When the first Pilgrims came over to what would one day be the United States, they were entering into a true unknown. Although several European explorers had already made contact with these shores and the people who lived there, much of what the average English person would have learned about this strange new land would have been hearsay spread by word of mouth. It's difficult to overestimate the level of bravery of those very first settlers who journeyed on the Mayflower to what is now Massachusetts. They did make sure to bring along whatever personal firearms they could muster, both to protect themselves and to hunt for meat. However, although guns are by their very nature highly durable goods, most of those very first Pilgrims' firearms have been lost to history. This is in part due to the fact that many of the first structures built by the settlers were wooden with thatched roofs, and were therefore sadly prone to destruction by fire. One exception was the home of John Alden, a cooper by trade who came over on the Mayflower at the age of 20.
Alden's home, located in Duxbury, Massachusetts, was continuously occupied by his family from 1653 through 1896—another small miracle. So when this single-shot .50-caliber wheellock rifle was discovered during renovations in 1924, it was relatively easy to prove the provenance of the gun. The gun, which is now nearing its 400th year of existence, is so old that virtually all traces of its original rifling are gone. Still, in its day, it must have served Alden and his family well; as a member of Captain Miles Standish's militia, he would have needed it to protect the fledgling settlement of Pilgrims against wild animals and neighboring Native American tribes.
This priceless piece of American history is on permanent display at the NRA National Firearms Museum. It's free of charge and open 364 days a year (except Christmas Day).