saber bayonet. During the following twelve months, the tool company could deliver 200,000 additional rifles at a discount of $.50 an arm from the quoted prices. On July 25, Anthony informed Blaque Bey that Providence Tool was agreeable to all the terms of the proposed contract and submitted a bid of 63 shillings for each rifle with the socket triangular or "quadrangular bayonet." Bey, in turn, telegraphed this data to Constantinople. At this stage of the negotiations, no doubt, all of the parties concerned -- John B. Anthony, Blaque Bey, and the ministry of war -- considered to the contract to be in the bailiwick of Providence Tool except, of course, for the signing of the agreement. Within a week, however, all negotiations were tabled when Oliver Winchester underbid Providence Tool's offer by one shilling per rifle and was awarded the contract by the Dari Shoura, the central committee of the Ottoman ministry of war.
Winchester, of course, had no plans to manufacture the rifles at his New Haven plant, which was hardly equipped to handle so huge an order. He also had no claims on the patent rights for either the Peabody system or the Martini firing pin, two of the essential ingredients of the Martini-Henry rifle. At best, he could only subcontract the order. At the very least, he could offer the contract to the highest bidder.Considering the risks he was taking in penalties for late deliveries, Winchester was clearly acting in the best traditions of the "American Wildcatter."
On October 12, Anthony filed a formal protest with the Secretary of State against Winchester's contract. The protest was followed by a suit. In the fall of 1872, Winchester agree2 to sell the contract to Providence Tool, the official transfer taking place on January 1, 1873. The tool company was back in the gun business.
The contract signed between Winchester and the Dari Shoura called for the delivery of 200,000 Martini-Henry rifles chambered for the 11 .43 x 55R centerfire cartridge (in British nomenclature, the .450 Turkish Peabody-Martini; in American nomenclature, the .45 Peabody-Martini), the same caliber as the 50,000 rifles Khedive lsmail had given to Abdulaziz. Each rifle was to be equipped with a quadrangular bayonet having a leather scabbard tipped with brass. Adjustable for windage and elevation, the sights were to be graduated from I to 1300 meters and marked with Turkish figures. (The sight adjustments were to be determined by tests using powder of Turkish manufacture.) The side plate of each gun was to be engraved with the imperial cipher and serial numbered with Turkish figures. Stocked in black walnut, the rifles were to be exact copies of the British service arms manufactured at the Enfield arsenal.
The inspection of all materials and parts, and the proof testing of the rifles, were to be in accordance with established British practices. The actual inspection was to be made by a combined team of American and Turkish inspectors appointed by their respective governments. The cost of inspection tools and gauges was to be borne by the manufacturer. In addition to assuming the cost of the powder and test cartridges, the Turkish government would pay the salaries and expenses of the entire inspection staff.
The final testing of the rifles consisted of disassembling each gun twice, checking each of its sixty parts against pattern gauges, and finally firing six test rounds. The guns were then to be packed in crates of double thickness lined with zinc or tin, sealed by the Turkish inspectors, and shipped to New York for transportation to Constantinople, the Turkish government paying all cartage and insurance costs. Receipts for the sealed crates would be issued to the manufacturer who would use them to make withdrawals on the Turkish contract account in London. Delivery of the rifles was to commence six months after the receipt of three Martini-Henry pattern rifles and two pattern cartridges.
There were initial financial obligations for both parties to the contract. The manufacturer was required to post a surety bond of $186,000 with the Ottoman legation in Washington, to be reduced in proportion to the deliver3, schedule. The Turkish government would deposit the full cost of the contract with the Imperial Ottoman Bank in London.
Providence Tool's decision to re-enter the armaments manufacturing business represented a triumph for those directors who were willing to brave the pitfalls,af4Lat potentially lucrative enterprise. (In fact, the company had never completely left the arms business, but had merely let its arms manufacturing line remain dormant. The company was saddled with lots of unsold Peabody rifles and carbines which it had been attempting to sell during 1872.) Reactivation of the gun-line was a personal triumph for John B. Anthony. In 1874, following the death of Colonel Borden, he was appointed President of Providence Tool.
