The Matchlock Gun


Readability Age Range



Year Published

Book Review

This book has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Plot Summary

It is 1756 in Guilderland, New York. Teunis Van Alstyne is a Dutch militia captain in the French and Indian War. As he prepares to leave for battle, 10-year-old Edward asks his father once again about the large gun hanging above their fireplace. The weapon is a Spanish matchlock gun, purchased in Bergen Op Zoom in the Netherlands by Edward’s great-grandfather. It is old and heavy, not at all practical for battle. Edward is disappointed that his father won’t use it.

When Teunis leaves for battle, his wife, Gertrude, prepares herself to protect Edward and his little sister, Trudy, from a possible Indian attack. Gertrude has refused her husband’s suggestion to hole up in the home of her mother-in-law, the Widow Van Alstyne, at her brick house with the family slaves.

When Gertrude sees smoke, indicating raiders are getting closer, she loads the matchlock gun. She tells Edward how and when to shoot it. She goes about her chores outside so as not to arouse the attackers’ suspicion. When she sees five of them coming toward her, she runs to the house. They hit her in the shoulder with a tomahawk and set fire to the family’s home.

At her signal, Edward fires the matchlock gun through the window and kills three of the attackers. Gertrude is unconscious, and the kids pull her away from the burning house. Edward also drags himself back inside to save the matchlock gun. Shortly thereafter, Teunis and his men find Gertrude and the children and learn how Edward saved the family.

Christian Beliefs

The children say bedtime prayers on their knees.

Other Belief Systems


Authority Roles

Grandmother Van Alstyne blatantly expresses her dislike for her daughter-in-law because Gertrude is not of pure Dutch descent. Gertrude does her best to protect her family while trying not to frighten the children. Teunis bravely leaves home to fight.

Profanity & Violence

Indians attack the Van Alstyne family, set fire to the house and are killed. Gertrude is injured with a tomahawk. This violence is not graphically depicted. Note: Earlier versions of this book may include somewhat more violent illustrations.

Sexual Content

Teunis kisses Gertrude before leaving for battle. Although it isn’t unusual for them to do this, the children watch them with interest.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at

Additional Comments

Slavery: Grandmother Van Alstyne owns slaves, which Gertrude tells the children actually belong to their father.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

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