Dance Brothers

By: Gary Wiggins

Type: General Entry

Published: December 1, 1994

Civil War firearms manufactured by J. H. Dance and Company are among the most highly prized antique weapons, valued for their fine craftsmanship as well as their rarity. From July 1862 through May 1865 the company produced six-shot Colt-pattern revolvers in both .44 and .36 caliber; total output was fewer than 400. The Dance family, originally residents of North Carolina, moved to Daniels Prairie in Greene County, Alabama, around 1835. In 1848 James Henry Dance traveled to Brazoria County, Texas, and in 1853 he moved to Texas with most of his family, including father, brothers, cousins, and slaves. The family jointly purchased 450 acres of land in the Cedar Brake section, where they established a plantation. In 1858 they built a spacious home in the thriving riverport town of East Columbia, on the Brazos River. Across the street from their residence they opened a manufactory for metal and woodwork, named J. H. Dance and Company and operated by James Henry Dance and his brothers David Etheldred and George Perry. J. H. Dance and Company prospered before the Civil War manufacturing gristmills and cotton gins.

At the outbreak of the war James Dance enlisted in the Brazoria Volunteers; he later became first lieutenant in the Thirty-fifth Texas Cavalry. His brothers George, David, and Isaac enlisted, but because of their abilities and skills they were detailed to their steam factory at Columbia by early May 1862. Isaac died of measles in 1863. Initially the Dances' primary tasks were mounting cannons and repairing wagons for the Confederate Army and grinding cornmeal for Bates Company. In April 1862 George Dance wrote Governor F. R. Lubbock requesting an advance of $5,000. He claimed that this sum would enable the Dances to begin firearm production with an output of fifty revolvers a week. Evidently they received some aid, for on July 5, 1862, a letter written by George's cousin Mattie Duff states that "the boys think they will soon get some three or four of their pistols finished." While production may have been at a somewhat slower pace than originally anticipated, by October 2, 1862, the Dances were able to ship a dozen revolvers to the San Antonio Arsenal.

By November 1863 the Dances had decided to sell their business to the Confederate government. Cousin Mattie wrote that "the boys think it quite possible they will quit the shop soon" and added that George had left for Houston "to see if he could make a government affair of it." Further, "he thinks perhaps it will be done." Revolver production had come to an end in East Columbia by December 10, 1863, and Mattie wrote that she had been "in town all week helping the boys to leave."

The federal occupation of Matagorda Island, located just off the Texas coast near Brazoria County, prompted the belief that the county was about to be invaded. The Confederate government doubtless wanted to consolidate the Dances' skills farther inland and out of harm's way. The Dances relocated to a site three miles north of Anderson in Grimes County, and here the Confederate government built a powder mill and pistol factory. On February 7, 1864, Mattie Duff received word from Uncle Harrison that "they were not quite ready for making pistols but soon will." One of the last known shipments of Dance revolvers took place on April 18, 1865; a lot of twenty-five six-shot pistols was sent from Anderson to the Houston Depot of Supplies. At the end of the war the Dances returned to East Columbia and the manufacture of gristmills and cotton gins. See also COLT REVOLVERS.

L. D. Satterlee and Arcadi Gluckman, American Gun Makers (Buffalo: Ulbrich, 1940; rev. ed., Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole, 1953). Gary Wiggins, Dance and Brothers: Texas Gunmakers of the Confederacy (Orange, Virginia: Moss, 1986).
Time Periods:
  • Civil War

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Gary Wiggins, “Dance Brothers,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 18, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1994

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