However, the board of directors was not in complete accord. A compromise was reached whereby the tool company would expand its domestic production in proportion to armaments work. Obviously, the more conservative directors wished to avoid the near disastrous circumstances of the late 1860's when company production and sales bad leaned too heavily on the arms traffic. In compliance with the commitment to increase its domestic lines, Providence Tool contracted with the Singer Sewing Machine Company to produce 300 sewing machines a day. This contract alone necessitated an outlay of over $1,000,000 in additional machinery.
On March 11, 1873, Providence Tool secured the services of Azarian Effendi Pere et Fils of Constantinople to act as its agent to the Sublime Porte. Founded by the elder Azarian, an Armenian, in the early 1850's, the firm served as an intermediary for many American concerns wishing to do business with Turkey. (A few of Azarian's relatives working at his branch office in Boston had already become naturalized U.S. citizens.) Having worked as agents for Colt and Winchester, the Azarians were no strangers to the labyrinthine ways of Turkish armament contracts.
Acting with the company's power of attorney, the Azarians procured two additional arms contracts: on March I1 for 300,000 additional Martini-Henry rifles and on August 23 for an additional I00,000 rifles. Providence Tool was now committed to a total production of 600,000 rifles, at that time the largest single order ever received by an American arms manufacturer from a foreign power.
The initial financial obligations of the three contracts required Providence Tool to increase its surety bond with the Ottoman delegation in Washington to £600,000. In addition to that expense, the company underwent a capital expansion of $2,000,000 to meet the new production demands. In a relatively short span of time. the company became one of the largest armories in the world with over six acres of plant space, 1,70'0 machines, and 1,800 employees, eventually reaching a production capability of 6,000 rifles a week. However, t he $3,000,000 expansion costs of the Singer and Turkish contracts had spread the company dangerously thin over the money market. Success depended almost entirely upon the Turkish payment schedules. As events were to prove, the Porte's financial instability was the tragic flaw in the Greek drama that was beginning to form in Providence in 1873.
Snags developed early that year. Turkish ordnance was late in sending over the three pattern rifles and the specimen cartridges, so no work could be done on the manufacture of gauges and dies. And when the inspection teams arrived in Providence in the latter part of the year, there was nothing to inspect.
The American team of forty-five inspectors was headed by noted ordnance expert Captain Henry Metcalfe. The twenty-seven Turkish officials were under the direction of a personage no less notable, General Hussein Tevfik.
Urbane and sophisticated, Tevfik belonged to that small clique of Turkish intellectuals who were quite cosmopolitan. Although his assignment was to supervise the inspection of both the rifles in Providence and the ammunition in New Haven, he preferred the less arduous roles of scholar and bon vivant. Much of his seven-year stay in the United States was devoted to the composition of a text in linear algebra and his enjoyment of the social life of the upperclass New Englander. He became a personal friend of John B. Anthony and an uncle figure to the Anthony children. What was needed, however, was not a polished general but a ferocious sergeant, with a heavy swagger stick to keep the unruly staff of Turkish inspectors in line. Tevfik, obviously, cast a disdainful glance at that aspect of his work.
After traveling to and from Providence Tool as a group on a trolley car, the Turkish inspectors would gather in the bar of a Providence hotel for drinking, gaming, arguing, and, not infrequently, brawling. (One inspector had even shot a woman in a Providence boarding house!) Their antics provided a continual source of embarrassment for the tool company and harrassment for the Providence Police Department. Were it not for Anthony's influence and the importance of the Turkish arms contract to Providence Tool and thereby to the economy of the city (the company was now the largest employer in Providence), many of the inspectors would probably have spent a number of sojourns in the city's lockup. The Porte, however, was not as understanding. One inspector was recalled to Turkey for some infraction and went before a firing squad armed with rifles he had probably inspected. When another inspector received a summons to return, he chose to commit suicide by leaping from the Crawford Street bridge. A third inspector refused to return home and married the daughter of a Providence innkeeper. As the years passed, his bizarre appearance and demeanor became a conspicuous element of the checquered Providence landscape.
