The story of the Winchester rifle is a virtual Who’s Who of New Haven history, with many Elm City manufacturing scions as stakeholders. Laura Trevelyan, the great-great-great-granddaughter of Oliver Winchester, will offer an engrossing personal history of the colorful family and its iconic firearm on Monday, October 24, at 6 p.m., at the New Haven Museum. Trevelyan’s presentation is based on her book, “The Winchester: The Gun That Built an American Dynasty,” and will be followed by a book signing. Admission will be free of charge.
Trevelyan chronicles the fortunes of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company across three generations, from Oliver Winchester’s involvement with the Volcanic Arms Company in 1855 through the following turbulent decades of the 19th and 20th centuries. Trevelyan tells the story of the Winchester company as a family concern, through the lens of the individuals themselves. From the Civil War era until World War I, larger-than-life characters ran the Winchester Repeating Arms Company with great success. The war led to a precipitous decline in the company’s fortunes and eventually the end of the family’s association with the business.
The popularity of Winchester arms mirrored American expansion at a time of rugged individualism and the opening up of the Western frontier. Trevelyan will share a story of the evolution of a paradigm-changing weapon that has become a part of American culture—celebrated in fiction, glorified in Hollywood, and applauded in endorsements from the likes of Annie Oakley, Theodore Roosevelt, Ernest Hemingway, and Native Americans who called it “the spirit gun.”
Laura Trevelyan is an anchor and correspondent for the BBC, based in New York. She has worked for the BBC since 1993, reporting for many radio and television programs. Trevelyan first became interested in the family history at the age of 17, when she was visiting the Connecticut home of her Winchester relatives, and learned to fire a rifle adapted to shoot tennis balls. She is also the author of “A Very British Family: The Trevelyans and Their World.”