James Paris Lee – Galt Resident, Famous Gunsmith

James Paris Lee was born in Hawick, Scotland on August 9, 1831, the son of nine children of George Lee and Margaret Paris. The family emigrated to Galt in 1836 where George, a skilled watchmaker and jeweller, set up a business at the north west corner of Water and Main. The family home was a rough cast frame building on Melville St. which was later demolished to make room for the Central James Paris LeePresbyterian Church Sunday School building. James Lee learned the trade of watchmaking and was interested in mechanisms but his great passion was firearms. It was a passion that nearly cost him his life when he was still quite young and that left him with a permanent limp when he accidentally shot himself in the heel. Mr. Lee left Galt when he was nineteen and in about 1852 married Caroline Chrysler with whom he had two children. She died in London, England in 1888. Mr. Lee moved to the United States just prior to the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1860 and it was there that he developed the idea of the quick firing rifle. While experimenting with a forty shot repeating rifle, Mr. Lee invented a method of turning the old and popular Springfield rifle into a breechloader, an adaptation soon adopted by the U.S. Cavalry. It was not until 1878 that the Lee magazine rifle, capable of firing 30 shots per minute was perfected. The weapon was adopted first by the American Navy and then by China. In 1888, the British Army approved the Lee-Metford rifle for extensive field tests. The rifle combined Mr. Lee’s quick firing design with a barrel rifling method developed by Col. Metford. When the rifling in the gun proved inadequate, the British Army went back to the old Enfield rifling method and approved the Lee-Enfield for general use for its forces throughout the world. Although Mr. Lee never benefited financially to any great degree from his inventions, he was remarkably prolific and is said to have produced more guns and gun parts than any other inventor up to that time. He is also credited by one source with the development of the first keyboard used on a rudimentary Remington typewriter. Mr. Lee returned to Galt in 1899 where he lived until returning to the United States to live out his final days with his son. He died on February 24, 1904 in New Haven, Connecticut.

Cambridge Mosaic, Jim Quantrell, 1998, City of Cambridge



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