From July to October of 1873, Providence Tool's attorneys were engaged in reaching a settlement with a Mr. Stibbard, who represented the owners of the Martini patent. In the early part of 1874, gunsmith Alexander Henry travelled to the United States to claim royalties on his special rifling process. His claim was disallowed, and the irate Scotsman returned home. Perhaps he also believed that insult had been added to injury since the Tool company was stamping their rifles "Peabody-Martini" and not "Martini-Henry."
With the delay in receiving the pattern rifles and cartridges, negotiating for patent settlements, waiting for approval of the Providence Tool model rifle by Turkish Ordnance, and insisting on a £50,000 advance fee from the Porte in December of 1873, production of the contract rifles did not begin until January of 1874. To the tool company's credit, it was able to make delivery of the first 1,000 Peabody-Martini rifles in March of 1874.
The year-long delay in production and the interrupted payment schedule required a special financial settlement between the company and the Porte which was reached on May 3, with the Turks establishing various credits and the tool company delivering rifles according to a new schedule. Unfortunately, the delicate balance of the agreement was upset when the Imperial Ottoman Bank in London withdrew its credit.
By mid-1874 conditions had grown from bad to worse as Providence Tool was forced to go to the local money market to secure operating capital. Tevfik notified the Minister of War that Providence Tool and Winchester would be "... severely paralyzed in their enterprises for want of credit." The Turks, however, were able to avoid total collapse by negotiating another loan in September.
On December 9, John B. Anthony and his family took passage for England and Turkey. Three days later a credit for £450,000 was opened for Providence Tool. By the end of the year the tool company had produced 54,600 rifles.
Arriving in England a few days before Christmas, Anthony conferred with representatives of J. S. M organ and Company, his intermediaries with the Imperial Ottoman Bank. He also inspected several British armories in Birmingham and Sheffield and placed orders for gun metal, rifle barrel moulds, and barrel blanks.
In Constantinople, Anthony was honored by the Porte. From the Grand Vizier, he received the highest Ottoman award, the Order of the Osmani Second Class, a distinction shared by only one other Westerner, the German industrialist and armaments magnate, Alfred Krupp. During his stay, Anthony negotiated a fourth contract for another 200,000 Peabody-Martinis, and a separate contract for 200,000 saber bayonets. (The rifle contract was never concluded, and the tool company subcontracted part of the bayonet order to the Ames Sword Company of Chicopee, Massachusetts.)
Although Anthony’s triumphant visit to Constantinople was undoubtedly one of the highlights of his career, the following months were beset with almost insurmountable problems. The credit issued in December was only large enough to fund production for the first six months of 1875, and John B. Anthony, recipient of the badge of the Osmani, had to issue an ultimatum to the Porte that rifle production would be terminated unless further credits were issued.
Providence Tool was not the only one of the Porte's armorers in an embarrassing financial state. Winchester and Providence Tool had chartered the Mendota to ship rifles and ammunition to Turkey. The creditors of both companies obtained a court order preventing the ship from leaving port. Another threat from Anthony produced a payment schedule which would supply £50,000 immediately and subsequent weekly payments of £212,000. This proposal and another of a similar nature were rejected by the company's bankers.
On November 9. 1875, the company finished the last of the 200,000 Peabody-Martinis called for by the first contract. Since the Porte was in arrears on the first contract and showing signs of defaulting on the second, Anthony reserved 59,000 rifles as security, yet began work immediately on the rifles of the second contract. Although it had already exhausted its credits, the tool company continued to draw on the Imperial Ottoman Bank. On November 29, 1875, four of these drafts totaling £40,000 were rejected. The immediate effect was near calamity for the tool company. In December, Providence Tool's creditors attached its assets. In a gesture perhaps unique in 19th century American industrialism, the company's 1,800 employees pledged to forego a month's salary to keep the firm afloat. Although deeply touched by the gesture, Anthony declined the offer.
