A person from Rhode Island was nicknamed a “Gun Flint” in the 19th century. “Rhode Island, Gun Flints” was cited in a state nickname list in 1845, but the term was only infrequently used. It was explained—although only as late as the 1890s—that the term derives from Rhode Island’s Dorr Rebellion of 1842. Citizens were urged to take up arms, and for many that meant using old flintlock rifles from the War of 1812.
The Providence Tool Company manufactured many rifles used in the Civil War, but it was established in 1847—too late to have influenced the origin of the nickname. The “Gun Flint” nickname was rarely used after 1900.
Wikipedia: Dorr Rebellion
The Dorr Rebellion (1841–1842) was a failed attempt to force broader democracy in the U.S. state of Rhode Island, where a small rural elite was in control of government. It was led by Thomas Wilson Dorr, who mobilized the disenfranchised to demand changes to the state’s electoral rules. The state used as its constitution the 1663 colonial charter that required a man to own $134 in property to vote, and gave an equal weight in the Rhode Island General Assembly to all towns no matter what their population. The effect in the 1830s was that the rapidly growing industrial cities were far outnumbered in the legislature, to the annoyance of businessmen and industrialists. Furthermore, few immigrants or factory workers could vote, despite their growing numbers.
The Charter government compromised. It wrote a new constitution in 1843 that dropped the property requirement for men born in the United States but kept it for foreign-born citizens, and it gave more seats in the legislature to the cities. That satisfied the native born protesters, who gave up on the Rhode Island Suffrage Association. It did not satisfy the Irish immigrants who rallied behind him. The state government had the upper hand; the national government refused to intervene and Democrats in other states gave Dorr only verbal encouragement. His cause was hopeless—he and five lieutenants were sentenced to life in prison. They were pardoned in 1845 when the agitation had ended. Not until 1888 were the property qualifications dropped for immigrants.
April 1845, Cincinnati Miscellany (Cincinnati, OH), pg. 240, col. 1:
Rhode Island, Gun Flints.
23 August 1845, Ripley (MS) Advertiser, pg. 1, cols. 4-5:
NATIONAL NICKNAMES.—It will be seen by the following from an exchange paper that the people of every state have nicknames, and some very curious and ludicrous ones:
The inhabitants of Maine, are called Foxes; New Hampshire, Granite Boys; Massachusetts, Bay Staters; Vermont, Green Mountain Boys; Rhode Island, Gun Flints; Connecticut, Wooden Nutmegs; New York, Knickerbockers; New Jersey, Clamcatchers; Pennsylvania, Leatherheads; Delaware, Muskrats; Maryland, Craw-Thumpers; Virginia, Beagles; North Carolina, Weasels; Georgia, Buzzards; Louisiana, Creowls; Alabama, Lizzards; Kentucky, Corn crackers; Tennessee, Cottonmanics; Ohio, Buckeyes; Indiana, Hoosiers; Illinois, Suckers; Missouri, Pewks; Mississippi, Tadpoles; Arkansas, Gophers; Michigan, Wolverines; Florida, Fly-up-the-Creeks; Wisconsin, Badgers; Iowa, Hawkeyes; N. W. Territory, Prairie Dogs; Oregon, Hard Cases.
4 July 1860, The Spirit of Democracy (Woodsfield, OH), “National Nicknames,” pg. 1, col. 7:
The inhabitants of Maine are called Foxes; New Hampshire, Granite Boys; Massachusetts, Bay Staters; Vermont, Green Mountain Boys; Rhode Island, Gun Flints; Connecticut, Wooden Nutmegs; New York, Knickerbockers; New Jersey, Clam Catchers; Pennsylvania, Leather Heads; Delaware, Muskrats; Maryland, Claw Thumpers; Virginia, Beagles; North Carolina, Tar Boilers; South Carolina, Weasels; Georgia, Buzzards; Louisiana, Creowls; Alabama, Lizards; Kentucky, Corn Crackers; Ohio, Buckeyes; Michigan, Wolverines; Indiana, Hoosiers; illinois, Suckers; Missouri, Pukes: Mississippi, Tad-Poles; Florida, Fly up the Creeks; Wisconsin, Badgers; Iowa, Hawkeyes; Oregon, Hard Cases.
25 July 1864, Indianapolis (IN) Daily Journal, “National Nick-Names,” pg. 4, col. 2:
Rhode Island...Gun Flints
June 1865, The Wisconsin Journal of Education, pg. 328:
The following are the “nicknames” of the native inhabitants of the different States:
... Rhode Island, Gun Flints; ...
An Index to the United States of America
Compiled by Malcolm Townsend
Boston, MA: D. Lothrop Company
NICKNAMES APPLIED TO THE PEOPLE OF THE STATES.
Rhode Island...Gun-flints...Applied through the use of firearms by its citizens at the time of the Dorr Rebellion of 1842, the arms being mostly of the old gun-flint pattern, the resource being those taken from garrets where they had lain for years.
Universal Dictionary of the English Language
Edited by Robert Hunter and Charles Morris
New York, NY: Peter Fenelon Collier, Publisher
Rhode Island. Gun-flints (from the old-fashioned firearms used in the Dorr rebellion of 1842).
5 April 1905, Elkhart (IN) Daily Review, “Names of the States,” pg. 3, col. 3:
“Gun Flints,” as applied to citizens of Rhode Island, goes back to the Dorr rebellion of 1842, when the arms of this old description were pulled out from the garrets, where they had lain unused for years.
(A later version of this article is on Chronicling America.—ed.)
27 May 1968, Newport (RI) Daily News, “The Grist Mill” by E. E. E., pg. 30, cols. 6-7:
However, the reference above indicates that “Gun-flints” is an appellation of derision. A reference previously cited alluded to Dorr’s War. In 1842, almost two decades before the Civil War, flint lock rifles were still in use, but the fact that they might have been used by one or both forces of the Dorr War is not mentioned by any account I’ve seen. Even in 1845, when the nickname was first used in print, flint-lock rifles should not have been a source of mirth of our detractors. The state militia invaded the homes of many people suspected of being Dorr supporters and confiscated old hunting rifles and fowling pieces of all sorts, but the historians never identified them as flint-locks. If a small army of revolutionists attacked Providence today with Garand M-I rifles or even 1903 Springfields, both superseded by more modern weapons, I just can’t believe that all Rhode Islander would be nicknamed for either old rifle; both can still kill you.