In early 1876, Anthony was able to temporarily satisfy the creditors by securing a loan of £45,000 from Drexel, Morgan, and Company of New York, using as collateral 50,000 Peabody-Martini rifles. The Turks, too, were not idle. They secured a credit of £110,000 from the Zarifi brothers of Constantinople and another credit of £44,000 from the Imperial Ottoman Bank. However, these credits provided only a partial relief, as the Porte was not able to make his scheduled payment of £416,000 on February 1, 1876.
Once more the trusty Azarians stepped into the picture and presented a solution highly reminiscent of ad campaigns from present day loan companies: they consolidated the large debts and then arranged small weekly payments. By this agreement, the Turks would pay £18,000 a week for seven weeks, £20,000 the eighth week, and thereafter £12,000 a week until September of 1878. The tool company was not to demand any penalty fees, and would receive £50,000 as security for eventual payment while reserving 30,000 rifles as security until the £50,000 was paid. This amount would also-be kept by the company in rifles.
Providence Tool was slowly assuming a somewhat bizarre posture. Under the terms of the agreement, it would hold 46,666 rifles as security in addition to the 50,000 rifles it had already pledged to Drexel and Morgan as collateral. As Geoffrey Stewart so aptly noted, "... the company was arming bankers not soldiers.''
Not surprisingly, the Turks fell behind in their payments in a matter of weeks. Once more the tool company's creditors were becoming nervous. Anthony warned the Ottoman minister in Washington that the company would soon have to sell its inventory of Peabody-Martinis to pay Turkey's arrears. A further warning was sent directly to the Grand Vizier that the Porte would be held responsible for all damages suffered by the t6ol company for disruptions caused by non-payment. Anthony faced the greatest pressure from Drexel and Morgan, who informed him on July 8 they were going to sell the 50,000 rifles to secure repayment of their loan. To forestall this action, Anthony had to pledge yet another 20,000 rifles.
Providence Tool was now forced to curtail production of the Peabody-Martini. Added to the increased costs of overhead, the fluctuations of the world gold market further eroded the company's profits. Anthony notified Aristarchi Bey~ the Ottoman minister, that the tool company would soon cease arms production entirely. Turkish Ordnance responded by proposing a modification of the Martini mechanism -- the removal of the sliding bar safety mechanism -- which would return a greater profit to the manufacturer in reduced costs. The urbane Tevfik counseled his friend Anthony that he should trust in the good will of the Porte.
By mid-October, 1876, Providence Tool was producing about 2,700 rifles a week, less than half of their capacity, while being paid for only 1,100. On November 20, 1876, with 369,200 "A-Model" rifles (those equipped with the sliding bar safety) produced, manufacturing stopped entirely.
In February of 1877, the Porte was able to raise another £108,000 enabling Providence Tool to begin production of the "B-Model" Peabody-Martini and to release 40,000 of the earlier rifles which had been in storage pending acceptance. Under adverse economic conditions, the tool company was able to manufacture 73,000 rifles in the first six months before it exhausted its most recent credit. (In the interim, the company also advanced £8,000 to Tevfik so that he could pay his inspectors.) ,. Although by this time Anthony and his board of directors probably rued the day that Providence Tool had purchased its first Turkish contract, the Turks were convinced that they had made the best possible choice in their selection of small arms. On July 30, 1877, outnumbered Turkish forces at Plevna stopped a massive Russian drive on Constantinople. The Tsar's troops, armed with Colt Berdan rifles and clumsy Krenka conversion muskets, began falling at 2,000 yards (some sources claim 2,200) before the murderous fire of the Peabody-Martinis with their heavy .45 caliber bullets. When the Russians had advanced to 200 yards, the Turks put down their Peabody-Martinis and took up their .44 caliber Winchester lever actions. Their rapid fire raked the Russian ranks and broke the attack. Before the siege ended in the following January, over 30,000 Russians and Romanians had fallen to the rifles of Providence Tool and Winchester. When the Russians had finally completed their Pyrrhic victory at Plevna, they armed their own troops with the captured Peabody-Martinis. Ironically, though the Peabody-Martini proved its military worth at Plevna, that battle sounded the death toll for the military single-shot rifle. Many years would pass, however, before Plevna's bitter lessons would be grasped completely by Western and Russian military strategists.
The Turks were in dire circumstances. The Russo-Turkish War was now underway, and the army of the Porte not only owed Providence Tool, but also Winchester and the United Metallic Cartridge Company. The Ottoman Minister of War, Mahmoud Pasha, notified Anthony that a credit of 11120,000 had been raised. However, only 1140,000 went to the tool company, the remainder being divided between the other two munitions makers. On October 20, 1877, Mahmoud Pasha notified Tevfik that he was to begin loading arms and munitions aboard the steamer Middleton, berthed in New Haven. Providence Tool and Winchester quickly procured an injunction. A letter of credit for 11147,000 released the claim, but the Middleton still had to remain in port. In a brief naval engagement on the Danube, the Turkish navy had mistakenly sunk two ships belonging to the Middle-ton's owners, who now claimed the cargo in New Haven as an indemnity. In a superbly shrewd piece of legal reasoning, the attorneys for the Porte argued that the Middleton's cargo belonged, to the Azarians and the Providence Tool Company; the Turks had defaulted on the payments, and, therefore, had no title to the contents. The frustrated owners allowed the Middleton to sail.
Although it had successfully lifted the claims of Anthony and Winchester on the Middleton's cargo, the credit of November 24, 1877 could not fund continued production and a halt the following January left an unaccepted inventory of 16,000 rifles and 20,000 bayonets. Once again Anthony threatened to put the rifles up for sale. In short order the indefatigable Azarians came up with yet another payment plan for the Porte. Funding was to be from such diverse sources as fees paid by Turkish citizens to avoid conscription, proceeds from the sale of possessions of soldiers killed in action, and moneys which had been earmarked for railroad expansion in Rumelia. Providence Tool would release 15,000 rifles and 25,000 saber bayonets after receiving an initial payment of £37,346. Thereafter, for each weekly payment of £4,000, it would release another 2,000 Peabody-Martinis over a period of thirty weeks. If followed to the letter, the Turks would have satisfied their obligations to the tool company by November 21, 1878. To no one's surprise, the Porte defaulted on the initial payment. And further complications were still to come.
I n September, Winchester had chartered a ship to transport 70,000 rifles to Constantinople. At first the vessel, the steamer John Brarnhall, was detained temporarily by an injunction from the tool company. When it was finally able to leave port, it ran aground on Gull Island off New Haven. In the accident, 25,600 Peabody-Martini rifles were damaged and although there was some compensation from the underwriters, Providence Tool lost over $100,000 in production costs to replace the guns.
It was now left to the new Ottoman Minister of War, Osman Pasha, lionized or his defense of Plevna, to work out an arrangement for credits to release the 9,000 rifles and 55,000 bayonets which were sitting unaccepted in company warehouses. Under his instructions, Tevfik had the first lot of 59,000 rifles, all the bayonets, and a consignment of cartridges loaded aboard the steamer Norman Monarch. The remaining rifles and another munitions consignment were laced aboard another carrier.
On May 7, 1879, the tool company resumed production of the Peabody-Martini, completing the last of the contract rifles on December 24. In addition to the 600,000 rifles it had made fulfilling the three Turkish contracts, the tool company ad also manufactured 25,000 rifles to replace those lost on the Bramhall, 5,000 additional rifles for the mother of the Sultan, and 717 rifles for Turkish citizens who had ordered them through Tevfik.
Though it had completed its contractual commitments, Providence Tool had yet to feel the full impact of its fatal Turkish agreements. The Financial Panic of 1873, the fluctuating price of gold on the world market, and the Turkish defaults had inflicted mortal wounds on the tool company. On April 19, 1882, Anthony issued a statement inviting all his creditors o a special meeting at the West River Street plant to hear statements from the company "upon the present condition of its affairs." What the creditors heard was that Providence Tool could no longer meet its financial obligations..
This time there was no salvation for the tool company. A committee of creditors was quickly established to dispose of as much of the company's assets as would be required to meet its obligations. In short order a virtual avalanche of attachments descended on the company. Among those claiming payment was inventor Henry O. Peabody, making an almost biblical appearance, who brought an attachment on December 20, 1882. (He released his aim on February 15, 1883.) The creditors agreed to continue Providence Tool's line of commercial and domestic sewing machines.
On July 1, 1882, the tool company put up for sale its entire inventory of gunmaking machinery. Somewhat laconically the sale flier advertised the machinery as “low prices in consequence of changes in the company's business." A survey of the proferred machinery indicates that Providence Tool had not only one of the largest armories in the world, but also one of the best equipped. Anthony's statement that he could equal or surpass the peak Civil War production records of the government's Springfield Armory was no idle boast.
On August 1, 1882, the Wickenden Street plant, Providence Tool's armory, was sold. The West River Street plant had ready been signed over to the new Rhode Island Tool Company. Providence Tool ceased to exist as a legal entity in 1885 when the company suspended payments and liquidated its liabilities at fifty cents on the dollar. However, there still remained the unsettled problem of those rifles which had been pledged as security to Drexel and Morgan. Even though the Turks had paid for these Peabody-Martinis, Providence Tool had repeatedly refused to release them on the grounds that the Turks were liable for the damages which the tool company had received through the many defaulted payments. John Anthony had even gone to the extreme of secreting the ties in three Providence warehouses so that Hssan Basseri, Tevfik's successor, could not locate them. In the fall of 1882, the American National Bank of Providence received the warehouse receipts for the rifles after it had paid $165,000 to Drexel and Morgan. Within a matter of weeks, the Sultan filed suit against the tool company and the American National Bank for title to the rifles. In the summer of 1883, the suit was dismissed.
Dame Fortune seems to have been somewhat fickle in her treatment of the principals involved in the rise and fall of Providence Tool. Tevfik, who apparently weathered the experience quite well, rose to the post of Turkish ambassador to the United States. Though he had made sizeable profits from the Turkish munitions contracts, Oliver Winchester's death in 1880 prevented him from seeing the full blossoming of his New Haven firm. Sultan Abdulaziz, who had made the decision to re-arm with the Martini-Henry, committed suicide with a pair of scissors in 1876. John B. Anthony worked briefly for the Rhode Island Tool Company before becoming treasurer and later vice-president of the Household Sewing Company. He subsequently accepted the post as treasurer of the Cranston Print Works, a position he held until his death in Providence in 1904. During his job changes after Providence Tool’s bankruptcy, he seems to have been financially strained. To heat his house, he was forced to burn Peabody-Martini gunstocks, a pragmatic action whose symbolism must have given him much to ponder.
In the shadow of Providence's automated post office, the Rhode Island Tool Company is still in business at the somewhat reduced River Street mill. Henry O. Peabody and Alexander Henry have faded into obscurity, their names familiar only to serious arms students and cartridge collectors. Herr Von Martini, however, has achieved a certain degree of immortality. A perennial favorite of European custom gunsmiths, the Peabody-Martini action is still being manufactured for hunting and target rifles and is known simply as the "Martini".
A conversion table for Arabic-Turkish and Western numerals. First contract Peabody-Martini rifles range from 1 -- 200,000; second contract rifles range from 200,001 -- 500,000; and third contract rifles range from 500,001 to 600,000. Serial numbers over 600.000 appear on rifles which were manufactured to replace those that had been lost in a shipping accident.
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Updated: Oct 29, 2021